rit's shot at Raptor is envy of pilots worldwide
Langley welcomes a chap from the R.A.F. to be the first non-U.S. pilot to train on the Air Force's newest fighter.
BY STEPHANIE HEINATZ
March 23, 2006
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE -- When Dan Robinson climbed into the cockpit of one of Langley Air Force Base's F-22A Raptors, it was all he could do not to push every button inside.
"I was a kid again," Robinson said, in awe of a machine he'd dreamed of flying. "I wondered, What does this do? What does this, and this, and this do?"
The 29-year-old Royal Air Force flight lieutenant - a rank equivalent to a U.S. Air Force captain - will soon learn.
Robinson checked in at Langley this month as the first non-American pilot to train on the U.S. Air Force's newest supersonic stealth fighter.
Last year, when Robinson's unit commanders announced that the United States was offering an exchange program on the Raptor, "every man - and their dog, and their wife, and their cat - applied for it," he said.
Pilots around the world, Robinson said, had been keenly watching as the new fighter came online, arriving first at Langley.
"We are never going to do anything by ourselves as a military," said Brig. Gen. Burton M. Field, commander of Langley's 1st Fighter Wing. "Militaries work with other militaries. And since we have to do that, these kind of exchange programs give both militaries a chance to see how each other works."
The program marries the two militaries together so much, in fact, that Robinson now walks around Langley in a U.S. flight suit - his rank, name tag and accent the only giveaway to his British background.
Field said Robinson will receive the same training as every new Raptor pilot.
Here, as a member of the 27th Fighter Squadron, Robinson will spend time in the classroom and in a flight simulator, learning the basics of the Raptor.
"To behold, it's a magnificent machine," Robinson said Wednesday shortly after spending time in the simulator for the first time.
In the United Kingdom, Robinson flies the F-3 Tornado - his military's elite air-to-air fighter.
He was able to fly the Raptor in the simulator, he said, because it has wings and thrust like the aircraft he's used to.
"But it's a completely different generation of aircraft," he said "It gives you a wealth of information, information I have to absorb and then quickly process."
That'll be the main challenge in April, he said, when he heads to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to take to the skies.
"There's no turning back there," Robinson said. "Raptors only have one seat, so it's off you go."
When he returns to Langley in July, where he'll stay for three years, he's bound to be inside one of the Raptors soaring over Hampton Roads.
"I'll be just like any other pilot in the squadron," Robinson said. "If they deploy, I deploy."
That, Robinson admitted, was part of the draw of the program.
"Getting on an operational squadron is an added bonus."
While he's here, Robinson plans to take advantage of everything living in the United States offers.
Well, except for one thing.
"The beer is just terrible over here."