I met Steve Rainey at Elmendorf Air Force Base in August of 2007. He was there as part of a contingent celebrating the arrival of the first six F-22A Raptors to the installation, signifying the transition of the 90th Fighter Squadron “Dicemen” from the venerable Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle to the U.S. Air Force’s newest fifth-generation fighter, changing the face of Air Dominance in Alaska.
It was a historic event: Senator Stevens was in attendance, as well as General Hester, the commander of the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, the two primary contractors for the F-22, were also on hand and they brought up their F-22 Cockpit Demonstrator.
For those of you not familiar, the cockpit demonstrator is a scaled-down simulator meant for pilots and other select folks to get a feel for what the Raptor is capable of with its combination of low-observability, sensor fusion, and supercruise performance.
Then a Boeing test pilot with just under six hundred hours in the F-22, Steve is an excellent instructor and spent an hour and a half giving me one-on-one instruction in the sim. Since he knew I was a brand-new pilot, he made sure to challenge me at every available opportunity, working me through a variety of scenarios in many different locations. It was an awesome experience and an afternoon I won’t soon forget.
Like many of us, Steve got bit by the flying bug early in life when he saw the Thunderbirds performing in their F-100 Super Sabres. Watching Alan Shepard launch into space sealed the deal; he was hooked on being a pilot from that point onward, graduating from the United States Air Force Academy in 1980 and later from the U.S. Navy’s Test Pilot School while on a service exchange.
While serving as a flight commander with the F-16 Combined Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Boeing, Lockheed, and General Dynamics were awarded the contract to produce the world’s first fifth-generation jet, the culminating moment for the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter Program.
He was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio during the build-up as the F-22 Test Program Manager, then returned to Edwards in 1996 as the Director of Operations for the 411th Flight Test Squadron, the unit known as the F-22 Combined Test Force. On 17 May, 1998, Steve Rainey was at the controls of the very first F-22’s initial flight at Edwards Air Force Base–only the third flight of the F-22 thus far.
After serving as the 411th Flight Test Squadron commander, Steve retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2000 and spent the next three years as an airline pilot. Dissatisfied with commercial flying, he got wind of an opportunity to go back to Edwards as a civilian F-16 pilot and immediately applied. He got the job and two years later was back in the Raptor as a test pilot for Boeing. He was there to help the CTF finish the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development (EMD) phase and usher the jet into its Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2005.
In January of 2014, Lockheed-Martin hired Steve to be their Chief Test Pilot of the F-22 program. On 22 January 2015, he flew his 1,000th hour in the F-22, only the second person at Edwards to log 1,000 hours in the type.When he landed, Steve was greeted by the entire F-22 Combined Test Force and his family. He was hosed down with water and champagne, a long-standing tradition for achieving that milestone.
“I have never ever had an opportunity to work with a group of people like this before, they are total professionals that truly believe in this airplane and what it brings to our great nation,” said Rainey after he landed from his milestone flight. “I want to thank everyone for making this dream come true for me!”
Congratulations, Hooter. We’re grateful for you, too!