02/25/07 — U.S.'s new bird of prey

View Archive

U.S.'s new bird of prey

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 25, 2007 2:11 AM

The F-15E Strike Eagle isn't used to being upstaged on the flight line at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

But when an F-22A Raptor landed at the base Thursday evening, most everybody took notice.

Described as "unmatched by any known or projected aircraft" by military officials and avionics experts, the Raptor is the Air Force's newest fighter.

It was on display for base personnel to see up close for the first time in a hangar Friday.

Bronze Star winner and commander of the 325th Operations Group Col. Matthew Molloy was there, too. He has logged more than 100 hours in the jet and shared the experience of flying a Raptor with members of the 336th Fighter Squadron.

"This plane will outmaneuver any fighter in the world," he said. "It is one heck of an aircraft."

The single-seat jet had been a dream for nearly two decades before making its first appearance in theater in December 2005.

Molloy told the airmen it was well worth the wait.During war games, he said, the F-22 was undefeated against the best fighter pilots in the world.

"It was frustrating for them. The best fighter pilots in the world couldn't match it -- not even in the F-15," he said. "The Raptor has a pretty voracious appetite for bad-guy aircraft. Nobody wants to be in the sky anywhere near it."

The combination of day and night stealth capabilities, unmatched speed and a state-of-the-art weapons system make it close to impossible for an enemy to bring down or elude the jet, he added.

"For the pilot, it's really just a matter of, 'OK guys, we have eight missiles on the airplane. Who are the lucky eight who are going to die today?'" Molloy said. "It's goes Mach 2 and can get there fast. As its pilot, I am the biggest stick on the block."

And for the U.S. military, that is what makes the $137 million jet worth every penny, he added -- it is feared and earned that reputation.

"It's not something you could go out and replicate tomorrow," Molloy said. "Not even if we gave it to you."

The Raptor has both air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities the likes of which have never been seen, he added -- its sophisticated sensor suite allows the pilot to track, shoot and kill the enemy before being detected and it can cruise at Mach 1.5 without afterburners.

"It's the magic of America," Molloy said.

Still, there are no plans at this time to bring F-22A fighter squadrons to Seymour Johnson or to phase out the Strike Eagle for the Raptor. The jet will eventually be housed at bases in Florida, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska and at Langley, where two fighter squadrons currently exist.

But Molloy said he has no doubt that in time, the Air Force's newest weapon will be envied and pursued by every military power in the world.

"It really is the future of air combat," he said. "This is hands down the premier fighter jet on the planet and it's ours."