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HIANG soars into the future, says good-bye to old friend

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HI. -- The 154th Wing's transition operations is at full throttle with several changes to facilities and training to meet new standards given the difference in war-fighting capabilities.

Nearly three months after the Hawaii Air National Guard welcomed the first of its new inventory of F-22 Raptors, construction has started on new facilities and pilots have begun transitioning into their new role as Raptor drivers.

"Things are going very well with the F-22 transition here at Hickam. The Total Force Integration (TFI) with the Hawaii Air National Guard and the Active Duty is working out very well," said Lt. Col. James Sage, HIANG fighter pilot and action officer for the conversion.

The transition marks the first time an ANG fighter wing is the lead flying squadron with F-22s. Seventy-five percent of the manning will be the 154th Wing with the other 25 percent being covered by active duty personnel.

"There are many people involved with this transition now and they are making a positive impact every day. We are currently utilizing workarounds until our permanent facilities are constructed. It is very important that our F-22 facilities construction stays on schedule," noted Sage.

The F-22 Raptors replaced the F-15 Eagles that the 199th Fighter Squadron had flown since 1987. The F-22 is designed to counter lethal threats posed by advanced surface-to-air missile systems and next-generation fighters equipped with launch-and-leave missile capability. The F-22 provides the U.S. Air Force air dominance for the 21st century, with a "first-look, first-shot, first-kill" capability.

One of the facility changes that marks a specific modification from the F-15 requirements is the Low Observable Composite Repair Facility (LOCRS). Low observable is the process of a coating stack being applied on an F-22 that makes it invisible to radar allowing the aircraft to remain undetected.

The advances in LO technologies provide significantly improved survivability and lethality against air-to-air and surface-to-air threats. State-of-the-art equipment and facilities are needed for the application of the complex system of paints and coatings necessary to meet the F-22's stringent radar cross section requirements.

Another obvious change is the location of the 154th's ramp. The internal weapon system capabilities for the Raptor make it necessary to have a ramp that is somewhat further away from crucial, populated structures, according to Sage. The current ramp will still be used when the aircraft are not armed.

As construction continues, so does the transition process for the pilots who to date far exceed the number of aircraft currently in the inventory.

"Every pilot you train you have to keep current," said Sage, "so the training requirements are based upon the number of aircraft available to fly so pilots can maintain currency. We can't have all of the pilots trained with not enough aircraft on hand to fly so the aircraft arrival and the training schedule are set up to accommodate the disparity."

As of Sept 15, there were only two F-22's and three pilots trained at Tyndall. Sage expects that with the aircraft rolling in at an average of two a month, all 18 "ready" aircraft and two spares will be here by November 2011.

Maj. Michael Blake, a fulltime 199th pilot who joined the HIANG "fresh off the street" in 1995, completed the training last May. "My formal course at Tyndall lasted about 3 1/2 months," said Blake. "The training for the F-15 and the F-22 is similar with the main difference between the two aircraft being the increase in overall capability of the F-22 versus the F-15."

All 199th pilots will go through Tyndall Air Force Base's four-month long transition course (also known as a TX course) for experienced pilots transferring from other fighter types. Two pilots are currently training in Florida at Tyndall and are slated to return after the first of the year.

Another enhancement to the 154th's facilities and its ability to keep pilots current is the addition of a four cockpit F-22 simulator that is slated to be completed in 2014.

"Hickam currently does not have a dedicated, full-on, hands-on simulator and we used to send our pilots TDY to the mainland to get that training," said Sage. "This will really help us deflect overall cost and greatly enhance our F-22 training." Simulators also free up aircraft for real-world missions and deployments.

With the arrival and transition also came the final departure of the F-15 Eagle in August. Hawaii Air National Guard members, family members and retirees came together Aug. 20 and bid adieu to the F-15 Eagle.

The sunset gathering included aircraft static displays and a traditional Hawaiian style buffet to include a farewell cake. A live band provided music for the evening as friends from the past few decades gathered for a nostalgic night of remembrance. As of Sept. 1 all of the F-15s have departed Hickam. The sunset celebration gave the HIANG one last evening to gather and reflect.