Text and Photography By: SCOTT JANKOWSKI

This past July, the 128th Aerial Refueling wing hosted all of the military performers for the 2022 Milwaukee Air and Water Show, this included the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Demo Team. I was fortunate enough to be part of the media group invited on base to meet and spend some time with the Blue Angels and the Raptor Demo team. In part one of this article, I focused on my time with the Blue Angels, and in part two I will focus on my time with Major Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson the 2022 Raptor Demo Team Pilot and Team Commander. Please note that not all of the photos in this article were from the Airshow weekend, a portion of these are file photos from previous airshows and showcase previous F-22 Demo Team members.

The two Fifth Generation Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptors, serial numbers 08-152 and 08-171, arrived earlier that morning from Joint Base Langley-Eustis VA and are part of the 1st Fighter Wing. The fifth generation, single seat, all weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft first flew 25 years ago on September 7th, 1997, and entered service on December 15th, 2005. The Raptor is powered by a pair of Pratt&Whitney F119-PW-100 augmented turbofan engines which produce 35,000 pounds of thrust in afterburner and gives the Raptor a top speed of Mach 2.2, a service ceiling of 60,000 feet, and a range of more than 1800 miles. The Raptor is unique as it can super cruise, meaning it can fly supersonically without the using its afterburners saving fuel and increasing range. The Raptor typically carriers its armament in an internal weapons bay and includes both air to air and air to ground munitions. A total of 195 Raptors were built before production ceased in 2012.

The F-22 Raptor Demo Team is based out of Joint Base Langley Eustis Virginia and is part of the 1st Fighter Wing which comprises the 27th Fighter Squadron (The Fightin’ Eagles) and the 94th Fighter Squadron (The Hat-in-the-Ring Gang) both flying the Raptor. The 71st Fighter Training Squadron “The Ironmen” flying the Northrop T-38C Talon are also part of the 1st Fighter Wing. The 1st Fighter Wing has a history of firsts dating back to World War I also with a tradition of being the first to bring new fighter jets to operational status which it did with the F-22 Raptor in 2005 when the 27th Fighter Squadron became the first operational F-22 Fighter Squadron. The wing’s inventory of 40 F-22’s in the 27th and 94th Fighter Squadrons reached operational capability at the end of 2007. This was the same year that the F-22 Raptor Demo and Heritage Flight Team was formed.

The Raptor Demo Team comprises two aircraft as well as eighteen members and performs at more than twenty airshows annually. The members of the Demo Team itself serve two years with the 2022 Demo Team Pilot being Tampa Florida native Major Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson. As commander of the Raptor Demo Team, Gunderson lead his team that showcased the impressive performance and also the heritage of the F-22 in formation alongside World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War era aircraft at airshows across the United and States and the world. Major Gunderson has always had a passion for flying, it really started when he was 11 years old, meeting the Boeing F-15 Eagle Demo Pilot at MacDill Air Force Base at an airshow. When he graduated from high school he would attend the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During his time at the Academy, he participated in a foreign exchange program with the Spanish Air Force at their academy located San Javier Spain. He would graduate from the Academy in 2008 and would head to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas to begin his Undergraduate Pilot Training flying the Raytheon T-6 Texan II and the Northrop T-38C Talon. Major Gunderson would earn his wings after completing the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program in 2010.

 After completing pilot training, Major Gunderson would complete the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals Course flying the Northrop AT-38C Talon at Randolph Air Force Base Texas. This version of the Advanced Trainer is fitted with a gunsight, can carry a gun pod, rockets, or bombs on a centerline pylon and is used for weapons training. Upon completion of this training, Major Gunderson would head to Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base located at the Klamath Falls Municipal Airport Oregon. Kingsley Field is home to the 173rd Fighter Wing this is where he would attend the Boeing F-15C Basic Training Course. When Major Gunderson graduated, he was assigned to the 44th Fighter Squadron based at Kadena Air Force Base Okinawa flying the Boeing F-15C Eagle as a fighter pilot and mission commander. In August of 2014 Major Gunderson would return to the United States and complete the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor transition course at Tyndall Air Force Base Florida. He would be assigned to the 90th Fighter Squadron located Elmendorf Air Force Base Alaska flying the Raptor. Major Gunderson served with 90th Fighter Squadron as the Chief of Advanced Programs and also as an Instructor/Evaluator Pilot until August of 2019.

In August of 2019 Major Gunderson would be selected as the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team Commander, a selection that would see him transfer to the 1st Fighter Wing based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis Virginia in September of that year. Major Gunderson would offer these comments after the transition “It is incredibly humbling to be given the opportunity to serve as the next F-22 demo team commander. The team is comprised of amazing airmen showcasing American airpower, and I look forward to joining such an impressive legacy for the next two years.” When Major Gunderson joined the team, he had over 1,500 flying hours and two deployments to the Middle East in both the F-15 and F-22. That brings us to our time here on the 128th Air Refueling Wing Ramp with Major Gunderson. Major Gunderson would offer these opening remarks regarding their arrival earlier that morning “We got to do a little site survey over the airshow airspace, there are a lot of buildings and towers. It’s a cool landscape, and obviously having the lake there as well. It’s a unique landscape being downtown, a lot of time we do airshows over airports.”

When asked about his passion for flying and when it started Major Gunderson remarked “I honestly do not remember a time when I did not want to fly jets, this is always what I wanted to do and my mom was very supportive, she always pushed me towards it. My family emigrated here from Cuba and started with nothing but the mindset of they would keep working hard no matter what, so I owe that mindset to them. I’ve also been lucky to have had moments through my life that reaffirmed my pursuit for aviation. Flying the demo is a thrilling experience that I have been excited about from a young age. From the first time I saw jets at the MacDill Air Force Base Air Fest, I have turned my eyes to the skies and dreamed of being in the seat of a Fighter Jet. I got to meet the airshow pilot that was flying the predecessor (Boeing F-15C Eagle) of the aircraft behind me. I met him, talked with him, took a picture with him that was very impactful for me.”

Major Gunderson was asked about the unique aspects of flying the F-22 and the maneuvers it flies in a typical demo. “The F-22 replaced the F-15 in the air-to-air fighter role, one of the best fighter aircraft of all time. The F-22 is a true stealth platform which allows us to operate in areas other aircraft can’t. In terms of being stealthy we carry all of our weapons inside the airplane, these include air-to-air and limited air-to-ground, one F-22 could take out all of FA-18’s parked behind us. By carrying all of the weapons internally it keeps us stealthy, reduces drag, which makes the engines more powerful, and acceleration more pronounced. The flight controls are phenomenal as well allowing the aircraft to be completely controllable even in a stalled state. We have few maneuvers that are airshow specific, we practice and perform all of the maneuvers that we would do in actual combat to showcase the capability of the F-22.” Gunderson continued “Our combat jets are used like a Gymnastics Team.  We joke and call it the F-22 Gymnastics Team, in terms of backflips and cartwheels we do all those things!” Most importantly, all of these maneuvers are refined and flown in a safe manner.

I had the opportunity to ask Major Gunderson about what is favorite aircraft has been to fly, and if he could fly any past or current aircraft what would it be? He commented “It’s a tough choice between the F-15 and the F-22, the F-15 is what I wanted to fly as a kid, it just represents America. The F-22 however is the airplane I’ve deployed with and would choose it over anything else when it comes to combat. I have also flown the iconic North American P-51 Mustang as part of my Heritage Flight training. It is a just an awesome airplane and you cannot put words to what it is like to fly. Major Gunderson would fly alongside a North American P-51D Mustang during the Heritage Flight portion of the airshow. This meticulously restored P-51D, named Happy Jack’s Go Buggy and registered N74190, is owned by Bruce Winter.  In terms of his bucket list aircraft, he would choose the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II better known as the Warthog. The A-10 is a single purpose aircraft and is designed to do close air support better than any other aircraft in the world.

As our time was drawing to a close, Major Gunderson closed our time with these final comments “It’s an absolute privilege and honor to be able to do this. Being able to pay it forward to future generations of people that are interested in aviation or the military. I look at this airplane as a way to show people that you can have goals, and if you want to achieve them, find the things that make you excited. What happens on the ground this weekend is just as important as what happens in the air. The hope is this show will inspire a new generation of pilots, just like me when I was only 11 years old. The people are the thing I enjoy most about this job.” Major Gunderson would go on to put on a flawless performance that weekend. I would like to once again thank Paul Rogers of the Milwaukee Air and Water Show as well as the Public Affairs Department of the 128th Air Refueling Wing for facilitating this visit and the help in preparing this article. Until next time, “Blue Skies to All!”

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