Here’s The Video Of The First Aerobatic Flight Demo Of The F-35: Does It Showcase Exceptional Maneuverability Or Quite The Opposite?

Jun 19 2017 - 77 Comments
By Tom Demerly

Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Billie Flynn just performed his first F-35A Flight Demo At Paris Air Show. Did he “crush years of misinformation about what this aircraft is capable of doing” as promised?

Set against a brilliant French sky with puffy cumulus clouds Lockheed Martin’s star test pilot Billie Flynn thrilled the crowd at Le Bourget Airport outside Paris, France today as he wheeled and tumbled his F-35A Lightning II through an aerobatic demonstration some critics claimed was nearly impossible.

The performance included low speed, high angle of attack maneuvers, tight turning, numerous rolls and maximum performance climbs that would silence the critics who said the F-35 could not dogfight and “crush years of misinformation about what this aircraft is capable of doing“.

While the F-35’s advanced sensor and integration avionics are designed to win the fight long before the “merge” of aerial combat into visual dogfighting range, this demonstration aimed to show the controversial Joint Strike Fighter can hold its own in a knife-fight with the Sukhois, MiGs, Chengdus, Shenyangs and other likely adversaries.

At the 2:00 mark in the video test pilot Flynn positions the F-35A at show left and performs a high-alpha, ultra low speed pass, standing the Lightning II on her tail and dancing across the Paris sky as the aircraft’s twinkle-toed elevators maintain stable flight on a boiling cushion of thrust from her growling Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. It is a spectacular sight. Enough to silence the skeptics? Hard to say. Most probably not enough, considered what people are used to see when a 4th Gen. aircraft or the F-22 are able to do during an airshow routine.

Returning to lower altirude in the demonstration box, Flynn performs a maximum performance, high-G turn with afterburner similar to what we’ve seen with many other demos. This version of the flight demonstration does not feature the open weapon bay doors as with the F-22 demo we’ve seen many times. One of the F-35A demo routines does include a pass with the weapons bay doors opened.

Honestly speaking the new PAS 2017 routine seems to be more dynamic than expected. But in terms of instantaneous and sustained turn rates the F-35 does not seem to match the performance of the famous super-maneuverable Sukhois, Eurofighter Typhoon, Gripen or Rafale (to name but few).

Still, the unique features of the JSF are its stealth design, sensor fusion capabilities and unmatched SA (Situational Awareness): that is to say all the ingredients for success in modern air-to-ground operations. Comparing the F-35 to an F-22, Typhoon or even F/A-18 in terms of energy-maneuverability is probably wrong and misleading.

So, let us know what are you thoughts after watching this demo:

a) do you think it’s more than enough considered that the aircraft will probably never be engaged in a Within Visual Range dogfight?

b) it’s rather disappointing because super-maneuverability remains a key to succeed in modern scenarios?

You judge.

Top image: file photo of the F-35 Heritage Flight Team’s F-35A validation flights on July 5, 2016.



  • Colin

    Very surprising to see such an exhaust plume. An accelerating F-35 will be visible from a long way off thanks to the black trail it will leave. The fighter’s singular weakness remains its umimpressive war load. Hang missiles off the wings and stealth is gone. Carry them internally and you get 4 shots. That won’t help much against a mass of Russian or Chinese aircraft.

  • Chugs 1984

    “But in terms of instantaneous and sustained turn rates the F-35 does not seem to match the performance of the famous super-maneuverable Sukhois, Eurofighter Typhoon, Gripen or Rafale ”

    That maneuver that began at 4:07, was spectacular and as fast and quick as any Sukhoi or Rafale that I’ve seen.

    The split S, vertical climbs, slow speed capability (100 knots and not stalling!) are amazing. The maneuver that begins at 3:43 is spectacular as well, i’ve not seen pedal turns like that before.

    Re other aircraft like the Su-35 and their demonstrations sure the F-35 didn’t do a Pugachev’s Cobra or a tail slide but arguing that because it didn’t isn’t a sign that it can’t.

    I think you should post this video to this story – where the pilot explains his demonstration.

  • citanon

    Thinking through what the Paris demo actually showed and reading a number of comments from around the web the answer to your question is actually C: the F35 is surprisingly, weirdly maneuverable and will do just fine even if the fight goes WVR (or as fine as any fighter can be in WVR in the era of HOBS missiles).

    Compare for example the F35 demo with the Rafale demo. The Rafale demo. The Rafale looks more agile and acrobatic right?

    Ahhh, but then you realize the F35 demo is done at low airspeed to showcase low airspeed maneuverability. The Rafale was at much higher speed. Why does that matter? Because at high air speed you have lots of air moving fast over the control surfaces, generating lots of maneuvering force, making fighters very agile. The Rafale was show excellent maneuverability in a flight regime where fighters have traditionally had great maneuverability. The F35 on the other hand, chose to showcasea low speed flight regime thats traditionally bad for maneuverability. That’s your first clue that it’s demonstrating something unusual.

    Then you start actually timing the pitch rates , the climb rates, the pedal turns, and you start realizing something amazing:

    1. It’s got very unusual acceleration. Yea you see plenty of fighters climb vertical, bit this one does it almost from stand still without building up speed first. That’s a shocking display of engine power. Nearly every other fighter, including that beautiful Rafale need to gain airspeed in the horizontal before going vertical. The F35 just goes straight up.

    2. The pitch rates and the pedal turns. The instantaneous pitch rates and pedal turns it displayed are very surprising for a non-thrust vectoring fighter in the low speed regime. Think about it. It doesn’t have that much airflow moving over the control surfaces. How the heck us it generating so much pointing authority? How is it hitting those exact pitch, roll and turn angles? If you time them, it’s pitch rate at low airspeed was comparable to the Rafale was going at much higher airspeed. How is it possible? How did it stand on its tail with perfect control at 50 degrees AoA with no thrust vectoring and less than 100 knots airspeed?

    It doesn’t make sense. There’s something very special aerodynamically going on with that airframe. This is Lockheed’s wink wink at the world.

    Lastly, think about this, the F35 could do this in a combat configuration
    The Rafale could only do it’s demo in the slicked out clean configuration. What happens when you get the lightning to that airspeed, with that engine and those aerodynamics?

    The F35 is a dangerous knife fighter, for sure.