Just after the turn of the century, it wasn’t unusual to see seven F-22A Raptors parked around the 411th Flight Test Squadron compound at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., during the fighter’s early developmental test and evaluation days.
Today, the 411th and F-22 Combined Test Force has just four of the fifth-generation fighters left — including one in the hangar undergoing maintenance — to conduct testing to continually improve the Raptor fleet’s combat and long-term capabilities.
For the past few weeks, however, Edwards AFB’s Raptors have been joined by four operational F-22s for testing. The jets are from Langley Air Force Base, Va.; Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; and Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The planes are accompanied by pilots and maintenance crews from their respective bases.
Lt. Col. Randel Gordon, F-22 CTF director and 411th FLTS commander, said operational F-22s from the Air Force come to Edwards for testing occasionally, but it is “highly unusual” to have eight total Raptors here, including the one being serviced in the 411th FLTS hangar.
The visit by the four operational jets prompted a unique photo opportunity for squadron workers, who were given the chance to take photos with seven planes in the background. The event marks a bittersweet occasion.
“This will be the last time we have this many jets ever in this compound,” said Gordon.
In four months, the F-22 CTF is scheduled to move out of the facilities it has occupied since the 1990s. Eight test planes were built with most being assigned to Edwards for developmental test and evaluation throughout the years. The F-22A Raptor reached initial operational capability in 2005 and the Air Force currently has 183 in its total force.
The F-22 Raptor’s combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities from previous generations of fighters. The Raptor performs both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions allowing full realization of operational concepts vital to the 21st century Air Force.
The F-22, a critical component of the Global Strike Task Force, is designed to project air dominance rapidly and at great distances, and defeat threats attempting to deny access to our nation’s Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps. The Air Force says the F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft.