EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA -- Operational testing on the F/A-22 Raptor began April 29 when the first two-ship sortie was flown and tested by members of the F/A-22 Combined Test Force here.
After the operational testing is complete, a report will provide senior leaders with the information needed to approve the Raptor for full-rate production.
"Transitioning to the initial operational test and evaluation of the F/A-22 is a much anticipated and extremely important event for the Department of Defense," said Maj. Gen. Wilbert D. "Doug" Pearson Jr., Air Force Flight Test Center commander. "The Raptor is an excellent example of the Air Force acquisition system working to provide the most capable combat equipment to America's Airmen fighting the global war on terrorism."
Air Combat Command officials defined an operational need for a transformational fighter/attack weapon system, and the secretary of the Air Force and officials from Air Force Materiel Command provided a team to develop and produce the advanced weapon system, General Pearson said.
"The most important accomplishment of flight testing to date was describing, refining and validating the key attributes of the F/A-22 design, which includes stealth, agility, speed and integrated avionics," General Pearson said. "The Raptor is the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world and is the first and only combat aircraft that combines these attributes into a single aviation platform."
Now that the design has been sufficiently refined, officials are ready to evaluate the weapon system's operation in a realistic environment, similar to threats the aircraft is expected to encounter in the years ahead, General Pearson said.
"During the past few years, the F/A-22 CTF conducted extensive developmental testing to understand and mature the design of the aircraft, document the aircraft's flight characteristics and understand its limitations," General Pearson said.
During developmental testing, the CTF tested air-to-air weapons including the AIM-120 AMRAAM, the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile and a 20-millimeter cannon, General Pearson said.
Pilots from the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Centers Detachment 6 will be flying four F/A-22 aircraft, as well as using trained pilots and maintainers from Air Combat Command. Maintainers from the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron are supporting the operational testing by maintaining these Raptors.
"We have prepared quite extensively over the past month or so to ensure that the start of the operational test and evaluation goes as smoothly as possible," said Chief Master Sgt. Rich Gallagher, 31st TES F/A-22 maintenance superintendent.
The pilots completed their training, which included a variety of sorties designed to provide acclimation to the advanced Raptor technology, said Lt. Col. David Freeman, Det. 6 deputy commander.
They began training in March 2003, finishing this April, Colonel Freeman said.
Air Force bases nationwide are gearing up for the phase following the initial operational test and evaluation.
The Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., is training pilots to fly the Raptor, and the pilots will eventually undertake developing tactics designed to take maximum advantage of the aircraft's unique capabilities. Additionally, the Nevada Test and Training Range will provide airspace, simulated threats and targets for evaluation, General Pearson said.
ACC will receive the first operationally ready Raptors at Langley AFB, Va., in late 2004. The Air Force Education and Training Command officials at Tyndall AFB, Fla., are preparing to train F/A-22 pilots, as well as maintainers, General Pearson said.
Edwards officials will continue to develop the Raptor design, focusing more on developing air-to-ground attack capabilities, General Pearson said.
"With the recent successful drop of the first bomb from the Raptor's weapons bay, Edwards will continue to expand this line of testing until we have successfully developed the required ground-attack features," General Pearson said.
Operational testers have already started planning for the follow-on test and evaluation phase of the Raptor, which includes JDAM release testing, Colonel Freeman said.