When you travel at almost twice the speed of sound, the somewhat slower pace of everyday life is comforting. Maj. Orlando Sanchez Jr. said it is the more simple things like family and friends that he enjoys most.
When he graduated from Carson High School in 1989, Sanchez, now 36, had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. He enjoyed sports, and wanted to attend a college that would let him keep playing them. He chose the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
At the academy, he was given his first chance to fly - from then on, he was hooked. He has logged more than 2,100 hours of flight time in some of the military's most sophisticated jets, including the T-38 and the F-15C.
As an operational F-15C mission commander, Sanchez led forces in combat missions in support of Operation Southern Watch and participated in numerous multinational exercises throughout the Pacific Region.
Then the Air Force offered him a chance to become part of select group, the first in the world to test-fly the F-22A Raptor.
The F-22A, which officially went into service Jan. 1, was designed to incorporate the capabilities of a bomber and a fighter plane, while adding stealth capabilities. It can travel at nearly twice the speed of sound and carries two 1,000-pound, joint, direct-attack munitions, or JDAMs.
Sanchez was selected to transition from the F-15C fighter aircraft to the F-22A as an operational test pilot for the 422 Test and Evaluation Squadron, based at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas.
"It has been a great experience. It's a unique opportunity for all of us," Sanchez said, while visiting his family recently.
He has flown in almost 500 combat missions designed to test the Raptor in all types of scenarios. According to Sanchez, the plane is among the best the military has.
"It's a phenomenal plane. Flying this plane in scenarios is like playing a completely different game, and no one else can play with you," Sanchez said. "The nation should be proud of the science and engineering that went into this amazing aircraft."
With updated radar capabilities and a self-diagnostic system, the Raptor is designed to need fewer support people, which according to Sanchez, means fewer soldiers, sailors and airmen in harm's way.
After extensive testing and modification, the newest version of the plane was commissioned for service at Langley Air Force Base, Va., and is now available to provide military support throughout the world.
Sanchez, he and his wife, Janan, and their children Jared, Abby, Alissa, Mabree and Alaina will soon be transferred to Monterey, Calif. He will attend college to get his second master's degree.
• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at email@example.com or 881-1217.