Hawaii's Hickam base preparing for arrival of its F-22 Raptors
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
In less than two months, two stealthy F-22 Raptor fighters will fly from Utah to Hickam Air Force Base.
The Air Force's premier fighter jet has passed through Hawai'i before, on the way to Guam and Japan. This time, they'll be heading "home."
The expected arrival of aircraft tail numbers 045 and 046 around June 30 fulfills more than four years of planning to bring the F-22s to Hawai'i.
A total of 20 are slated to be based at Hickam, with the remaining 18 expected to start flying in as of January and continuing to arrive throughout 2011 and early 2012, officials said.
The planes will be "owned" by the Hawai'i Air National Guard, with a minority of pilots and maintainers coming from the active-duty Air Force.
Brig. Gen. Joseph K. Kim, commander of the 154th Wing of the Hawai'i Air National Guard, said the changes that will arrive with the F-22s are profound.
The 154th will be the first Air Guard-led unit with "fifth generation" advanced stealth fighters in the Air Force, Kim said. Strategically, the F-22s will be an important asset in the Pacific.
"Location being everything, having these fighters puts us within one hop of what could be a possible area of conflict out in the theater," said Kim, a command pilot with more than 8,000 flying hours.
The basing is expected to bring about $144 million in construction to Hickam on eight major projects, with ground scheduled to be broken today on a $26 million hangar.
The arrival of the F-22s also is accompanied by the departure of aging twin-tailed F-15 Eagles that have plied the skies over Honolulu since 1987.
Around August, F-15s from the Montana Air National Guard are expected to fill the air defense role that is provided by the Hawai'i Air Guard's Eagles, Kim said.
The first two F-22s to arrive will be maintenance training aircraft.
"We will fly a number of sorties, as well, to help train our first two pilots," Kim said, "but their primary purpose here is to train our maintainers."
The first two aircraft, which are approximately 3 years old, are undergoing maintenance at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, he said.
Raptors can reach supersonic speed without afterburners, are highly maneuverable and have reduced visibility to radar.
Their top speed is more than 1,500 mph at altitude, and they can be loaded with up to eight internally-carried missiles, or missiles and satellite-guided bombs.
The F-22 has also generated controversy as one of the Air Force's most expensive fighters, coming in at about $143 million a copy and as much as $350 million with research and development factored in.
The U.S. Senate voted in 2009 to end production of the Raptor at a total of 187 aircraft.
Kim said a couple of dozen maintenance personnel and a couple of pilots have received training for the arrival of the Raptors, and more will receive training as the unit draws down its F-15 mission.
Being an Air Guard-led unit "is very significant for us," Kim said. "It's a real testament to the quality of work of our people and pilots' performance in the past."
An official arrival ceremony for the first two Raptors is scheduled for July 9, Kim said.