F-22 exchange pilot helps strengthen U.S., Australian ties

Raptors on patrol

F-22 exchange program
Two F-22 Raptors fly over the Pacific Ocean during a theater security mission. A Royal Australian Air Force pilot assigned to the 90th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, has had the opportunity to fly the F-22 Raptor as part of a pilot-exchange program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

by Senior Airman Ryan Whitney
36th Wing Public Affairs

4/16/2009 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFNS) -- A Royal Australian Air Force pilot assigned to the 90th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron has had the opportunity to fly the Air Force's premier fighter, the F-22 Raptor, as part of a foreign pilot exchange program.

Squadron Leader Matthew Harper is an F-22 instructor pilot and the 90th EFS flight commander in charge of scheduling and training. Squadron Leader Harper began his three-year assignment here in the spring of 2008.

The pilot exchange program has been an important part of the military relationship between the U.S. and Australia for many years, according to Squadron Leader Harper, dating back to World War II before the U.S. had entered the war when U.S. aircrews would travel to Europe to join the Royal Air Force and RAAF to fight.

"The purpose of the pilot exchange is to embed experienced exchange aircrews within a squadron, allowing them to become part of the host country's air force for a three-year period," said Squadron Leader Harper. "During this time, the exchange pilot has an opportunity to learn about Air Force procedures, tactics and capabilities and learn about the cultural differences between the two countries and their air forces. Exchange aircrews offer the hosting unit a different perspective than what they are used to."

The exchange program is bilateral, with Air Force aircrews integrated into Australian fighter squadrons flying the F/A-18 Hornet as well.

During the exchange, the foreign pilots are fully integrated into the squadron. 

"If the squadron deploys, you are right there with them, filling U.S. Air Force billets and jobs. It is designed to be a seamless integration," said the 11-year pilot and Australian fighter combat instructor, which is the equivalent of a weapons officer.

This is the second time Squadron Leader Harper has been assigned to an allied unit. The first was when he embedded into the RAF.

"I am very fortunate to have been able to fly with both the RAF, and now the U.S. Air Force," Squadron Leader Harper said. "The opportunity to participate in an exchange program has been invaluable. Having a perspective on our allied partners tactics and capabilities helps enable the RAAF to be in a position to support any integrated operation seamlessly."

Embedded Australian fighter pilots are flying F-15 Eagles and F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, Navy F/A-18A-F Hornets and Super Hornets, and now F-22s.  Although the exchange program has been in place for years, Squadron Leader Harper is the first and only Australian pilot embedded into an F-22 squadron. 

"Australia has a history of having an exchange pilot with the 90th back when they flew F-15Es," he said. "When the (squadron) transitioned to the F-22, the position was continued, allowing the first Australian to fly the F-22."

Transitioning from a fourth-generation platform like the F/A-18 aircraft Harper originally flew in Australia to the fifth generation F-22 has many unique challenges. Learning new tactics, capabilities and differences is relatively straightforward however, due to the strength of design in the F-22.

"The F-22 is a phenomenal airframe," he said. "It combines the strengths of stealth, supercruise, thrust vectoring, integrated avionics and sensor fusion, providing the pilot a clear tactical picture that enables them to make very smart tactical decisions. It is the world's most sought after aircraft and to be able to fly it is an incredible experience."

The exchange program provides the two countries not only deeper military integration, but a way to foster friendship while learning new ideas, tactics and techniques from each other, according to Squadron Leader Harper.

"The experience so far has been fantastic," he said.  "I don't think I have ever flown with such a professional, proficient team of pilots and maintainers than those in the 90th EFS.  Programs like this really show the level of commitment between Australia and the United States. Our two countries share a very strong and special friendship."

Squadron Leader Harper is deployed here with the 90th EFS from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, as part of a regularly scheduled Air Expeditionary Force Rotation.

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