The 411th Flight Test Squadron hosted an annual Air Dominance Day celebration at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., April 15, 2022.
Members of the F-22 Raptor test team took time to honor past accomplishments that has resulted in American air dominance for almost 70 years.
April 15, 1953, marks the last time American ground forces were lost due to an enemy aircraft attack. Lt. Col. David Schmitt, 411th FLTS Commander and F-22 Combined Test Force Director, said many past fighters have contributed to the 69-year streak of American air dominance, culminating in the Raptor’s current role as the nation’s air superiority fighter.
Schmitt began the day by giving a brief on the importance of air dominance citing historical battles that hinged on a successful aerial campaign. He added that in modern times, no foreign enemy state has dared to go up against the Air Force in air-to-air battles, and that is due to air dominance.
“That is why we’re here today; that we haven’t lost American lives from an enemy aircraft attack is significant, and that’s because of you, and all that you do for the Raptor,” Schmitt said to the 411th FLTS personnel in attendance.
The Raptor’s journey to become what it is today did not happen overnight. Those steps began more than 25 years ago, and retired Lt. Col. Steven “Hooter” Rainey was there. Rainey had a profound influence in the Raptor’s development in what Schmitt called, “the most dominant fighter ever built.”
Rainey’s involvement with the Raptor began even before the first aircraft rolled off the assembly line at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Ga., on April 9, 1997. Rainey actually began his work with the Raptor in 1994 when he was assigned to the F-22 System Program Office.
“I moved out to Edwards in 1996 as the 411th operations officer and we didn’t have an airplane yet,” Rainey said. “The first flight was originally supposed to have a target date of 1997, so the idea was to get an operation set up in time to support the first flight.”
Later, on Sept. 7, 1997, Rainey flew one of two chase aircraft for the Raptor’s first flight at Dobbins. After another successful test flight, the era of the F-22 at Edwards officially began on Feb. 5, 1998.
“A C-5 (Galaxy) comes rolling up to my gate, opens the nose and they start pulling airplane parts and pieces,” Rainey said. “I think the only part that looked like an airplane was the fuselage, some assembly required.”
On May 7, 1998, Rainey became the first Air Force pilot to fly the aircraft during an 80-minute flight that evaluated flying qualities, speed brake handling and formation flying.
“That was obviously one for the record books,” he said. “It was a big deal for me to be able to do that.”
In recognition of Rainey’s tenure with the F-22 program, the CTF honored him with a special ceremony that reflected both his time as an Air Force test pilot and also as a Boeing and Lockheed Martin test pilot following his retirement and a short stint as a commercial airline pilot.
Besides the first Air Force F-22 flight, Rainey’s accomplishments of “firsts” includes: in-flight APU (auxiliary power unit) start, in-flight engine shutdown/restart, air refueling, loads test, and emergency landing gear extension.
Although he says that being a test pilot and ops officer of a brand new aircraft was “the cream of the crop,” being the 411th’s Squadron Commander was a highlight of his career.
“That was a highlight, quite a learning experience when you transition to be a squadron commander: now it’s all about your people,” Rainey explained.
“For instance, years later, how some of the things that I did made a positive influence on a few people’s lives, and that has meant an incredible amount to me, you always want to be a better commander, you look back and there’s a thousand things you can do differently, but if you can look back and say, ‘wow, I did make a positive influence,’ that was huge for me.”
Rainey added that it has been a rewarding career watching his “baby” grow from infancy to its “teen” years reaching Initial Operational Capability, to becoming an “all-star athlete,” and culminating in flying a test-sortie on mid-life upgrades on his final flight with the squadron.
For his contribution to the nation’s continued air dominance, Rainey was afforded a farewell ceremony capping his time as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Chief Test Pilot. Rainey’s legacy of leadership and camaraderie within the squadron, continues to this day: exemplified during their Air Dominance Day.
Schmitt and the squadron leadership organized multiple events that allowed their team to gather, reflect and “refresh” upon their persistent mission for the Raptor, now in the midst of midlife upgrades. Schmitt assured him the squadron would take care of Rainey’s “baby,” and they would carry on America’s continued air dominance.