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Raptor meets new challenges, expands capabilities

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska - F-22s from the 1st Fighter Wing stationed at Langley AFB, Va. fly to Elmendorf AFB Alaska on 23 May 2006.  The 7.5 hour transit was the longest continuous deployment of F-22s as 12 Raptors will participate in Exercise Northern Edge which is slated in June as a joint exercise under the control of Pacific Command. (Photo by Paul Weatherman)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska - F-22s from the 1st Fighter Wing stationed at Langley AFB, Va. fly to Elmendorf AFB Alaska on 23 May 2006. The 7.5 hour transit was the longest continuous deployment of F-22s as 12 Raptors will participate in Exercise Northern Edge which is slated in June as a joint exercise under the control of Pacific Command. (Photo by Paul Weatherman)

An F-22 Raptor lands at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, on Tuesday, May 23, 2006. Raptors from the 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB, Va., are supporting Exercise Northern Edge 2006. The Air Force selected Elmendorf as the home for the next operational F-22 squadron. The base will receive 36 Raptors, with the first jet expected in fall 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown)

An F-22 Raptor lands at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, on Tuesday, May 23, 2006. Raptors from the 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB, Va., are supporting Exercise Northern Edge 2006. The Air Force selected Elmendorf as the home for the next operational F-22 squadron. The base will receive 36 Raptors, with the first jet expected in fall 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown)

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, VA. (AFPN) -- Two F-22A Raptors taxi down the runway. This year's $1.3 billion military construction request, as part of the president's fiscal year 2007 budget plan, is the largest in the last 15 years and includes projects for new mission beddowns for the F-22A Raptor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, VA. (AFPN) -- Two F-22A Raptors taxi down the runway. This year's $1.3 billion military construction request, as part of the president's fiscal year 2007 budget plan, is the largest in the last 15 years and includes projects for new mission beddowns for the F-22A Raptor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- For the men and women taking care of the Air Force's newest and most lethal fighter aircraft, the F-22A Raptor, firsts seem to be a common occurrence.

Along with milestones by the 27th and 94th Fighter Squadrons have come new challenges in places such as Alaska, Utah and Florida that have left maintainers and weapons specialists scrambling to keep pace.

In June, 12 Raptors from the 27th FS completed their longest flight to date, from Langley Air Force Base, Va., to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. For the 18 pilots and 174 maintainers, it would be their first opportunity to show off their new capabilities in a joint exercise.

The exercise Northern Edge '06 in Alaska tested what their commander, Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver, explained was the interoperability between emerging weapons systems and current operational tools at the Air Force and joint levels. For Raptor crews, Northern Edge allowed them to integrate the latest avionics, stealth and super cruise abilities that were just some of the advantages that allowed the 27th FS to show off its superior air-to-air and air-to-ground tasks, and personnel recovery operations.

In recent months, the 94th FS made history in Utah and Florida focusing on weapons systems with capabilities never before seen. In Utah, a joint direct attack munition, or JDAM, was dropped from 50,000 feet at 1.5 mach.

"Until then, no operational F-22 had ever dropped a supersonic JDAM," said Lt. Col. Michael Hoepfner, 94th Fighter Squadron director of operations. "No other aircraft can get up to 1.5 mach at 50,000 feet and deliver a JDAM."

At Tyndall AFB, Fla., the 94th FS put itself on the map with a series of firsts for the new fighter. The Langley armament crews performed a fit test for the new small-diameter bomb, a weapon that will increase the number of targets an F-22 can hit by 400 percent.

The squadron deployed the largest number of F-22s to date, 18, and fired the first supersonic missile launch from a Raptor over the Gulf of Mexico.

"We flew more than 400 sorties, maintained 20 pilots combat mission ready, dropped 40 JDAMs and shot 16 air-to-air missiles," said Lt. Col. Dirk Smith, the 94th FS commander.

For the Airmen who support this fighter, the last few months have been a mixture of fascination, euphoria and extremely long hours. Staff Sgt. Scott Brenner, a maintenance specialist with the 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, is excited about the new challenges, despite the heavy workload.

"It's an awesome experience being able to work on the Air Force's newest fighter," he said. "Its two Pratt and Whitney F-119 motors put out 35,000 pounds of thrust each. Plus, the thrust vectoring allows the aircraft to be more maneuverable."

Working with new systems can also be a challenge, and Airman Martin DuBois, a weapons specialist with the 27th AMU, said the F-22 is far from "business as usual."

"Because this is a new jet, we find problems that no one has had to deal with before and find new ways to fix them," said Airman DuBois.

Staff Sgt. Ramon Rosa Ramos, an armament systems craftsman with the Raptor, has been with the aircraft since the first one arrived last year.

"From that day on, we spent most of our time not only being amazed by the incredible technology, but also watching it mature; and us along with it. It has been a pleasure to work with this incredible aircraft."