The Central Ohio airport provides shelter for ultra-powerful military planes.

As Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on the southeast in September, millions evacuated. Another set of evacuees—some of the most powerful jets in the U.S. Air Force—flew to their home away from home, Rickenbacker airport.

Rickenbacker is the headquarters of the 121st Air Refueling Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard, which has an agreement with five U.S. Air Force wings—military units composed of multiple squadrons—to give their planes shelter from severe storms. In 2016, the 121st hosted A-10 Thunderbolts from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia during Hurricane Hermine and F-22 Raptors from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia during Hurricane Matthew.

The Raptors came back in September, this time with T-38 Talons. These are serious airplanes: The Raptor can cruise at nearly twice the speed of sound. “The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft,” according to, a website that covers the U.S. armed forces. The Talon, powered by two turbojet engines with afterburners, is for training Raptor pilots.

Before Florence hit, two squadrons arrived from Langley along with their pilots and maintenance crews, says 121st spokesman Senior Master Sgt. Ralph Branson. (The National Guard won’t divulge numbers, but a squadron is usually 12 to 24 planes.) “They came in waves, formations of three or four,” Branson says. “One would peel off, and they started doing fly-bys. It was awesome.”

But not as awesome as their departure a few days later: “It was sweet. Halfway down the runway, the F-22s would go straight up, what they call a tactical takeoff,” Branson says. “Not something you see every day.”


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