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 - 200 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.



  • PierreAyc

    “How do you know that the J20 is cheaper? ”
    Cause I’m not a complete tard, and I can do simple logical deductions: they didn’t haveto spend billions on development because they mostly copied what the US had done and they stole classified data; they didn’t waste resources on STOVL because they don’t need it; and they have much cheaper labour and engineers, particularly in electronics… So clearly this aircraft was much cheaper to develop than the F-35…

    • Mali King

      Seeing or obtaining blue prints/classified data does not automatically equal easy to built or fabricate (that is if China managed to steal the real Crown Jewels of US programs in the first place). Chinese aerospace engineers still have to figure out how actually make the advanced materials (e.g. CNRP), put the actual plane together, write the actual software unique for the platform, flight test + certify various aspects of the platform etc etc….the actual J20 program is actually not a cheap program…especially for the Chinese Government. That’s why the proposed J20 numbers (at this point in time) still resembles a silver bullet force especially for the PLAAF. We are not talking about building J7s here.

      But not needing to design, build and test for STOVL capability, I will concede that.

      More on the point of seeing or obtaining information does not necessarily equal to ease of production….the Chinese have access to actual Russian jet engines (for tactical platforms) for many years but are still struggling to build a fighter jet engine that is as capable as the latest Russian engines performance wise. Knowing something clearly does not always translate to doing something well/easily.

      • PierreAyc

        You make good points here. But I would point out the very fast ryhtm at which Chinese industries have been progressing. In the last two years, they procure navy ships representing the same tonage as the entire French navy, and they’re still building. Ten years ago they didn’t build any proper aircraft, now they make entire jet liners of very good quality, although they still buy engines abroad. And through this, they made great progress regarding materials. Ten more years and they’ll be making their own jet engines as well as anyone else. And they’ve been investing much in super-computers, which has to benefit their military aircraft industry.

    • Mali King

      So…you don’t have an exact answer on the cost of the J20? Thought so…if you are not a complete tard then why is China only building limited numbers of J20s as a silver bullet force for the PLAAF? Chinese engineers may not paid as well as their western counterparts but top notch avionics and stealth technology (you know actually producing products with extremely tight tolerances and with effective RAM) just ain’t cheap PERIOD. The J20 just ain’t “cheap”….at least for the Chinese government. We are way beyond J7s here!

  • PierreAyc

    “Funny that….many of the advantages you described for the Rafale replacing multiple platforms also applies to the F35”
    Were supposed to apply, but do not apply. Everything we are shown now about the F-35 is that it will hardly ever be able to operate on its own, and there is absolutely no plan to reduce the diversity of aircraft types in the USAF, apart from getting tid of the A-10. For the rest,, the F-15 will still be needed as a heavy carrier of ordnance (you and Uniform made this point); the F-16 is to be replaced by the F-35; there will be a new light attack aircraft; The F/A-18 is here to stay for decades and the F-35 will only add capability to USN; the Growler will still be necessary; etc.

    Less bias and more common sense from you would be very nice too…

    • Mali King

      You are clearly ignorant and clearly have no idea about the USAF’s actual plan for the future. Yes, the F35 will eventually replace the F16 completely (btw F16s make up the vast majority of the USAF’s Tacair platform) and guess what….F15Cs + F15Ds are slated to be retired completely in the not too distant future and A10s are also slated to be retired completely -> the USAF just kicked the A10 retirement can further down the road….that’s all. F15Es will remain in service for quite a while but will also be retired completely eventually. So there will be an eventual reduction in aircraft types/diversity in the USAF tacair inventory.

      The F35C will completely replace the legacy Hornet (not the Super Hornet) in US Navy and the US Navy indeed does plan to continue operating Super Hornets and Growlers alongside the F35C…but for other different reasons….not because the F35C can’t perform the F/A 18 E/F’s missions/roles. The USMC will transition to an all F35B force for its tacair force.

      Oh yeah, the French Air Force still operates the Mirage 2000 today in addition to Rafale! Damn!!! Quick, someone tell the French Air Force to completely replace their Mirage 2000s with Rafales now!! They must have missed your memo! Well, there goes your theory of the Rafale replacing everything right now….ouch!!

      BTW F35s can operate on its own (tacair wise) if they have to….just ask the USMC. If anything, legacy tacair platforms are increasingly reliant on the F35 to help them survive near peer threat environments.

  • PierreAyc

    “Rafale pilots must have nightmares about encountering Mig 29s much less the latest Eurofighters in WVR ha!”

    Ffff… elucubration is a second nature to you, isn’t it? One, the Mig 29 has never proven its worth against any Werstern fighter, and as I wrote before, the likelihood of a War between Russia (or any other Mig 29 operator, such as Bielorussia) and NATO is close to 0. And given the way Poland has been treating France lately, I wouldn’t bet we’d come to their help… Two, Typhoon operators are allies, so no nightmares obviously, and although their aircraaft has an advantage in WVR, it has a clear sensor and jamming disadvantage, so it’s likely to never get a chance to reach WVR.. Three, lack of HMD so far has not stopped the Rafale from consistently being declared the best fighter-bomber in all international competition, and HMD has not helped the Typhoon becoming a proper fighter-bomber. We’ll see if the F-35 gets to the point where it can claim the title…

    “nothing like being able to slew your sensors and weapons to a certain point on the surface (land or sea) by just looking at it.”
    Do you have some form of understanding impairment? I believe I made it clear that although the Rafale does not have HMD, it does have VTAS. Actually, it always had it… Given that VTAS is about 40 years old, you should not need to be explained that HMD is not necessary to automatically target what you look at…

    ” And it’s no accident that most other modern multirole fighters have HMDs now (The F22 will field a HMD in the 2020s which is belated I admit).”
    Yeah, it’s cause they’re all ten years younger than the Rafale… But the Rafale evolutive design, and the good timing of its industrial project, will result in France having no need to ever waste money on a 5th gen aircraft, so it can focus on either 6th gen (which might happen with Germany, still to be confirmed) or Swarm combat UAVs (which are already planned to happen in cooperation with the UK). Everybody waste their resource on extremely expensive 5th gen development, except those whose 4th gen aircraft was so much in advance that 5th gen will be unnecessary…

    If you knew anything, you might have chosen a better angle of attack. For instance, you might have discussed targeting pods, which have been slow to be upgraded on the Rafale (there is very good one, but on few aircraft so far). But HMD is not VTAS. It only replaces HUD. The Rafale having the best HUD plus VTAS, HMD is not that necessary. It will have it some day rest assured, but it is not a priority…

    And if you mistake HMD and VTAS, then you kind of discredit yourself…

    • Mali King

      I am not discrediting myself. The Rafale never had an operational VTAS system….at least in French Air Force and French Navy service. If I am wrong, can you please point me to an actual source about the Rafale having an operational (not developmental) VTAS.

  • PierreAyc

    Spectra is much more than EW/ESM/DEfensive aid… It is connected to the nav/attack systems and can provide it with environmental awareness. It also is an active jammer that can erase the aircraft from air defense radars by creating its own waves as to no appear on them… that’s what you guys consistently fail to understand; Spectra is an integrated system designed to be much, much more than defensive aid… Praetorian does basically only half of what Spectra does.
    Spectra improves autopilot nav capabilities. It does about 60% of what the Growler can do in terms of active electronic attack (although maybe not against the same level of enemy systems). And of course it does the rest, what all AW defensive systems do.

    The name Spectra refers to the integrated suite of systems, not the the defensive aid. And I do believe that no other similar suite was designed by one single company in such an integrated manner. That’s where people get confused by the fact that the all thing bears only one name.

    • Mali King

      Environmental awareness of the enemy’s electronic ORBAT/transmissions. As I said before, Afghani mountains don’t radiate any radio waves….you would damn sure use your radar (RBE 2) and actual Nav/attack system (which is pretty good in Rafale) instead to navigate in the mountains. I know the Rafale systems…once again don’t take me for a fool.

    • Mali King

      Stop lying and stop taking me for a fool….SPECTRA is an EW/ESM/Defensive aid system. Even Thales don’t make ridiculous claims (not as ridiculous anyway) about SPECTRA like you do.

  • PierreAyc

    Try asking Google to translate this for you, or find some original English source:

    It reads: “the F-35 HMD’s night vision works poorly”…

    • Mali King

      And the F35 HMD’s night vision issues are being fixed as we speak (God forbid these problems crop up and are being fixed during developmental testing rather than during actual operational use….oh yeah talking about operational use….how did the rubbish 1st generation OSF made it into actual operational use???)

      Clumsy effort to distract people but no dice!! F35’s HMD issues does not detract from the fact that a HMD less/VTAS less (thats right I can calling bullpucky on an operational Rafale VTAS system) is still at a disadvantage.

  • PierreAyc

    1) Previous Gripen deals are all tainted with corruption scandals. Particularly in South Africa (I won’t blame the Swedes only, France and Germany were also involved in the frigates deal). And given Brazil’s world famous love for kickbacks… you can bet this was a major factor in the deal. Meanwhile France’s judiciary is now making it extremely difficult for defense industries to continue past practices.
    2) Brazil had by then pretty uncertain economic prospects, which have come true at an even worse level than expected. Buying an aircraft that was more expensive to fly and to maintain would not have been very sound. The Gripen was not chosen because its capabilites were better, but because it was cheap. And that is the case in every country that procured it.
    3) Brazil actually does not need anything close to a Rafale: they don’t have any close enemy threatening to invade or attack them, and they do not invade others either. What they needed, mostly, was a good hunter to patrol their skies, and to make sure neighbours won’t be tempted to penetrate their air space. For the rest, a bit of counter-guerilla here and there against narcos, that’s what the Super Tucano is for. So clearly, they needed a Sedan, not a Muscle car.
    4) The Gripen NG is nothing close to the Rafale. But it is not supposed to be. First, it has lost the main advantage of the Gripen C, namely its quick and cheap maintenance, due to the NG’s engine being significantly more complex, therefore it won’t provide the same training time either. Second, the true advantage of the Gripen is a strategic one: it is cheap enough to be procured in larger quantities, and that’s how you can build effective deterrence. That’s why Sweden procured more than 500 of them, as to let Russia know they would feel the sting if they tried anything stupid. But Brazil only bought 36 of them, and that is a minimum quantity for such a large country. The deal came at 4.6bn EUR, to be compared with the Rafale deal in India: 36 for almost 8bn EUR. Now you know why Brazil did not go for the Rafale (although exchange rates must be accounted for too, making the difference a bit smaller). By then also, Dassault did not want to transfer industrial capabilities, which Brazil desired. Nowadays it would do so, as it was ready to do in India.
    5) There isn’t a single competition in which Gripens came close to the Rafale in terms of capabilities. In the Indian MMRCA tests, it didn’t even make the first cut. Which was expected for a single engine jet. Now it might get a deal in India, but only to replace Mig-21s, not to fulfil the capabilities of the Rafales. In fact, the Gripen is a good modern-day equivalent to the Mig 21: small, maneuverable, a real pest in the air, but with short range and limited attack capabilities (just enough to stop a tank column). It is in essence a defensive air fighter. It is also cheap, easy to maintain (at least the original versions), and can be procured in large numbers. But it does not and will never play in the Rafale’s league.

    You may try to laugh about the deals the Rafale did not clinch. But those were with countries that weren’t ready to pay, and that did not need huge capabilities, such as Brazil or Morocco. And also countries that have been under too much US influence lately regarding their procurement. France doesn’t really aim for such markets.
    Ten years later, the strategic situation in many parts of the world has changed, and you see countries that can pay go for the Rafale: Qatar, Egypt, India… Soon probably Malaysia (it would already be done if it weren’t for unfavourable exchange rates), possibly a few more Asian countries. Thanks very mich to China for making it possible, by increasing the threat… Qatar is a good example: it can afford anything. Therefore, if they went for the Rafale, it is for good strategic and tactical reasons. They can now face KSA and UAE aviation, while keeping a good capability to bomb foreign land once in a while, as in Libya, to increase their strategic influence. Typhoons could not guarantee that, and were not good value.
    And finally, the Gripen and the Typhoon have a disadvantage that the Rafale will never have: they’re full of components from the US, or the UK, or Germany, all countries that do not guarantee parts deliveries in times of war. And if you have to use US bombs its even worse, you can’t launch them at will, and you have to get daddy’s approval first. With French stuff, you signed a contract, you’ll get what you need. No tricks, no disappointment, no foreign pressure on your strategic policy…

    • Mali King

      Good points but two comments….looks like you admitted that the Rafale can be an expensive platform. At least you are honest there. Qatar also bought F15s for strategic and tactical reasons.

  • PierreAyc

    I never heard about any hot fuel issue on any Rafale, and it sounds quite unlikely, given that the Rafale is designed with and engine cooling air circulation system: the entire engine block, including fuel inlet piping to the engine, are permanently cooled down by fresh air as it flies. The main purpose of this is to reduce IR signature. But it would obviously create a layer of cool air between the engine and the rest of the aircraft, so how do you expect fuel to heat up?

    • Mali King

      Do you have the Rafale’s manual stating that it can take high temperature fuel wily nily? What is the upper fuel temperature limit for the Rafale? I am waiting for an exact answer….

      Funny that, the F35 employs the same cooling techniques as the Rafale…you know… fresh cool air around the engine and all. Your ignorance about non French platforms is showing again!

  • PierreAyc

    Ho, I trust the Isrealis to keep their machines at top technological levels. They’ve been doing it for decades. But what eh meant, clearly, is that the stealth essence of the F35 will face matching technology in not so long.

  • PierreAyc

    “which means that they had no freaking idea when the F22s communicated using IFDL!”
    Maybe. Or maybe they weren’t. Or maybe, it is simply that exercises were done on US soil and the Frencg did not have any radar infrastructures to support their aircraft and help detect communications. Now in the case of a US attempt to penetrate French air space, it might well be different. You just can’t make conclusions based on exercises that take place on your own home ground…
    The F22 is extremely steealthy, no doubt here. But contrary to the F35, it is meant to stay home, and to be the air supremacy fighter that stops anyone from entering US air space. Now, the F35 is meant to penetrate others’ air space, and that might be a very different trick. And in this situation, it will not benefit from the same communication systems versatility, because the systems it will be contacting won’t be as numerous, as diverse, or as properly placed. But don’t get me wrong: I know for now it has a significant advantage. I only strongly doubt that this advantage will last, because it seems to me that the very fundamental approach of its communication design is an inherent flaw. It only relies on present advance, which cannot last forever.

    (ON A DIFFERENT NOTE: I don’t get Disqus notification for your new posts, that’s why I missed a few of them and I am only responding this late).

  • PierreAyc

    Yes, indeed. But you’re forgetting that this was 13 years ago. What was your best OSF 13 years ago? And how does your best OSF now compares with the Rafales best OSF?

    • Mali King

      Very favorably :D

  • PierreAyc

    Interesting… did the issue on the F22 involve the same political and financial dimension as the F35’s program? Not at all. The bigger the stake, the bigger the control on the pilots… at least, it seems to be a sound assumption.

    “they are obviously beholden to Dassault and The French Air Force….see what I did there…”
    Ho yes, I see clearly: you compared two incomparable situations. The Rafale program was never pointed out for its uncontrolable cost that would endanger the entire Air Force, and therefore it was never involved in any kind of political argument such as the one surrounding the F35. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to expect that pilots should be controlled as to what they say, at least not beyond classic control of classified information. When it comes to the F35, I definitely expect complete totalitarian pressure to protect the program. Which in itself means the USAF brass are confident in it. But then, how come they’ve never been able to convince the most competent and patriotic politicians in Congress defense commissions, who are all capable to not leak classified data? Maybe because the classified data isn’t that convincing?

  • Mali King

    Fair points…low and slow is the last thing a F35 pilot wants to do! That said…a lot more CAS is done from medium altitude nowadays.

  • Mali King

    The Qatari F15 sale has been approved (by the US) and will go ahead. I guess the Qataris are hedging their bets with a US and non US tacair platform.

    About the Rafale M being a 120% (capability wise) of a Super Hornet…..a lot of Super Bug fans would disagree with that! Lol :P

    • PierreAyc

      They would certainly. As I see it, the problem with the Super Hornet is that it requires a larger carrier than the Rafale. It’s a slightly bigger aircraft, and it needs powerful catapults too. I believe the Rafale has a slight advantage both in terms of ordnance weight and range, but it isn’t very significant.

  • Mali King

    Interesting! I stand corrected. Just for my knowledge, when did the Gerfaut VTAS enter actual operational service with the French Air Force (for its Rafales)?

    I believe the Scorpion HMCS was originally developed by Gentex, an American company (probably sold the Scorpion product line to Thales Visionix).

    The F 35 HMD system is being developed and build by VSI (Vision Systems International. A joint venture between Rockwell Collins and Elbit Systems).

    In terms of the joint French and German future stealth fighter, let’s see if the project gets off the drawing board first.

    • PierreAyc

      I think the Gerfaut system started being fitted with the Standard F3 , which was developed from 2004 and saw the first aircraft delivered in 2009.

  • Mali King

    The J20 may very well be relatively competitive, price wise, on the export market. But I believe the Chinese government are building J20s solely for domestic needs at this point in time and are developing the FC 31 as the export “5th” generation fighter.

  • Mali King

    For the F35, the cooling air does surround the whole engine (whole length of the engine bay too) and exits around the rear of the aircraft (around the engine nozzle). There are clear illustrations of the F35 engine bay cooling on the interwebz.

  • Mando

    Interestingly, the video does 2 things…

    1. Puts the F35 haters on the defensive. The aircraft maneuvered effortlessly. Despite the fact that it was operating nowhere near it’s limits. These slow speed air show maneuvers reflect approximately zero of what is needed in aerial combat. Any pilot who dogfights at these altitudes and these speeds (and using afterburner) is a dead pilot. Throwing IR signature everywhere, bleeding energy like an avionic hemophiliac? Come on. The Russians love this crap. They design aircraft to perform at air shows, not to win duels at 15-30K feet where US jets are designed to excel. Canards are just RCS drag in that environment. High speed, high altitude engagements wins the day because he who shoots from above almost always wins.

    2. You see the evidence of why the F35 is going to be shockingly capable in that environment. Watch the tail continuously and you will see all the things the pilot simply does not have to worry about. Observe how much control surface is aft of the center of gravity and the center of thrust. The positioning of the engine and weight distribution relative to the control surfaces is going to allow this bird to achieve tremendously dynamic kinematic performance in extremely thin air….just as that S-400 is bleeding kinetic energy, this bird is going bob and weave despite it’s smaller RCS optimized wing print.

    The software can get this airframe to do just about anything as long as it has a high energy state. Period.