Interview – USAF F-22 Raptor Display Pilot

Maj Dan “Rock” Dickinson, grew up in South Carolina and went to Clemson University. I always wanted to be a pilot following in the footsteps of my Papa who flew F-4s and my Uncle who flew F-16s. After graduating Clemson University and their Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), I was selected for Pilot Training where I flew the T-6 and then the T-38 Talon. At the end of pilot training I was selected for the F-22 Basic Course and became the first Lieutenant ever to fly the F-22 Raptor. My first assignment was in the 94th Fighter Squadron for 4 years, then I went back to the school house for my second assignment in the F-22, the 43rd Fighter Squadron. On my last year, I was selected to become the Commander of the United States Air Force’s F-22 Demonstration Team and took over the team in 2016.

COPYRIGHT © ACC F-22 Demo Team

What is the F-22 Demonstration Team, tell us its history.

The Mission of the F-22 Demonstration Team is go around the world demonstrating the amazing 5th generation capabilities of the F-22 Raptor, while inspiring the next generation of Airman. The team began in 2007 and we typically fly at around 22 Airshows a year.

Tell us a bit of the F-22 jet. Whats your opinion as a demo plane?

The F-22 Raptor is the USAF’s only 5th Generation “Combat” Fighter that combines Stealth, Supercruise, sensor fused avionics, and highly agile maneuvering together to become the world’s greatest aircraft. F-22 Raptor enjoys a supreme advantage in the skies and there is no other jet a fighter pilot would rather be flying in.

How many people are in the team?

The F-22 Raptor Demonstration team is made up of 19 people and we typically take 8 people on the road to each show.COPYRIGHT © ACC F-22 Demo Team

It is almost end of the season, tell us please about the 2017, what year was it for the team?

2017 was an incredible year for the F-22 Demonstration Team as we had the opportunity to showcase the Raptor on a global scale with 5 international airshows in Avalon, Australia….Fairford, UK…..Seoul, Korea….Bagotville, Canada….and Toronto, Canada. The chemistry of the team was the best I have seen in my Air Force Career and we had the chance to influence the next generation through a number of High Schools and College visits.

How a pilot can become an F-22 Demonstration pilot? Any criterium?

With there only being one F-22 Demo Pilot selected every 2 years, the competition is tight and the USAF is looking for an experienced F-22 Instructor Pilot. This typically ends up being a Major that has already completed two assignments and has demonstrated the capability and has earned the trust of Air Force Leadership.

> When you are not performing as a Demo pilot, what do you do, how does your week look like?

When the Demonstration Team is not on the road, we are focused on getting ourselves ready to go for the next airshow. Any time you take two F-22 Raptors anywhere, there is a lot of behind the scenes logistics from security to maintenance equipment that needs to be coordinated. Additionally, we typically will have a home practice sortie to make sure we as a team remain at our very best for the next airshow.

The F-22 demo also flies together at times with the P-51 as a Heritage Flight. Tell us a bit of this please.

That is correct. The F-22 Raptor is part of the USAF Heritage Foundation, which brings together a select group of warbird pilots with Active Duty Demonstration pilots to create the Heritage Flight. During this flight, newer aircraft like the F-22, F-35, F-16, and/or A-10 are joined together with older aircraft such as the P-38, P-40, P-47, P-51, and/or F-86 to create a unique and rare formation for the public to see. We fly a number of flybys and it is our way of saying thanks and giving back to the veterans whom served before us. On the F-22 Demonstration Team, we firmly believe we stand on their shoulders for their service to our Country.COPYRIGHT © ACC F-22 Demo Team

The F-22 performed many times at Avalon (Australia) and RIAT (England). How the team prepares such an overflight?

We were honored to represent the USAF at RIAT the last two years and this year at Avalon as those are two of the greatest airshows in the world. In terms of getting the jets to these far off locations, it really is no different than how we execute transoceanic crossings in the normal combat squadrons. We rely heavily on our tanker brethren for the air-to-air refueling and have a more robust divert game plan for any weather or issues that pop-up. Otherwise, we keep to our standard practice schedule to ensure the team is ready to execute at the highest level, which is the standard for the F-22 Demonstration Team for all airshows.COPYRIGHT © ACC F-22 Demo Team

Are you in contact with the other demo teams in the US? You guys try to meet with each other at aishows?

We are in contact with all the other USAF demo teams; however, we typically are not at the same shows as we are trying to spread the teams out over the country each weekend to increase the amount of people we can all inspire together. This way one show doesn’t get every team and we are instead as an air force able to cover a number of airshows each weekend. On the other hand, we do enjoy working with all the demo teams from the other services like the United States Navy F-18 Super Hornet Team and the civilian teams like the Ace Maker and Rob Holland. Those guys are the guys I have looked up to and it’s an honor to get to fly alongside them and they are the true airshow professionals

Are there many fans of the F-22 Demo?

Ha…you bet there is and we love meeting them!

Any info you can tell us at the moment for next year?

The team for next year just released their schedule and it can be found at www.acc.af.mil/home/aerial-events/ Should be another outstanding year and next year’s new demo pilot Maj Loco Lopez can’t wait to get on the road and show off that Raptor!

Any personal favorite Solo Demo from around the World you like?

I love Ace Maker’s T-33 Demo and Rob Holland in the MXS is probably the best in the world at what he does. And last, but not least Ken Peach in the Jelly belly puts on an incredible airshow act that I can’t get enough of!

If one day you could choose any airshow around the World you could perform with the F-22, which one would it be?

This may sound crazy, but it would be Shaw AFB, South Carolina. Having grown up just outside the base, and watched jets takeoff and land for years, I always wanted to fly the demo there. Unfortunately, it never was an option; however, if I could fly at one place that would be it. However, going back to RIAT, Avalon, or Fleet Week in San Francisco would be absolutely amazing too.

Thank you for your answers. Any final words to our readers?

Thanks for the support of the team and it’s been an honor representing the USAF as the F-22 Demonstration Pilot and Commander for the last two years. There is no doubt that it has been the highlight of my career and I will cherish the memories of working with the people on the team and us together accomplishing the mission and inspiring the next generation of Airmen.

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