A Flighty Benefit of Covering the Pentagon

It's one of the real perks of covering the Pentagon: flying in military aircraft. And while Blackhawks, Chinooks and E4-Bs are great, no aircraft can quite compare to the F-22 — the fighter known as the Raptor.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Our Guy Raz has an admittedly shameless obsession. It's one of the perks of covering the Pentagon as he tells us in his Reporter's Notebook.

GUY RAZ: Deep inside the D-ring of the Pentagon, far away from any natural light is a door with a sticker on it. The sticker is an NPR sticker. And the door opens into a room, it's about three-foot long and five-foot wide. It's NPR's Pentagon office and working in that windowless room under the hum of fluorescent lighting can be soul-destroying.

So every chance I get, I go somewhere else. And that somewhere else usually involves riding in or coming into close contact with some type of military aircraft. So in the past few weeks alone, I've ridden in an Army Black Hawk helicopter in Kuwait.

(Soundbite of Black Hawk helicopter)

RAZ: I've hovered over Paris in a twin-rotor Marine CH-53 helicopter.

(Soundbite of twin rotor helicopter)

RAZ: I've flown around the world on the E4-B, which is basically the most secretive and classified 747 in the world.

(Soundbite of plane engine)

RAZ: I've been over Afghanistan in a Chinook helicopter.

(Soundbite of Chinook helicopter)

RAZ: But nothing I've seen, no aircraft can't quite compare to the F-22.

(Soundbite of F-22 jet plane)

RAZ: I had a chance to see it fly right in front of my eyes this past week at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. There is nothing quite like it on earth. It looks like something out of the future.

The pilot who gave me a tour of the plane, Air Force Captain Daniel Lehousky(ph) calls it.

Captain DANIEL LEHOUSKY (U.S. Air Force): The most advanced fire jet in the world. Most advanced in the world and will be for the next many decades.

RAZ: The plane is called the Raptor and there are only about 70 of them in existence, most of them at Langley. Captain Lehousky and his colleague, Max Volkemer(ph) who gave me a tour, are two of the youngest fighter pilots in America.

Captain MAX VOLKEMER (U.S. Air Force): Every day, I kind of think to myself, it's amazing that I'm actually here, standing next to this plane and have the opportunity to fly because it's one of the things that you go, oh, that's so far out there.

RAZ: Volkemer and Lehousky are 30 and 28 years old, respectively. There are only 100 F-22 pilots in the world. The Air Force likes to call the plane America's insurance policy. It's never been used in battle and the chances it ever will are remote.

Now, the Air Force does allow reporters to fly up in jet fighters. You have to go through a compression chamber. Sometimes, I dream of going up in an F-22, but alas, I never will. There's only room for the pilot.

Guy Raz, NPR News.

SIMON: NPR's decompressed, Guy Raz.

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