F-35 Demo Pilot: Paris Performance Will ‘Crush Years Of Misinformation’

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. Credit i24News.

Aviation Week, By Lara Seligman, 20 June 2017

Not as agile as the Super Hornet nor as fast as the Typhoon? Don’t you believe it, says Lockheed Martin test pilot Billie Flynn. He will put the F-35A through its paces at Le Bourget this week, proving that the aircraft is more maneuverable than any he has flown, he says, including Boeing’s F/A-18, the Eurofighter, and his own company’s F-16 Viper.

“After 10 years since first flight, with our first opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities and the maneuverability of the F-35, we are going to crush years of misinformation about what this aircraft is capable of doing,” Flynn said in an interview with Aviation Week.

Lockheed Martin test pilot Billie Flynn.

The F-35’s maneuverability is all the more impressive because, unlike the F-16s that perform at air shows, the Joint Strike Fighter flying the demonstration this week is fully combat-ready. Flynn’s F-35A will move easily through complex aerial maneuvers loaded with everything it needs to go to war.

“All of those airplanes that do air shows—the Hornet, Viper—they are all slicked off without all the external stores,” Flynn said. “They are a party trick at an air show, versus a combat-configured F-22 or F-35.”

The flight demonstration is carefully scripted to highlight the kinematic capabilities of the F-35A, particularly its slow-speed handling qualities, said Flynn. He will start with an afterburner takeoff, almost immediately pointing his nose to the sky and letting the aircraft climb away essentially vertically. This impressive move is unique to the F-22 and the F-35, he said.

Billie Flynn aims to silence the skeptics with complex F-35A demo flights at the Paris Air Show.

Next, Flynn will reverse back in front of the crowd, and perform a “square loop” to show the aircraft’s instantaneous pitch capability and high angle-of-attack (AOA) maneuverability. Then he will turn around, reverse back in front of the crowd, and perform a slow-speed, high-AOA pass. Afterward, he will light the afterburner and fly straight up into the sky once again.

From there, Flynn will pull up vertically in front of the crowd and execute a maximum AOA “power loop,” where the aircraft flips on its back—another signature Raptor move. Then he will initiate a spiral at 50 degrees AOA, called a “pedal turn,” which he says will be the most impressive part of the entire routine.

After reversing again in front of the crowd, the last move is a maximum-G, 360-deg. turn, which highlights the maximum-rate, minimum-radius-turn capability of the aircraft, Flynn said. The F-35 in its current 3i configuration is limited to 7g; when the fighter gets its full war-fighting capability with the final 3F software, it will be able to pull 9gs.

“This aircraft down low in this environment is an absolute monster,” said Flynn. ”It is more powerful, it is more aggressive than any of us, including those of us that fly the F-35, would have imagined before we began this flight-demo process.”

The high show does not include the F-35 opening its weapon-bay doors, as the F-22 does during its airshow routine. The low show, which the F-35 will perform if there is inclement weather or cloud ceiling, includes opening the weapon-bay doors, according to Lockheed spokesman Mark Johnson.

Lockheed’s F-35 airshow profile has been in the works for well over a year, according to Flynn. The team has conducted over 800 simulator runs to evaluate the profile, and Flynn began practicing in the aircraft at the company’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas, about a month ago.

The company has developed air show routines for all three F-35 variants—the U.S. Navy F-35C carrier variant and the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B vertical-takeoff-and-landing variant as well—but this year Flynn is focused on the U.S. Air Force F-35A version.

Flynn had to modify the routine to accommodate airspace restrictions unique to the Paris show, he said. Flying is limited laterally and vertically because of Le Bourget’s proximity to both to the city of Paris and Charles De Gaulle Airport. Flynn is also limited by time—he only has 6 min. for the routine at Le Bourget, where at most air shows he would have 10 min.

“We focused on the ‘wow’ factor and left out the elements of a routine that would be part of a non-Paris-type profile,” Flynn said. “You have to live inside very tight restrictive boundaries, but it still permits us to put on a show that I believe will squelch the critics once and for all.”

So how will the F-35 demonstration compare to the Raptor’s always-impressive routine? It’s very similar, Flynn said.

“We all love what the Raptor can do. I would say the F-35 and the F-22 both put on demonstrations that are unique to our fifth-gen maneuverability,” said Flynn. “But don’t forget, that’s not how we dominate—we dominate because of stealth and sensor fusion.”

The two F-35As from Hill AFB, Utah, arrived at Le Bourget Airport June 13 and will be maintained on-site by Air Force maintainers and security personnel. One aircraft will be flying, and one will be on static display.


15 thoughts on “F-35 Demo Pilot: Paris Performance Will ‘Crush Years Of Misinformation’”

      1. I doubt it will silence them all, some people will simply NEVER be shaken from their outdated beliefs and the fallacious logic they use to justify holding onto them.

        However, hopefully it will silence enough of them so that those who maintain that the aircraft is a “Hunk of junk” won’t be heard so easily.

        I generally stay out of arguments about the F-35 because of people like those I’ve mentioned above, they just aren’t worth arguing with and won’t accept two very basic truths about the aircraft:

        1: It’s here and it’s been developed far enough and invested deeply enough into that NOBODY is going to cancel it.

        2: The F-35 has been designed as a game changer from the ground up and old school rules don’t apply to game changing technology. Things like the F-35 don’t follow rule books, they rewrite them.

        I tend to compare the F-35 to the F-111:

        Despite having many detractors and a rough start, the F-111 became a legend and tactical strike was forever changed by it. The TFR technology, night/day and all weather capabilities it brought with it completely changed how tactical strike was done and afforded an unprecedented level of mission safety and autonomy to the crews.

        I’ve no doubt, despite detractors and a protracted development period, the F-35 will have just as much effect on how all aspects of aerial combat are coordinated. The level of sensor fusion and systems integration it brings with it represents nothing less than a quantum leap in situational awareness for anyone using it or working in concert with it.

      2. I agree with your assessment Kevan. An aircraft of this complexity will always encounter developmental difficulties, and as you say, it is going to change the way air combat is approached. Thanks as always for your input.

    1. I remember when the Su-27 first came to western shows and did the “Pugachev Cobra”, among other party tricks. Western pilots tried to mimic it for quite some time, typically in F/A-18 Hornets as I recall.

      They took the move quite seriously until Viktor Pugachev himself openly conceded that it was designed specifically to wow airshow audiences and had no tactical value at all. I think a lot of western air forces told their pilots to stop trying to do it after he said that. Sort of a “Leave that to them” mentality.

      Your comment does remind me of one show I was at. I was having a conversation with a couple of USAF F-15 pilots when the Dutch F-16 solo went up. They mentioned that they wished they could fire off flares “Like the Europeans do” during their own displays, but that getting permission to do it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

      1. I remember seeing the “Pugachev Cobra” for the first time. I must admit, I was awestruck. It is interesting how the Russian’s went on to develop vectored-thrust technology, and the U.S. went down the ‘Stealth’ route. Of course, the Russian’s have the Sukhoi PAK FA now. I shall be interested to see how good it is as it’s development matures.

      2. True that, some very interesting developments in the pipeline from a few places to keep an eye. Of course China has their new toy, the J-20, for us to keep an eye on too.

      3. I think that is probably true, I can’t see how, these days, it has any real combat value, but is impressive none the less, and perhaps belongs in a remake of ‘Top Gun’! However, if it goes wrong, it’ll be one big mistake, and would leave rather a lot of egg on the face of the pilot who misjudged it! Shows need a careful balance between showing off the capabilities of the aircraft/pilot and safety, an area that is sometimes pushed too far.
        Flares are impressive, unfortunately I’ve never seen any myself, and don’t actually know of any occurring here in the U.K. – one day hopefully!

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