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

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.



About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on,, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.


  1. Mini Cooper with BMW M5 Turbo V8 !!! Note that Humongous F135 on Full Afterburner through out the Demo!!! Too Little Wing Surface Area, Super Computer controlled “unstable design Architecture doing what a Big Motor Does”, “Muscle me out or I will Stall”!! Sorry, No Match for Su-35. Or Typhoon or Rafael or Chengdu / PAC Thunder. Waste of Money. Seat of Pants Flying vs Super Computer Controlling Flight Envelop !! Sorry Not Impressed, I Know, I am a Fighter Pilot, Flew Mirages, F-16 & Few Others. Trying using your Muscles pulling +6 G in a Mirage III. Biceps !!

    • As was said by an F-22 pilot:

      “”The least impressive thing about the Raptor is how fast it is, and it is really fast; the least impressive thing about the Raptor is its speed and maneuverability.”
      – F-22 and F-35 pilot, Lt. Col. “Chip” Berke”

      The same is holding true with the F-35.

    • You seem to omit the fact that the F-35 is supposed to kill you before you ever have a chance or need to pull +6 G. If true, and it works as advertised, all of this dog fighting nonsense means nothing.

      • Killing outside visual range has an enormous downside. You’re shooting down a radar blip. It may be the enemy. It may be friendly. It may even be a commercial airliner. You don’t know and can’t know. And if you close to visual range, you blow away that stealth advantage.

        I’m also not impressed with that Situational Awareness because it has a dreadful choke point—the information process capabilities of a pilot who already has his hands full flying in hostile airspace. The crew of a slow unstealthy AWACS flying high and safe outside the combat zone is better situated to process that information.

        There’s another factor that’s rarely mentioned. There’s an assumption that clever technologies will let the F-35 radiate to spot targets and share data with other aircraft without being tracked. That advantage isn’t like to last long. Software-defined radio (SDR) chips are undergoing the same explosion in capabilities the computer chips went through.

        During WWII, the Germans thought Enigma was secure because no computational device in that era could break it by brute force in any remotely reasonable amount of time. Using some clever ‘cribs’ and pushing the state of the art to its limits, the Brits and the Americans managed to do what was thought impossible. Who is to say that history won’t repeat itself but with us the losers?

        What one person can hide, another can find.

        • The USAF/USN/USMC/Allied Forces have established TTPs (technique, tactics, procedures) and have the appropriate assets to PID (positive ID) targets at BVR without the need to resort to VID (visual ID) all the time. USAF fighters have already achieved successful BVR kills since the first gulf war. If VID is absolutely required, you are forgetting that the F35 has EOTS which can spot the bogie/bandit much further out than the Mk 1 eyeball… necessary need to close to Mk 1 eyeball distances for VID and forgoing BVR (for the Mk 1 eyeball that is) engagements. Do keep up….

          More to come

        • Funny that, USAF/USN/USMC/Allied pilots actually found the Situational Awareness/Common Operating Picture provided by the F35 to be pretty awesome and reasonably easy to utilise (their previous platforms were a kludge/pain in the butt in terms of providing total battle space awareness. The Federated Systems/Seperate streams of data in previous generation platforms was in fact the significant choke point for its pilots!). The F35’s information superiority allowed its pilots to be so much more effective operationally (and that is a FACT proven over and over again in the real world ). In fact 4th/previous generation platforms also benefited significantly from the information superiority/situational awareness provided by F35s in all the exercises that the F35 participated in… much so that F35s were frequently requested to remain in the Red Force airspace as information providers/quarterbacks for the Blue Force.

          BTW…the networked sensor fused common operational picture concept has been proven in combat. Think F22….think Syria….it was one of THE primary platforms used to deconflict Allied airborne platforms from non Allied platforms in Syrian airspace and the F22s did it very well because it had information/situational awareness superiority from its networked sensor fused common operating picture. The F22 provided situational awareness information on a more timely manner too.

          Forward based first rate information gatherers (F22/F35) + AWACS = much better. Combat information acquisition and synthesis is not a zero sum game that you make it out to be.

          Frankly, it does not matter whether you are impressed with the F35’s situational awareness capabilities or not. What really matters is that USAF/USN/USMC/Allied F35 pilots can utilise the F35’s information superiority effectively to improve their combat performance significantly (and they do in the real world).

          • Actually, pilots have complained that situational awareness in the F-35 is seriously undermined by the overload of data they get in their helmets, and by the unclear design of the data display. That can probably be fixed, but so far the potential of the aircraft has not been adequately used. That’s a problem of engineering of the display system that diminishes the usefulness of the sensor systems.

            • I will admit that early blocks of software for the F35 had serious bugs including sensor fusion (and consequently display of tactical information) and many pilots converting to next generation platforms (F 22 and F 35) from previous generation platforms had initial difficulties adapting to next generation tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs….to maximize the advantages of the next generation platform).

              That said……the software for the F35 has improved significantly (especially networked sensor fusion and the consequent display of tactical information) over time, evident in the latest releases of the F35 software, and many pilots who have adapted to next generation TTPs have consistently noted that next generation platforms (including F 35s with early blocks of F 35 software!) provided them superior (and useful + easy to utilize) situational awareness/battlespace awareness in comparison to their previous platforms. It’s no accident that F35 pilots consistently prefer to fly the F35 into (future) combat rather than their previous platforms. The results (including F35’s performance in various exercises) speak for themselves…..

              BTW…..the F35 man machine interface (MMI) has been designed to enhance the pilot’s performance significantly. The pilot can choose what information is displayed on the IPad like panoramic cockpit display (PCD) at each stage of his/her mission. Various portals, especially the Tactical Situation Display (TSD), on the PCD and the helmet mounted display (HMD) have various levels of declutter which the pilot can use to remove distracting information at different phases of the mission……it makes InklingBooks’ assertion that the F35 is only capable of displaying overwhelming levels of information absolute Hogwash!

              • I am glad to read things have improved significantly… does the system still flags civilian aircraft as foes, though? I hope not, but I am not quite sure… I really hope they fix it, because from pilot reports about the very poor visual awareness that the cockpit and their thick helmets provide, they will never be able to check any target with their own eyes, even at close range, and they’ll totally depend on the system. Not very secure, I’d say…

      • Aggressor pilots or pilots who have been on the receiving end of the F-22 often say they are targeted and shot down before they even knew they were being engaged. The F-35 is widely regarded of having more “brains” than the F-22. So yeah… it is a very very good chance it works as advertised…

    • Straight from the horse’s mouth:

      “The least impressive thing about the Raptor is how fast it is, and it is really fast; the least impressive thing about the Raptor is its speed and maneuverability.
      – F-22 and F-35 pilot, Lt. Col. ‘Chip’ Berke”

    • if you’re flying your pants, you’re done. the machines won’t let you get that close. if they’re doing what they’re supposed to anyway.

    • I don’t believe you were a former pilot. Otherwise you would know that the f-35 is using block 3i software which still has limits on the jet. Most notably, can’t exceed 7g. The block 3f software will be installed this fall/winter so next year the demos will be even better.

    • You’re living in the past. It’s all about man/machine/weapons interface now. You’d never get to the merge with an F-35 in your list of jets (PAC Thunder? YGTBSM!). When’s the last time there was a no shit turning fight? Winning the best airshow display award and winning air-air engagements are far different. (Oh, and I have 1200 hours of Viper time, blocks 10 thru 42.)

  2. Very cool! I love the blue skies, but I wish there would have been a few clouds, so the perspective would be a little easier to see. (Hopefully that makes sense.) I especially liked the square loop.

  3. Well, considering the previous article stated that this demonstration was designed to showcase the F-35’s slow-speed maneuverability, it is silly to form a conclusion on its high speed maneuverability from this one act. Also, forming opinions about this aircrafts total capabilities based on this one demonstration assumes they showcased everything it’s got. Which I really hope is not the case.
    As a person who grew up going to air shows, it is just usually a simple fact that US Airforce demonstrations are lacking in excitement compared to other nations and their aircraft. In other words, this was just as boring as most other American demonstrations.
    Also, IIRC, weren’t people originally complaining about the F-35 having poor low speed maneuverability? Now, they do a slow demo and people complain.

    • Demonstrating slow maneuverability while keeping afterburners on for the whole demo, that sounds a bit strange, no? If it has to use afterburners to be maneuverable at low speed, it’s going to show on IR detection systems like a bonfire in the landscape on a moonless night, I guess.

      • You obviously don’t watch a lot of air shows do you. Definitely not paying attention to the actual F35’s Paris Show flight demonstration….the F35 was not using it’s afterburners all the time during the demonstration.

        In fact, many other fighters (Typhoon, Flankers etc) do engage their afterburners for prolonged periods of time when demonstrating/performing slow speed maneuvers especially at high AOA -> afterburners were engaged to maintain/keep up the Es (energy) in this flight regime. The F35 is not unique in this regard.

        If you are executing slow speed maneuvers with the aid of afterburners in a WVR fight….how the afterburner look on IR detection systems is frankly not very important as you would have spotted the bandit already with your Mark 1 eyeball and would be thinking of other more important issues during the engagement.

        Try Harder

        • “If you are executing slow speed maneuvers with the aid of afterburners in a WVR fight….”
          And if you do so while on an attack mission, which is what the F-35 was primarily designed for, how long do you think it takes before your afterburners get you blown up by enemy IR air defenses?

          • Huh!!!??? Why are you talking about attack missions when we are discussing about the use of afterburners to maintain E(nergy) in many BFM/ACM maneuvers, especially high AOA maneuvers, in the WVR air to air fight/arena? Where is the relevance? And who the h*ll flies attack missions with afterburners on all the time and consistently at high AOA??? Certainly not the F35 pilots….they are certainly not idiots. And F35 pilots sure don’t fly attack missions low and slow….unless the situation is really screwed up….any plane including the Rafale will potentially be in big trouble in such a profile (and good luck with a heavily laden fighter aircraft trying to get out dodge down low without the use of afterburners).

            Do you realize that the F35’s flight demonstration showcases its maneuverability with particular relevance to the air to air arena? The F35 demonstration was not purely about its attack or A-G profile. Talk about a swing and a miss!!

            • Wow, was it the best it can do in air combat? how unimpressive. You have a point about afterburners not being normally used for attack missions, but you are forgetting that the F-35 will struggle to carry its max payload, as it is primarily designed for very limited payload in its internal bays. But your are quite wrong about the Rafale being in trouble flying low or slow: it actually does this sometimes, when launching cruise missiles (that is, while remaining far from the target).
              However it normally flies slow and real fast: its Spectra system can analyse relief and navigate in autopilot at high speed and low altitude, as to remain invisible from radars, while the pilot takes care of targeting and firing.
              Could the F-35 do that? Doubtful: did you hear about the POGO report? It makes one most intersting point clear: as it stands, the F-35’s sensors do not allow it to target from the normal shooting range of its guided bombs. Therefore, it must fly close to the target to mark it, and then turn around to get back to the proper bomb launch distance, then turn around again to drop its ordnance. Which means that before it can drop a bomb, it needs to show its engine flare to enymy IR detection systems. How cute…

              • My original point still stands….but if you insist on attack missions:

                1. The F35 can carry its max payload (internal and external payload) quite well actually. 28000 lbf of go in full military thrust and 43000 lbf of go in afterburners…..that is “sufficient” to say the least to carry its max payload. Gives the Rafale more than a run for its money (at max payload)

                2. Yes, the F35 has an autopilot that allows it to fly various attack profiles (as programmed/constructed by its pilot) autonomously whilst the pilot takes care of the targeting and employment of ordnance. It also has this kickarse EW system called AN/ASQ 239 Barracuda that can detect, classify, geo-locate, ascertain the mode of operation and attack (electronically if necessary) adversary emitters in real time. The AN/ASQ 239 also allows the F35 mission systems to determine the F35’s RCS, in relation to adversary emitters, in real time allowing the pilot to alter his/her attack profiles in real time. BTW cooperative EW between F35s is pretty neat thing too.

                The Rafale is simply not special in this regard. Yawn!

                3. You must be really clutching at straws to rely on a POGO (The Clown) report. Your credibility has just gone to -10.

                I don’t know what bizzaro world POGO lives in but in our real world….real life F35 developmental and operational test pilots have used the F35’s superb sensors to find, fix and classify ground targets at stand off ranges and employ PGMs at stand off ranges successfully too. No need to overfly targets. You might to check out videos about this on YouTube if you require visual confirmation. Funny that, during exercises, USMC and USAF operational pilots could used the F35’s superb (can’t emphasize this enough) sensors (e.g. high resolution SAR mapping) plus sensor fused information to find and fix targets at significant stand off ranges in all weather conditions.

                A word of advise that will serve you well…..don’t be so lazy and please use real life information in your arguments when you can. Saves you the embarrassment being utterly wrong.

  4. From my point of view people at Airshows in the last years are in a costant search of Aircrafts flying like Helicopters and Helicopters flying like Aircrafts…No big deal in having to see a super modern plane just doing 9G turns or a square loop like F-18’s did back in the late 80’s so since we can’t be in the cockpit to see the SA and Stealth technology involved in the F-35 probably they should start thinking about putting some negative G’s here and there, high alpha roll’s, a tailslide (if it can do it!) and less John Derry’s…

  5. Looks similar to a Hornet with the -402’s or even a Super Hornet (at least with the high Alpha emphasis). Don’t know about the energy maneuverability portion of it? I don’t think you will see it completing 15 second turns like Block 30 Vipers do, however….

    I guess its agility is adequate (remember this is not an air superiority jet, it is a strike fighter); with an up-rated engine it can only get better. But like it or not this jet is the future for my country (USA). The teen series are just too old (and have large RCS/ out dated sensors) and too many air-frame hours to be relevant anymore. And we have a 20 trillion dollar national debt, so defense spending generally will be taking a back seat to other programs (again, like it or not).

    But a 21 second 360 degree turn is not bad. Proves that Pierre Sprey was wrong all along-

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