Raptor pilots in the “hot seat”

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor from Tyndall Air Force Base refuels via hot pits at Eglin AFB, Fla., July 2, 2019. By running an aircraft through hot-pit refueling and having a pilot relinquish the cockpit to another pilot after the flight, the 325th Fighter Wing increases usable training time for their pilots. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Anthony Nin Leclerec)

F-22 Raptor pilots from the 43rd Fighter Squadron swapped the ‘hot seat’ to increase sorties at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 2, 2019.

‘Hot seats,’ where a pilot gives control of the jet to another pilot, and ‘hot pits,’ refueling with the aircraft running, gave the pilots more training time in the air. 

“We’re taking one pilot already in the seat of the jet when it comes back and swapping it for another pilot on the spot,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Peters, 325th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. “That way the jet never gets officially released back to maintenance–another pilot just accepts it. [Assuming the aircraft did not record anything unsafe during flight] they do a face-to-face brief, then the incoming pilot can take the jet and launch it from there.”

Once on the ground, pilots taxied the aircraft through safety checks and up to the ‘hot pit’ for refueling. One after another, the pilots made their pitstop and received fuel without turning off the engines and waiting on a fuel truck to arrive.

In turn, the pilots took their jet to the next pilot in line, bypassing the checklist maintainers use to get the jet back in the air. 

“Since Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall AFB and the surrounding area, it took a lot of time, energy, and effort to bring our operation at Eglin AFB up to full capacity,” said Lt. Col. Jefferey Peterson, 43rd FS director of operations. “During that transition, we absorbed additional pilots, from both active duty and Reserve, as a result of the 95th FS having their jets and people split up across the F-22 community.”

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor pilot, 43rd Fighter Squadron from Tyndall Air Force Base, briefs the next pilot to fly the aircraft after hot pit refueling at Eglin AFB, Fla., July 2, 2019. If the aircraft didn’t record anything unsafe during flight, the next pilot can take it on another flight without turning over the jet to maintenance. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Anthony Nin Leclerec)

According to Peters, the fueling stations here made hot-pit refueling ideal.  

“Normally we would fly 10 [jets] on the first go and eight on the second for a total of 18 sorties,” said Master Sgt. Dustin Holman, 325th AMXS aircraft section chief. “For ‘hot seats’ we fly eight, six and six for a total of 20 sorties.”

On a normal day, the 325th AMXS prepares 13 jets. Three are spares, while the other 10 are sent on sorties.

Only 11 are needed for hot-pit refueling and rapid crew swaps. This reduces the amount of time it takes to get a new pilot in the air; saving time and producing more sorties with less aircraft.

When the team gets an opportunity, they send out 10 jets on the first go, six on a second and eight on a third, for a total of 24 sorties. Making this method very flexible and valuable for catching up with sorties and make up for the time lost after the hurricane.

According to Holman, the 43rd FS is the first F-22 squadron to use these methods. They began practicing before Hurricane Michael struck and now are using them to maximize their training time.

“Using this concept of hot pitting with rapid crew swaps, or hot seat operations as we have been calling it, our team has been able to drastically increase sortie production to levels we have never seen in the history of our organization,” Peterson said. “The hot seat operations concept has been a paradigm shift that is among the most important innovations we have put into effect since the hurricane.”

Senior Airman Jordan Arnold, 325th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, from Tyndall Air Force Base, performs final checks on an F-22 Raptor during a rapid crew swap at Eglin AFB, Fla., July 2, 2019. Hot-pit refueling coupled with rapid crew swaps reduces the amount of time it takes to get a new pilot in the air, saves time and produces more sorties with less aircraft. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Anthony Nin Leclerec)