HILO — Curious residents gathered Thursday at Hilo International Airport to look at four Hawaii Air National Guard fighter jets conducting training exercises on the Big Island.
The jets — four F-22 Raptor aircraft — were brought from Oahu to conduct logistics capabilities training out of the Hilo airport from Thursday into Saturday.
Public affairs officer Lt. Justin Leong said the training exercises allow the Air National Guard to test the capabilities of support and maintenance staff to properly sustain the aircraft out of the Hilo airfield, where the planes had never previously landed.
A Hawaii Air National Guard pilot — whose actual name was not disclosed for security reasons, but goes by the call sign “Drama” — said he and seven other pilots of the 199th Fighter Squadron came to the Big Island to “spread aloha” while also ensuring the operational readiness of the ground staff at the airport.
Having conducted flights over the Big Island on Thursday, the planes will conduct two additional flights from and back to Hilo International Airport today before departing Saturday, Drama said.
The airplanes, Drama said, are “air dominance fighters” designed with a low radar profile to outmaneuver and destroy other aircraft, but can also be equipped with ground attack weaponry such as air-to-surface missiles and bombs. The planes also are equipped with a machine gun that can fire 100 rounds per second and hold 480 rounds — four whole seconds worth of sustained fire.
The planes also hold more than 17,000 pounds of jet fuel and can reach a top speed of approximately 1,500 mph, or Mach 2.2, Drama said.
All told, Drama said each of the four planes costs about $140 million.
“We’re looking at about $1.6 billion right there,” estimated Big Island resident Jeff Foster, who came to the airport Thursday to see the planes.
Several dozen residents milled about the airfield, taking pictures of the aircraft and talking with pilots about the planes’ capabilities and the life of a pilot.
“I think it’s good PR,” said one Big Island resident. “Let people come in and see what their tax dollars are going to. It’s nice.”
Among the onlookers were several children who were eager to see the machines up close.
Transit Security Administration employee Dustin Willis visited the field with his four children, who chattered excitedly about the various aspects of the planes.
Willis said his young daughter said she might want to be a pilot or otherwise join the armed forces when she grows up — “They’re cool,” the girl said of the planes, before adding “I’m running backward” while running in circles backward.
“It’s great,” Willis said. “I’m so happy they get to see them up close.”
While Drama said simply flying a plane is one of his favorite parts of being a pilot, he advised that young people interested in the job need to graduate college, so they need to do well in school now. However, Drama said you don’t need a degree to join “the best maintenance personnel on the planet.”
Residents can view the Raptors again from 4:30-7 p.m. today at the Hilo airport.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.