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43rd Fighter Squadron: Molding the mind in the machine

Senior Airman Ronald Buchholz, 43rd Fighter Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, cleans a pilot’s helmet Sept. 22 at the 43rd FS. The AFE shop is responsible for maintaining equipment F-22 Raptor pilots wear during flight including the helmet, G-suit and life preserver units. This gear is designed to keep a pilot safe during flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dustin Mullen/Released)

Senior Airman Ronald Buchholz, 43rd Fighter Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, cleans a pilot’s helmet Sept. 22 at the 43rd FS. The AFE shop is responsible for maintaining equipment F-22 Raptor pilots wear during flight including the helmet, G-suit and life preserver units. This gear is designed to keep a pilot safe during flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dustin Mullen/Released)

Senior Airman SooSong Flake, 43rd Fighter Squadron aviation resource manager, inputs and audits flying hours for the squadron Sept. 22 at the 43rd FS. The 43rd FS trains pilots to fly the F-22 Raptor, the pinnacle of America’s unrivaled combat air power. Airmen like Flake maintain flight records, validate aircrew safety and physical requirements, monitor daily flight mission data and establish schedules for aircrew training for the squadron.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dustin Mullen/Released)

Senior Airman SooSong Flake, 43rd Fighter Squadron aviation resource manager, inputs and audits flying hours for the squadron Sept. 22 at the 43rd FS. The 43rd FS trains pilots to fly the F-22 Raptor, the pinnacle of America’s unrivaled combat air power. Airmen like Flake maintain flight records, validate aircrew safety and physical requirements, monitor daily flight mission data and establish schedules for aircrew training for the squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dustin Mullen/Released)

First Lieutenant Thomas Heikkenen, 43rd Fighter Squadron F-22 Raptor b-course student, dons his flight gear Sept. 22 at the 43rd FS. The 43rd FS is responsible for providing air dominance training for America’s newest fighter, the F-22 Raptor. Its combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dustin Mullen/Released)

First Lieutenant Thomas Heikkenen, 43rd Fighter Squadron F-22 Raptor b-course student, dons his flight gear Sept. 22 at the 43rd FS. The 43rd FS is responsible for providing air dominance training for America’s newest fighter, the F-22 Raptor. Its combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dustin Mullen/Released)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The F-22 Raptor is the most sophisticated and lethal aircraft in the world, but it doesn't fly itself. The high-tech jet is nothing but a high-tech paperweight without the mind inside the Raptor, with a  pilot holding its reigns.

The 43rd Fighter Squadron is responsible for providing air dominance training for America's newest fighter, the F-22 Raptor. Raptor pilots are highly trained and spend nine months training at the squadron.

"The 43rd FS is the only formal F-22 training unit in the world," said a 43rd FS instructor.  "The leading edge of U.S. air dominance starts right here, in this squadron. Flying the F-22 has been very rewarding, particularly in the 43rd FS. The jet is the most capable combat fighter aircraft ever made. I am very fortunate to be able to fly it."

The 43rd FS traces it heritage through nearly 100 years to the 43rd Aero Squadron, activated in 1917. The squadron has evolved through 19 different aircraft and seven different assigned locations, according to the 43rd FS fact sheet.

After being deactivated in 1994 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, the squadron was reactivated at Tyndall in 2002, as the first squadron to provide air dominance training for F-22 pilots.

"The 43rd is awesome," said Capt. Dylan Asmar, a 43rd FS F-22 Raptor B-course student. "As a new student it is intimidating, but the more you get with the program the more you understand how good and how capable the instruction is and how much the squadron cares about their students.

"As you develop you start to see the bigger picture and how well the squadron functions," continued Asmar. "All the instructors here are really high quality."

At course completion, students have flown approximately 55 hours and are qualified to employ the F-22 in an air dominance role.

"Flying this jet is the opportunity of a lifetime. It's incredible," said Asmar. "You find out new things and new capabilities this jet is capable of every time you fly it and are more impressed with what it is able to do."