Lockheed Martin has performed the first public flying demonstration with a US Air Force F-35A Lightning II at this week’s Paris Air Show. Flown by Lockheed Martin test pilot Billie Flynn, the display is the first aerobatic routine by the F-35A.
The display is aimed at silencing critics who say the F-35 struggles with maneuverability, especially in close-quarters engagements — the within visual range (WVR) arena.
Speaking at the show today, USAF F-35A pilot Lt Col Scott ‘Cap’ Gunn said the six-minute display was designed to showcase power and angle of attack (AoA) attributes of the F-35, saying: ‘the more you can point [the nose of the jet], the more effective you can be.’
One of the sequences of the display sees Flynn fly a ‘pedal turn’, designed to demonstrate the post-stall flying qualities of the F-35. Gunn says: ‘I fly a lot of BFM [basic fighter maneuvers} where I try to get slow. I fly mostly with the pedals; the control laws allow the jet to rotate and go where I want it to turn.’
The F-35 at the show is flying with Block 3i software, meaning it is limited to 7g. However, it can fly to above 50 degrees AoA.
Lockheed Martin’s chief test pilot Al Norman says the F-35 has ‘tremendous instantaneous pitch rate’, adding that in his opinion only the F-22 has superior post-stall performance.
Norman referred to a ‘Beast mode’ in the display; here, Flynn powers off the runway and also out of the high AoA slow pass, utilizing the 40,000lb of thrust on offer.
Lt Col Gunn said the show was being flown with a loadout representative of internal AIM-120 AMRAAMs. Of course, the F-35’s primary close-in weapon will be externally mounted AIM-9Xs, so this display isn’t fully representative of how the F-35 will fly close-in BFM, however Norman says carrying external Sidewinders has little impact on performance. It is also worth noting that the envelope will be expanded out to 9g with the forthcoming Block 3F software.
Whilst it was good to see the F-35 being put through its paces in a full-up aerobatic routine, it’s worth noting that there was nothing here that hasn’t been seen in displays by other aircraft. The ‘falling leaf’ pedal turn sequence was arguably the most impressive, and the F-35 is clearly no Raptor