Raptor has first encounter with Russians

By Erik Holmes - Staff writer

Posted : Thursday Dec 27, 2007 20:46:10 EST
The F-22 Raptor, the Air Force’s newest operational fighter jet, had its first encounter with Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska on Thanksgiving Day.

Two Raptors from the 90th Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, scrambled to identify and escort two Russian Bear-H bombers as they approached Alaskan airspace Nov. 22, said Maj. Allen Herritage, a spokesman for the Alaska region of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

It marked the first time a Raptor has intercepted unknown aircraft or launched in support of a NORAD mission, Herritage said.

NORAD also launched tanker and command-and-control aircraft for the mission, according to a NORAD press release.

The Raptors performed the mission because F-15s at Elmendorf are grounded due to safety concerns raised by a Nov. 2 crash. Canadian CF-18 fighters filled in for two weeks in November before the Raptors took over, Herritage said. The Canadian jets performed several such intercepts.

Encounters between American and Canadian fighter jets and Russian bombers over the Pacific are common because the countries’ airspaces are in close proximity. Russia has also increased its bomber training and patrol flights in the region in recent months.

The 90th Fighter Squadron has 14 F-22s, Herritage said.