Civilians get first glimpse of new stealth jet

Published April 7, 2006

LAKELAND - Civilians had never gotten a close look at the new F22A Raptor, the best fighter plane in the world.

As two of the planes approached the runway Friday at the Sun n' Fun Fly-in, they showed off their stealth abilities by coming in with a whisper - they could be seen long before they were heard.

Then they demonstrated their power and agility by roaring away and peeling off.

"I got a lump in my throat when I saw those babies banking over there, and then cut off. You heard the roar. It was incredible, if you just looked up and saw them coming," said John Leech, an Orange County firefighter.

"I was like, go USA, here we go baby, nice. If you're a red-blooded American, this is what you love."

Once the two Raptors landed and taxied, stealth of another kind took over.

The planes were roped off. Lakeland police with semi-automatic rifles stood over the Raptors, which contain still-secret technologies, including much of the jet's gadgetry.

The Raptor has flown in domestic security missions, code-named Operation Noble Eagle, but the Air Force is mum on details.

Eventually the Raptor will replace F-15 and F-16 jets. Currently, though, there are only 24 operational Raptors, which cost about $339-million apiece.

Although combat-ready, the Raptor has not been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Warplanes already there can handle existing threats.

The Raptors will fly today and Sunday around 4 p.m., and will be on display on the runways. Call Sun n' Fun at 863-644-2431 or visit http://www.sun-n-fun.org/