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. 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…

    • 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. “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).

  5. 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?

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