Training with the F-22 Raptor: Here comes the boom

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Anabel Del Valle
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Tyndall’s mission to train the world’s only F-22 Raptor pilots continued over the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, Aug. 15-18, 2022, as student pilots completed night time aerial refueling drills with the 70th Air Refueling Squadron, assigned to Travis Air Force Base, California.

In order for student pilots to successfully graduate the F-22 Raptor basic course, students must demonstrate proficiency in 380 hours of academic instruction, 45 simulated flight missions, day and night time air-to-air refueling and more over the course of eight months.

Air-to-air refueling is a particularly difficult part of the curriculum because there is minimal light available for the intricate process of connecting the F-22 to the boom of a KC-10 Extender as the two aircraft fly within close range of each other.

While the F-22 student pilots are the focus of the mission, it takes a fully manned KC-10 aircrew to get the job done. The 70th ARS is a reserve unit full of unique Airmen who keep the mission going, even if they’re part-time. The unique circumstances during training allowed for a free flow of communication between the pilots and the tanker’s aircrew while also strengthening the relationship between Tyndall and Travis AFB.

“There [are] a lot of different aspects of being a boom operator, from communicating with the pilots to properly securing our cargo,” explained Staff Sgt. Jared Breaux, 70th ARS in-flight refueler. “Refueling the student pilots was awesome because we had the opportunity to meet face-to-face after. This allowed us to see their perspective on why they maneuvered the way they did in flight.”

As a full-time reservist, Breaux as been able to refuel many noteworthy missions including air demonstrations from the Navy Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds, but he says refueling for Team Tyndall’s F-22 students is especially rewarding.

“Coming from a small town in Louisiana and then enlisting in the military, it has broadened my horizons,” said Breaux. “I joined for education benefits but who would’ve thought I get to take part in the training the pilots of one of the most advanced fighter jets on the planet.”

Also fueling the training mission is Staff Sgt. Foster Griffith, a 70th ARS flight engineer, who fills a critical position on the KC-10 crew.

“My job is to control most of the systems on the aircraft so all the KC-10 pilot has to do is fly,” said Griffith. “If I am not here doing my job, none of the systems on the aircraft would be properly operating, then it becomes a safety issue. One mistake and we risk the aircraft becoming unbalanced and flying at an angle, our hydraulics system could fail, and other possible issues.”

Griffith has been in the reserves for six months following his recent separation from active duty. Although he’s been in the Air Force for over six years, he says he never loses the excitement of fulfilling his duties.

“I know that what I do here is super critical,” said Griffith. “I am the middleman controlling the panel and monitoring everything in between. From my heart, my duty this week to help train the world’s best fighter pilots is an honor. They are the best of the best.”