Making its second appearance at the Australian International Airshow, the United States Air Force’s F-22 Raptor demonstration team display is a definite show favourite with its thrust-vectored handling display.
However, with Friday’s arrival of the Royal Australian Air Force’s first pair of F-35 Lightning IIs, the Raptor may be upstaged and relegated to second prize in the most popular at show stakes.
Major Dan ‘Rock’ Dickinson, commander of the USAF F-22 demonstration team based at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, talked up his display routine with the Raptor when he spoke with Australian Aviation ahead of his Friday afternoon display as part of the first public performances at this year’s Avalon Airshow.
“The team is excited to be here supporting the United States Air Force at Avalon 2017 with the F-22 Raptor,” said MAJ Dickinson. “We brought three of them down from RAAF Base Tindal from where they deployed to exercise with the Royal Australian Air Force.”
The Raptors at Avalon are from the 90th Fighter Squadron based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, and flew into Avalon directly from RAAF Base Tindal, Northern Territory last week.
MAJ Dickinson first flew at Avalon on the Sunday prior to the opening of the trade show to practice his routine.
“Prior to every airshow or trade show we get a practice flight in,” said MAJ Dickinson. “That’s a great chance for myself and the rest of the team to make sure we’re all on the same page and for me to check out my reference markers on the ground so we can conduct everything as safely as we can for the crowd.”
MAJ Dickinson said there’s a lot of preparation that goes into a display before flying the jet in front of a crowd.
“Beyond flying the manoeuvres in the simulator and doing a number of syllabus rides to get checked out, I’ll also look at some satellite imagery of the airfield to get a real lay of the land with what the airport looks like, where the water is. And I’ll also do that when I get airborne too, to get eyes on those markers based on what I’m expecting to see. Safety is paramount for us.”
An F-22 display pilot spends around four months conducting work up training to take over from the incumbent pilot.
“You take over the position as the team commander and demonstration pilot and on the way out of the job you train the in-coming demo pilot to make sure they’re full up and ready to go. It’s probably the best assignment I’ve had in the Air Force.”
An F-22 display pilot is a two-year assignment. Now into his final year showing off the Raptor, MAJ Dickinson said the display is almost more of a presentation.
“The flying is about 75 per cent of it, but we are trying to choreograph it with the narration and the music to make it an awesome demonstration for the crowd from all aspects.” Said MAJ Dickinson. “Doing the narration is not an easy job – I don’t envy him. It’s a lot of work to keep the crowd motivated and get everyone fired up. It’s a team effort to make that the display happen.”
Earlier in the week, MAJ Dickinson had to cut his display short on Tuesday after the jet he was flying experienced a technical problem.
“I had a minor issue with a recirculation valve,” said Dickinson. “It was nothing major, but it’s one of those things where I’m not going to continue flying. We’re not in combat here, so when that warning alert comes on we knock off the display, go and check it out away from the airfield before coming back in to land to get one of our maintenance teams we have, who are the best, to took care of it.”