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Nothing ‘plane’ about training the world’s future F-22 pilots

F-22 Raptor flies over the Gulf of Mexico

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor with the 325th Fighter Wing flies over the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, out of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Dec. 10, 2020. Tyndall one of the few Air Force bases with direct access to the EGOMEX, making it the perfect host for large scale exercises and training missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany Price)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

 The 325th Training Support Squadron is responsible for training the world’s F-22 Raptor pilots, a type of instruction that doesn’t end in a regular classroom with pen and paper.

 “Our simulators replicate actual combat situations that will be seen upon graduation,” said Robert Hinkle, the 325th TRSS director of operations. “We can go from simple training missions like take-off and landing, to complex fighter maneuvers. It is our job to make sure they are confident in their tasks before they make it out to the flight line.”

Before the students go to the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base for their first real flight, there is plenty they must demonstrate proficiency in with the 325th TRSS. The training F-22 pilots accomplish at Tyndall involves learning systems with a weapons and tactics trainer and completing missions in a simulator.

“The 325th TRSS is the first stop for any pilots that are going to be flying an F-22,” said Lt. Col. John Cummings, the 325th TRSS commander. “Every single F-22 pilot has come through this squadron at one time.”

The four-month academic and simulator course mandates 380 hours of academic instruction and 45 simulator missions to prepare pilots for the reality of operating the fifth-generation fighter. According to Hinkle, it is the physical effects of flying an F-22 that can’t be mimicked in training.

“The greatest difference between real flight and the simulator are the sensations like fluctuating heart rate,” said Hinkle. “Flying an airplane is an athletic event, there is a lot of stress physically and mentally. That is the only thing we can’t replicate in the simulator.” Hinkle added that the 325th TRSS can actually do more realistic combat training missions in the simulator than in the actual airspace.

In addition to pilot training, the 325th TRSS also monitors all of the Gulf ranges and Tyndall’s airspace.

“Essentially from Destin all the way down to Tampa is the size of the training ranges we operate in,” said Cummings. “On a daily basis, we fly missions in that airspace while the Tyndall Enterprise Live Mission Center monitors the aircraft in real time. This allows us to talk on the radio with pilots and provide guidance in the air-to-air fighting missions that we do.”

The 325th TRSS is unique in that it is made up of mostly civilians, many who continue to a part in F-22 pilot training after years of service.

“Mr. Hinkle teaches the flight control system and he knows the engineers who designed it,” said Cummings. “When something interesting is happening with the aircraft out in the fleet, they will turn to us for our expertise because of the time our instructors have had teaching these classes. They are some of the most knowledgeable people on the F-22 and its systems that you will find.”

With the knowledge and experience of the 325th TRSS instructors, Tyndall continues to develop the world’s most dominant F-22 pilots and project unrivaled combat air power.