Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Alaska Air Force Reserve unit flies milestone sortie

by Capt. Ashley Conner
477th Fighter Group Public Affairs

5/6/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- F-22 pilots from the 477th Fighter Group, Alaska's only Air Force Reserve unit, made history during the Unit Training Assembly weekend May 3.

With a combined total of 4,000 flight hours, Col. David Piffarerio, Majs. Jonathan Gration, Ryan Pelkola and Chad Newkirk flew the most experienced four-ship flight in the history of the F-22.

"This is a milestone because it is the first time that pilots with this much experience have flown together making it a significant event for the maturation of the F-22 program but also for the 477th Fighter Group," said Piffarerio, 477th Fighter Group deputy group commander. "It is also a testament to the role the Air Force Reserve plays in defense of our country."

Typically active duty pilots will serve one or two assignments in a flying squadron before going to a non-flying assignment. In contrast, the Reserve is organized to allow Airmen to remain in place to train and bank experience while also maintaining civilian careers.

"The Air Force Reserve afforded me the opportunity to stay in Alaska and continue to fly the F-22," said Pelkola, 302nd Fighter Squadron F-22 pilot. "It really is the best of both worlds."

During the sortie, four pilots flew as "blue air" or good guys against four other "red air" or bad guys to defend the airspace. The eight strong sortie wouldn't have been possible without the meticulous oversight and dedication of the maintainers.

"Despite being at a base where the weather conditions can be harsh and create maintenance challenges, the F-22's at JBER have one of the best sortie generation rates in the combat Air Force," said Lt. Col. Aaron Heick, 477th Fighter Group deputy commander for maintenance. "The Reserve maintainers are a big piece of that since many of them have been taking care of the same planes since the unit stood up in 2007 and years of active duty experience before that."

The Reserve has a tremendous wealth of experience that is being leveraged in partnership with the active duty to ensure the Alaska F-22's are employed to meet U.S. objectives.

"It is an exciting time to see a weapon system mature to the point that we see the level of experience found in the pilots of the 477th Fighter Group," said Col. Tyler Otten, 477th Fighter Group commander. "The Raptor plays a crucial role in our national interests. The 477th Fighter Group stands ready in our partnership with the active duty's 3rd Wing to defend those interests."

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