Raptors at RIAT Title Image

Raptors at RIAT Report

Friday 29th January

It's the time of year when our forums are rife with speculation of what may or may not be appearing at various airshows in the summer ahead, not to mention some of the far fetched wishlists that appear annually. For any airshow, an interesting and varied lineup is desirable, but for the Royal International Air Tattoo in particular, it's a necessity. The show has a rich history of securing exotica to appeal to enthusiasts, and for the ill-fated RIAT of 2008, the organisers managed to pull in an amazing UK debut from the USAF's latest frontline fast jet, the F-22 Raptor.

Russell Collins looks back at the first ever European appearance of the USAF F-22 Raptor, and spoke to RIAT's Robert Windsor about the work involved in securing such a coup. Additional photography by Michael Hall and Steve Buckby.

Three United States Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors from the 1st Fighter Wing, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia arrived at RAF Fairford on Tuesday 8th July 2008. They were to appear at the Royal International Air Tattoo and also on a single trade day at Farnborough International. The deployment was supported by a McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender, call sign Cafe 61, from 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis AFB, California.

Tuesday 8th July 2008 was a pleasant day, with comfortable temperatures and patches of sunshine it was the perfect start to what would have been a wonderful airshow. A steady crowd gathered at the end of Runway 27 at RAF Fairford, with the F-22s and KC-10 due around the middle of the afternoon.

With the cackle of enthusiasts airband radios, "Cafe 61" called up right on time. It wasn't long before we got the first glimmer of an aircraft many UK based enthusiasts have craved after for a long time. In the distance flying a north-east heading, the KC-10 was seen with three Raptors trailing in a tight formation. Cafe 61 explained to ATC that they would flyover nearby RAF Brize Norton, then turn towards Fairford and "release the Raptors".

Raptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT Report

It wasn't long before the Raptors had broken away from the KC-10 and were running in for a run-and-break over RAF Fairford. Each Raptor performed three missed approaches, every time pulling plenty of Gs to tightly re-join the circuit - an early indicator of just how agile this machine is. After finally touching down all three aircraft headed to the north side of the airbase, to be tucked up in one of the hangars designed to support B-2A operations.

Amongst the pilots who brought the Raptors over was the first Air Combat Command F-22A Raptor Demonstration Team pilot, Major Paul "Max" Moga who would fly the routine at RIAT and also RAF F-22 exchange pilot Flt Lt Dan Robinson, formerly a weapons instructor on the Tornado F3. After arriving at RIAT he described himself as the "luckiest pilot in the Royal Air Force" to be selected to fly the stealthy fifth generation fighter on exchange.

Robert Windsor, Deputy Director Aircraft Operations at RIAT explained the process of securing the Raptor's participation to UKAR:

"As normal, we went through the usual approval process with USAF/DoD in August/September of 2007. Once we had that in place we bid for aircraft, including the F-22 as the new demo team had been announced, as well as inviting several senior USAF personnel including the Chief. In doing all of this we work very closely with the US Defence Staff in London and UK reps in Washington."

Raptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT Report

"In late January/Early February we heard from Air Combat Command (who are incredibly supportive of RIAT and our parent Trust) that the F-22 was pretty much a 'go' pending final approval from the 4* boss of ACC. That approval came in early March and planning proper began with "Max" Moga and his team, all of whom were very on-side. To quote Max - "First off, I cannot tell you how thrilled we are to be supporting RIAT this year. What a HISTORIC event in the history of aviation this promises to be." From our point of view, the fact that RIAT was chosen for the Raptors UK & European debut was nothing short of fantastic. We officially released the news to the media around this time which received a great deal of coverage. I think it fair to say that the enthusiast forums were 'lit up' as well!"

"The planning phase was comprehensive to say the least. Looking through my old files I can see around 200 emails, paperwork from both sides (a file 1.5 inches thick, excluding emails!), we had several security meetings, ops planning meetings etc etc. It was in our interests as well as the Demo Teams to make sure everything was in place in advance of the arrival of the jets so that all went smoothly. And it did all go smoothly...until the weather came. And the rest, as they say, is history! The best of years and the worst of years so to speak."

"I have to say that Max and the whole of the Raptor Demo Team of 2008 were a great bunch of people. They were 'never say never' folks and the amount of work they put in to appearing at Fairford was huge. Once here they were always keen and enthusiastic, despite the monsoons sweeping by outside!"

Raptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT Report

None of the Raptors were scheduled to fly again till the Thursday, when Major Paul "Max" Moga, would carry out display certification at both Farnborough and Fairford. Max went to Farnborough first on Thursday, disappointingly departing in military power. About thirty minutes before his rehearsal slot at RIAT, the forecasted heavy showers started and the forthcoming torrential rain lasted the best part of an hour. As a result the rehearsal was cancelled; the Raptor shut down and was pushed back into the serenity of the hangar away from the lashing rain, with the next display rehearsal scheduled the following day.

Similar to previous deployments of sensitive USAF aircraft, such as the F-117A and B-2A, security was very tight and the Raptor deployment was no different, with no static appearance expected during the show days. I was privileged enough to have a tour of the north side of the airfield in a "Follow Me" car during the ground celebrations of the RAF's 90th Anniversary at the base on the Friday. One of the Raptors was in the hangar with the door surprisingly open, as we approached at a distance our driver firmly informed us; "There is a jittery USAF guard with a machine gun over there, if he sees you point a big lens at the F-22 in the hangar, he probably will fire. So don't!" - point taken!

Raptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT Report

Friday's rehearsal at Fairford was in appalling conditions, with the rain clearing only briefly for Max, call sign Raptor 01, to finally conduct his routine. It was certainly worth the wait. Lifting off from Fairford's runway in full afterburner, leaping from the ground very quickly, Max kept the Raptor low briefly breaking to the right around the display centre to get over the display line, a few seconds later pulling hard back on the stick to take the Raptor into the vertical, which demonstrated the incredible responsiveness the thrust vectored nozzles give the aircraft. It was unsurprising that this manoeuvre left the Raptor engulfed in self created vapour. Many other fighters would have probably stalled from the loss of energy but with 70,000lbs of thrust produced by the two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 engines the aircraft continued its steep ascent, with Max remarkably easing off the throttles to avoid climbing too high.

The Raptors aggressive, vapour friendly aerial dance continued for the next ten minutes, with physics-defying manoeuvres such as a high-alpha loop, power loop, tailslide (where the aircraft slide at a rate of -50 knots) and of course a favourite of USAF fighter demos, the knife edge dedication pass. But it was an all too brief showing, with RIAT 2008's show days being cruelly cancelled because of the unforgiving rain.

One unique plan during the show days was for the Raptor and RAF Typhoon to have a formation fly past, something that has never been seen. This formation would have symbolised two of NATO's latest and most advanced fighters. Lets hope next time the Raptor is in the UK, such a formation can become a reality.

Raptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT ReportRaptors at RIAT Report

For Monday's display at Farnborough International, the Raptor was "escorted" from Fairford to Farnborough by an F-15E from RAF Lakenheath. "That's just the way we do things" was the response by a USAF officer as to the necessity of the escort. Although in their defence, with the difficulty of navigating very busy and unfamiliar airspace, it does make sense.

Major Paul "Max" Moga was determined to make up for the show's cancellation with another vapour induced flyby on arrival back at Fairford, he also insisted to ATC that he would take the aircraft all the way down the runway to the Western Park and View Enclosure after landing, so that enthusiasts could get a closer look at the jet. A thoroughly decent gesture from the pilot.

The three F-22 Raptors departed RAF Fairford to Langley AFB on Tuesday 15th July 2008. Let's hope this extraordinary aircraft can return to the UK in 2010.