It’s the star of the flying display, but the presence here of the fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter is not just for show. “Make no mistake, the F-35’s participation in the Paris Air Show is a clear sign of U.S. support to our NATO allies and coalition partners. It demonstrates our vested interest in security and stability across Europe and the fact that no nation confronts today’s security challenges alone.” So said Col. Todd Canterbury, director of the Air Force F-35 Integration Office in the Pentagon, here last Monday.
Col. Canterbury explained that the two aircraft flown to Paris were from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, which is flying the latest jets equipped with Block 3i software. That allows Lockheed Martin test pilot Billie Flynn to demonstrate the F-35A like never before; an aggressive square loop, a 25 degrees-plus angle of attack slow-speed pass, a spectacular set of pedal turns, and a tight 360-degree turn, all serve to show that the stealth jet can be a dogfighter as well as a strike plane. “This aircraft is operational, it is ready for combat and it provides unmatched levels of lethality, survivability and adaptability,” Canterbury continued.
The suspension of flying at the main F-35A training base cast a temporary shadow over proceedings, but operations at Luke AFB resumed yesterday. No root cause has been identified for the five physiological events logged there by pilots over a month-long period. Five temporary provisions have been introduced to prevent a recurrance.
Jeff Babione, F-35 program general manager for Lockheed Martin, reviewed progress with international customers. Australia has two at Luke; Israel now has five jets at Nevatim air base; Italy has three at Amendola; Japan has four at Luke plus the one rolled out recently after assembly in-country; the Netherlands has two at Edwards AFB; Norway has five at Luke; and the UK has nine at MCAS Beaufort, Edwards and Eglin AFBs. Canada, Denmark, Korea, Norway and Turkey have all announced intentions to acquire, although Canada is having second thoughts.
Only Italy, the UK and the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) are customers for the F-35B short-takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version. The head of USMC aviation Gen Jon ‘Dog’ Davis gave an upbeat progress report here Tuesday. “This is the most capable airplane we have ever fielded. We’re just scratching the surface of what we can do with it,” he said. The first operational squadron is now at MCAS Iwakuni on Okinawa, its permanent base. The second squadron will declare initial operating capability (IOC) soon. Davis particularly highlighted ‘hot’ re-arm and refuel operations that have reduced F-35B turnround times to 15 minutes.
British Rear Admiral Keith Blount briefed on the UK’s forthcoming Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. “We’re building “two fifth-generation vessels for a fifth-generation fighter.” Davis is a fan of them, describing them as “incredible ships…we’re very interested in operating from them,” he said. Blount also said that the UK and the U.S. had signed a statement of intent (SOI) to make that happen. The QE-II ships can take a maximum 36 F-35Bs.