SEOUL AIR BASE, Gyeonggi Province -- The US Air Force's F-22 Raptor fighter jet blasted off Monday, generating a deafening roar at this South Korean air base not that far away from North Korea.
The fifth-generation stealth jet strutted its stuff for a 15-minute rehearsal flight on the eve of the opening of the weeklong Seoul air show, formally called the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition 2017.
Demonstrating its agility and maneuverability, it wowed media crew and other spectators.
"We are here fully supporting the ironclad alliance and showing our support, bringing the F22 Raptor and showing the capabilities of the aircraft," Maj. Dan Dickinson, commander of US Air Force's F-22 Demo Team, said after the performance.
The Raptor, based in Alaska, is participating in the biennial ADEX along with a host of other high-profile US defense assets such as the F-35A Lightning II, B-1B Lancer, A-10 Thunderbolt II and US Navy P-8A Poseidon.
"The capabilities of the jet (F-22) really exceed anything else you've seen in the world today. We are super excited to have two of them. There's only 187 of them in the world," the commander said.
Asked about his impression of flying relatively close to North Korea amid heightened tensions, he just said he would defer all the North Korea-related topics to Washington.
The US Air Force`s F-22 Raptor stealth jet demonstrates its capabilities in a demo flight in the sky over the Seoul Air Base on Oct. 16, 2017, a day before the opening of the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition. (Yonhap)
A couple of F-35A jets will be on public display as well and a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber is scheduled to fly over the ADEX site. It will mark the first time an F-35A stealth fighter has landed in South Korea.
"The F-35A is the newest stealth fighter. So, in terms of survivability, in a robust threat environment, and lethality it's the best. So, it will definitely help the Republic of Korea," said Lt. Col. Bryan Daltona, an F-35 pilot in the 56th Fighter Wing Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
He was referring to South Korea's plan to import 40 F-35As produced by Lockheed Martin.
The first jet will be rolled out next year, with the first delivery to South Korea's Air Force due in 2019.
The US Air Force unit in Arizona will be in charge of training South Korean pilots for the aircraft.
"We are gonna train the South Korean F-35 pilots at the Luke Air Force Base, and by doing that, we are gonna work on tactics together. So, I think it's gonna enhance the alliance and enable us to work better together on the aircraft," Lt. Col. Brian Healy, another F-35 pilot from Arizona, told reporters.
The gathering of the advanced weapon systems here is expected to effectively send a warning message to the North reportedly preparing to engage in additional provocations.
Speaking separately to reporters, Lt. Col. Michal Kloeffler-Howard, director of the US 7th Air Force's public affairs, said, "We see this as a venue to deepen our relationship with the Republic of Korea.
ADEX organizers stressed that this year's event will provide a good chance not only to show the strength of the alliance but also to support defense firms' marketing activities.
"This is the largest civil-military expo in Northeast Asia," Jang Suk-chul, vice president of Korea Aerospace Industries Association, said in a press conference. "This is a great opportunity to verify the current status of state-of-the-art aircraft and other weapons systems."
A total of 405 companies from 33 countries plan to join the biennial ADEX.
In particular, he added, it will place more emphasis on supporting South Korean arms exporters, versus previous ones that played more as a stage for foreign exporters' businesses.
Jang, a retired Air Force brigade general, pointed out the local aviation industry's production volume doubled to US$5.1 billion last year since 2010.
South Korea launched the Seoul Air Show in 1996, and it has hosted the broader ADEX since 2009. (Yonhap)