The days are numbered for the United States Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, the first fifth-generation stealth fighter to enter service.
That could actually be good news for aviation buffs as it means some of the retired aircraft might be a bit easier to see.
In fact, Christmas came early for the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base (AFB), Utah, as a “wrapped-up” F-22 arrived earlier this month.
The dismantled Raptor, which had previously been assigned to the 325th Fighter Wing from Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, was transported to the base in a C-5 transport. Following its reassembly, the fighter will be added to the collection of aircraft on display at the museum.
F-22: Old Reliable Indeed
The particular F-22 – tail number 91-4002 – had the fitting nickname, “Old Reliable.”
It first flew on June 29, 1998, and had subsequently been used for flight testing. Since 2006, Old Reliable had been used for ground instruction training, until it was retired last year.
For the Hill Aerospace Museum, it was truly the best Christmas present, as an F-22 aircraft had been on the “wish list” for a long time. When word came that Old Reliable was being retired, Aaron Clark, the museum’s director, jumped into action and filed the official request for it.
Though other museums may feel like they missed out, Hill AFB is a fitting choice as it is home to the F-22 depot and program office. Once the Old Reliable F-22 goes on permanent display, it will be able to educate the public on the aircraft as well as the critical Air Force mission that is supported by Hill personnel.
“It will help us tell the local and broader story of these fighter aircraft with the real thing, something most people would never have the opportunity of seeing in person,” said Clark.
Much like building a model kit or putting together a LEGO playset, there has been great anticipation regarding the final results. In this case, it took more than Santa – or a fleet of Amazon delivery drivers – to ensure this new “toy” arrived successfully.
Brandon Hedges, the museum’s restoration chief, explained that the planning process of transporting the Raptor from Florida to Hill was no small endeavor. It actually began a year and a half ago as the Air Force deliberated every aspect of transportation to ensure a smooth path.
“As with many aircraft moves there is a multitude of moving parts that require great trust in team members’ skills and abilities to accomplish each tasking,” Hedges added.
The coordination involved multiple entities, including from Hill: the F-22 System Program Office, the 309th Expeditionary Depot Maintenance Flight, and 75th Logistics Readiness Squadron and from Tyndall: 325th Maintenance Squadron and 325th Logistics Readiness Squadron. The C-5 and its aircrew are assigned to 512th Airlift Wing from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.
“Each of these entities played a vital role in accomplishing a transportation of this nature and delivered a great training opportunity for each entity,” said Hedges.
It will be a bit more of an undertaking than any LEGO or model kit, however.
Restoration of the aircraft is expected to take several months. Clark suggested the restoration will also become a unique learning opportunity for those who are training to enter the aircraft maintenance career field.
When completed, the F-22 Raptor will be displayed in the museum’s new 80,000-square-foot gallery expansion, which is estimated to be completed in the fall of next year. The museum will provide restoration progress updates and photos on its social media pages.
In With a New Raptor Team Pilot
Even as it will be the end of the line for that one Raptor, which will essentially have its wings clipped as it becomes a static display, there will still be opportunities for aviation buffs to see the F-22 Demonstration Team in action during the 2023 air show season.
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There will also be a new team member.
Earlier this month, Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, officially certified Team Pilot Capt. Samuel “RaZZ” Larson, who will replace Maj. Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson as the command and pilot of the F-22 Demonstration Team.
Larson is an experienced fighter pilot having accumulated over 750 flying hours in aircraft such as the T-6 Texan, T-38 Talon, and F-22 Raptor since he began his Air Force career in 2015. As the F-22 Demonstration Team commander and pilot, Larson will also be responsible for leading the team by showcasing the unmatched maneuverability of the Air Force’s fifth-generation air dominance stealth fighter.
“I’m humbled to have the opportunity to join this incredible team. The mentorship I received from Air Force demo pilots and maintainers, along with the airshows I would attend in my home state of Iowa, inspired me to serve my country as a fighter pilot,” Larson said. “Our goal is to now pay that forward and inspire others. We have an outstanding team assembled for the 2023 airshow season and it is a privilege to work with such a remarkable group of maintainers and specialists to showcase this aircraft to the world.”
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.