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Ignorance Makes The F-22 Deadlier
by James Dunnigan
March 27, 2009

The U.S. Air Force F-22 jet fighter is unique in many ways. For pilots, the biggest change is that the tactics used are different from previous fighters. The F-22 is faster, more agile and has more powerful sensors.. And it is stealthy. The air force found that new pilots, right out of flight training, with no previous fighter experience, adapted more quickly and effectively to flying the F-22, than pilots with thousands, or even hundreds, of hours in F-16s and F-15s. This was largely because the new pilots did not have a lot of tactical experience to unlearn. All they knew was the F-22, and they took to it quickly. The new pilots surprised the more experienced pilots in mock battles.

Another factor may have been the care with which the new pilots were prepared for their first solo flights in the F-22. That's because there are no two seat versions. All previous U.S. single-seat fighters had a few two-seater versions so pilots-in-training could go up with an instructor in the back seat, just in case. But the air force examined its training records and discovered that simulators, and training methods in general, were getting better and better over the years. Most instructor pilots agreed that it would not be risky to let pilots take their first solo ride in a single-seater. Thus there are no two seat versions of the F-22. Instead, trainee pilots spend more time in the usual full fidelity simulator (an actual F-22 cockpit, surrounded by a video system providing 360 degree hi-def graphics.)

Just to be on the safe side, the first F-22 pilots were those who already had a lot of air time (over 1,500 hours) in F-16s and F-15s. But now the training program is taking many pilots with only 600 hours in other fighters. As a test, there are also four pilots right out of basic flight training. These were the ones at the top of their class. Still, these pilots have less than a hundred hours in the air, and took their first F-22 flights in a single seat aircraft, with no problems.

There was, however, an instructor pilot nearby, flying another F-22. A second instructor pilot was on the ground, checking the status of the trainee pilots aircraft, and radioing advice or warnings as needed. But neither instructor pilot could take over the controls of the trainee's aircraft, as was the case in two seater fighters. The four green trainees soloed last year.


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