Holloman AFB, New Mexico became the Air Force’s latest F-22 base on Monday, with the arrival of its first Raptors.
According to a news release, more than 200 people welcomed the arrival of the fifth-generation fighters. The two aircraft were flown to Holloman by Colonel Jeff Harrigan, the 49th Fighter Wing Commander, and Lt Col Mike Hernandez, commander of the 7th Fighter Squadron.
"It's a big day. We're very proud to have the aircraft finally here," Colonel Hernandez said. "The F-22 is the finest fighter in the world. It is by far better than anything else that is out there and better than anything on anyone's drawings board. We're very lucky."
However, residents of southern New Mexico won’t see many Raptors in the skies, at least for now. While the two jets will fly on a regular basis, the wing’s initial focus, according to Lt Col Hernandez, will be on training airmen.
Holloman will receive more aircraft early next year, after the Air Force’s second F-22 wing (located at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska receives its full complement of jets.
The relatively slow pace of deliveries to Holloman reflects the complexity of the F-22, and its limited production run. The plane’s primary contractor, Lockheed-Martin, produces an average of two Raptors per month at its Marietta, Georgia assembly facility.
Current plans call for the Air Force to buy only 183 Raptors, a fraction of the original request, and barely half of what the service says it needs. A recent Senate defense bill would add more money for F-22 production, allowing the USAF to buy 20 additional aircraft.
But Pentagon officials says the Air Force doesn’t need the extra planes, and would prefer to spend the money on other projects, including the F-25 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
The 49th Wing will eventually receive 40 F-22s, enough for two squadrons. The unit is expected to achieve operational readiness with its new aircraft by November, 2009.