The Raptor has landed.
The first of 20 F-22 Raptor fighter jets that will be based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam touched down yesterday, bringing with it the start of a new chapter in Hawaii Air National Guard fighter history reaching back to 1946.
The Territory of Hawaii Air National Guard was established that year, a year ahead of the official creation of the U.S. Air Force, officials said.
Two of the stealthy fighters are expected to be in Hawaii for a dedication ceremony Friday. The aircraft, "tail" numbers 045 and 046, are about 7 years old and were receiving maintenance — and "HH" (for Hickam) and Hawaii wave tail markings — at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
The Air Guard’s 199th Fighter Squadron will be the first Air Guard-led F-22 Raptor "associate" unit. The Guard will own the aircraft and receive assistance flying and maintaining the jets from the active-duty 15th Wing at Hickam.
"The arrival of the F-22s begins a new chapter in the already close relationship between the Guard and the active duty in Hawaii," Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, head of the Hawaii National Guard, said in a release. "We’ve partnered with the 15th Wing since 2006 flying and maintaining (C-17 cargo aircraft), except now in the case of the F-22s it will be a Guard asset."
Maj. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, director of Pacific Air Forces operations, said the Raptor represents an "exponential leap in the war-fighting capabilities of U.S. forces in the Pacific."
"Basing the F-22 Raptor in Hawaii underscores America’s commitment to the Pacific region and adds further air dominance capability to United States Pacific Command," Jouas said.
Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska was tapped to receive 40 of the Raptors, which, at about $143 million a copy and as much as $350 million with research and development, are one of the Air Force’s most expensive fighters ever.
In May, Brig. Gen. Joseph K. Kim, commander of the 154th Wing of the Hawaii Air National Guard, said, "Location being everything, having these fighters puts us within one hop of what could be a possible area of conflict out in the theater."
The first two Raptors at Hickam will be maintenance training aircraft. The remaining 18 are expected to start flying in as of January and continue to arrive throughout 2011.
Officials say they expect the stealthy jets to be "on the road" a lot.
The Air Force deployed 12 Raptors in May from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., to Kadena Air Base in Japan, the latest in a series of F-22 deployments from mainland units to Japan and Guam.
Col. David Sullivan, an official with the New Mexico unit, said in a release that the deployment is a "prudent measure to maintain a credible deterrent posture and presence in the region."
The Raptor gets its stealth from the aircraft’s many angles, which deflect radar, and the use of radar-absorbent material. The aircraft can operate at super cruise speed of more than 1,200 mph without using afterburners.
Russia, meanwhile, test-flew its Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter this month, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declaring the jet will be "superior to our main competitor, the F-22," according to media reports.
The advancement to the Raptor in Hawaii comes with the retirement of the F-15 Eagle, a regular twin-tailed presence and sound over Honolulu as the jets screamed through maneuvers and training.
The F-15s are being packed off to boneyards or other units on the mainland and will be gone by September, officials said.
In the meantime, to "cover down" on the air defense mission for Hawaii, F-15s from the Montana Air National Guard will fill in until sufficient numbers of Raptors arrive.
The F-15s, in Hawaii since 1987, have their own notable history. The aircraft in 1994 became the first Air National Guard F-15 unit to patrol over the Iraq northern no-fly zone following the first Gulf War, officials said.
The aircraft escorted commercial jetliners over Honolulu in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
As far back as 64 years ago, the Territory of Hawaii Air National Guard was established as a reserve component for what was then the U.S. Army Air Corps, officials said.
The Air Guard flew the P-47 Thunderbolt, known as the "Jug." The air defense of Hawaii began in 1956 in the F-86E Sabre jet, officials said.
According to the unit’s history, F-102 Delta Daggers from Hawaii were in 1969 the first from an Air National Guard unit to conduct bomber escort missions out of Da Nang in Vietnam.
The switch to F-22 Raptors represents $144 million in construction at Hickam, and a quantum leap for the Hawaii Air National Guard in its fighter history.
Being an Air Guard-led unit "is very significant for us," Kim, the 154th Wing commander, said in May. "It’s a real testament to the quality of work of our people and pilots’ performance in the past."