F-22s Raptor crews from the 90th Fighter Squadron here deployed to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Oct. 30, to participate in exercise Combat Archer, the air-to-air evaluation portion of the Air Force’s Weapons Systems Evaluation Program.
90th FS members are training and being evaluated with the maintainers of the 90th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and their Reserve counterparts from the 302nd Fighter Squadron.
During this three-week deployment, pilots and maintainers are working together to validate the air-to-air combat capability of the newest F-22s in the Air Force inventory.
The 90th FS jets have never fired live air-to-air missiles before, and this deployment will ensure the squadron is ready for any contingency operation, leaders said.
Combat Archer provides a unique opportunity for our fighter pilots to experience firing a live air-to-air missile prior to combat, said Lt. Col. Joseph Kunkel, the 90th FS commander.
“Particularly, because these jets are brand new, this program allows first-time jets and pilots to experience what it feels like to fire a missile while in flight,” Colonel Kunkel said.
WSEP creates an opportunity for pilot-maintainer interaction, he said. The full mission includes loading missiles, flying with and firing missiles and hitting targets.
This means pilots, crew chiefs, armament systems specialists and avionics specialists are all working together to complete the mission, Colonel Kunkel said.
The Airmen will be flying more than 10 sorties per day; shooting air-to-air missiles, 20mm Vulcan cannon rounds, and dropping GBU-32 GPS-guided bombs during the deployment, Colonel Kunkel said.
All of the weapons evaluations will be conducted over water in the warning areas of the Gulf of Mexico range complex, he added.
To prepare for this deployment, 90th FS members conducted a number of simulator programs as well as academic programs.
“Being one of the pilots in this training mission, the experience is what I gain,” Colonel Kunkel said. “When it comes time to fight in flight, I will be comfortable using this aircraft for what it was made for.”