Major Paul “Max” Moga
Air Force Fighter Pilot who flies an F-22 Raptor as part of the Air Force Demonstration Team
[B]Did you always want to fly? How did you become an F-22 pilot? [/B]
Growing up, I watched a lot of World War II movies. I loved the planes. What kid doesn’t? But I did not grow up thinking I was ever going to get to be a pilot. My eyesight isn’t perfect; I’m nearsighted. I went to the Air Force Academy thinking I was going to do something else. My degree is in genetics. I thought I was going to be a doctor or a biologist.
Then in my sophomore year they changed the standards, so your vision just has to be correctable to 20/20. You don’t need 20/20 vision to be a pilot anymore. In World War II, you did, you would get rolled by a German fighter if you didn’t. In this jet, no one can get within 50 miles of me without me knowing about it.
[B]Tell me about the F-22.[/B]
There are a lot of things that set this jet apart. First of all, it’s built on a stealth platform. The enemy will never see me until it’s too late. The [original] stealth fighter, the F-117, is getting retired in the next two years–it’s subsonic. The other thing that sets this plane apart is its speed.
We can fly the Raptor at 60,000 feet at mach 2 [over 1,500 mph]. There are other planes that can get that high and that fast, but by the time they get there they’re running out of gas and have to come down. No one knows where you are and you know where everyone is. You operate with total impunity.
Have you flown combat missions? What’s it like?
I’ve never flown this plane in combat. I have 250 mission hours in an F-15 in southwest Asia, and in Yugoslavia in 1999. It’s never boring, though if I did it in this jet it might get boring. In practice, in order to get good training we have to fly two of these against 10 other planes. The F-22 is a generation ahead of anything else out there.
[B]How does the culture of fighter pilots compare to Top Gun?[/B]
Fighter pilots are a brotherhood. And it’s not just an American brotherhood. I’ve flown with pilots from Britain and France. We’ve trained with guys from Singapore and Japan. The British pilots are some of the most capable, well-trained pilots in the world. We have a British pilot flying F-22s on an exchange right now.
We do like to blow off steam. What you don’t see in the movies is how hard we work. I’m working 95 percent of the time. I probably work between 60 and 80 hours in a given week. I work all week in Virginia [Langley Air Force Base] and then come do air shows on the weekends.
[B]What do you like to do when you get that 5 percent? [/B]
I like to go to the gym. I’m also big into the outdoors–fishing, camping, climbing. I spent three years stationed in Alaska. That’s where I caught the rock-climbing bug. It’s hard, though–we don’t have a lot of climbing gyms in Virginia. I’d love to get stationed in California someday.