|F-22 ‘Rapture’: Pilot to Be Among First to Fly Raptor |
F-22 ‘Rapture’: Pilot to Be Among First to Fly Raptor
By Staff Sgt. Bryan Bouchard, 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs.
Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina -- (ACCNS) December 21, 2001 -- People join the Air Force for many reasons: college money, patriotism, direction, or a combination of them all. There are some who join for one reason and one reason alone: to fly the best jets in America’s Air Force.
Such has been the case twice for Capt. Chris Niemi of the 336th Fighter Squadron. The Jacksonville, Fla., native learned Dec. 11 that he would switch from one of the Air Force’s newest fighters, the F-15E Strike Eagle, to the next-generation F-22 Raptor.
Niemi, who was one of 10 pilots selected Air Force-wide to become a member of the initial cadre for the F-22, said he is lucky to earn this opportunity.
"When there are only 10 pilots in the entire Air Force that get selected for a chance like this, there has to be luck involved," he said.
When he was notified of his selection, Niemi tried to call his wife of five years, Janice, but she was at work. So he called his father back home in Florida to tell him the good news. Later that night, when his wife did find out, she was as shocked as he was.
"I really downplayed my chances of making the cut to my wife when I applied," Niemi said. "So when I told her I made it, she was pretty thrilled."
His commander, Lt. Col. Everette Newton, said luck had nothing to do with it. "Certainly, (Niemi) is one of the elite in the Air Force."
He’s moving on to the Air Force’s newest jet, but Niemi has more than enjoyed his time flying the F-15E.
Flying the Strike Eagle for the last six years has been a dream come true, since that’s what he wanted to fly since entering pilot training in 1993. He said if he hadn’t been picked for the Raptor, he would have still felt lucky to fly the Strike Eagle for the rest of his career.
"It’s been the greatest opportunity to fly the F-15E, especially in combat," said the veteran of operations Allied Force and Northern Watch. "The Strike Eagle is an outstanding platform."
Niemi now looks forward to making new memories behind the stick of the Air Force’s latest technological masterpiece at Edwards AFB, Calif., and Nellis AFB, Nev.
The F-22 Raptor was designed to replace the aging F-15C aircraft. It combines stealth technology and the ability to fight air-to-air as well as air-to-ground.
Newton, who switched from the F-4 Phantom to the then-new F-15E 10 years ago, said that with new avionics and weapon systems aboard the nearly $80 million aircraft, Niemi will be at the leading edge of military aircraft -- "not just technologically but tactically as well," Newton said. "And he’s the right guy to do it."