“Because I Was… Inverted!” Everything You Need To Know About The Photo Of An F-35C Firing An AIM-9X During Inverted Flight

Check Out These Cool Photos of the F-35C That Would Make Maverick and Goose and Jealous.

How many chances will the U.S. Navy’s F-35C have to launch a close-range, advanced air-to-air dogfighting missile like Raytheon’s AIM-9X in combat while flying upside down? The answer is *probably* none.

But in the unlikely event a U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II does go into a dogfighting “furball” and it turns into a real-world remake of “Top Gun” without Tom Cruise, Lockheed Martin needed to be sure the F-35C could perform.

This missile launch test at the Patuxent River Naval Base in Maryland on the east coast of the U.S. demonstrated this rather unlikely capability was possible.

Flight test aircraft CF-2 performed the capability demonstration on June 8, 2017 and was photographed by Lockheed Martin photographer Dane Wiedmann using a Nikon D4 camera with a 24-70mm zoom lens while flying high right (or is it left when inverted?) formation in a chase aircraft.

Wiedmann shot the impressive photos at 1/1600 shutter speed to freeze the fast accelerating missile leaving the rails and f-stop 5.0 using ISO 400 setting. Wiedmann took the images early in the day, before 9:00 AM local time, accounting for the nice lighting.

Major Eric Northam of USMC flight test and evaluation unit VX-23 Launches an AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile while flying inverted. (Photo: Dane Widdeman for Lockheed Martin)

The missile launch demonstration was flown by U.S. Marine Corps test pilot Major Eric Northam of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three, VX-23, based at Patuxent. Major Northam is a highly experienced tactical aircraft test pilot with extensive experience in the F/A-18 Hornet in addition to the F-35C.

It is noteworthy that the flight test was flown by Major Northam, a USMC test pilot, on an F-35C, the U.S. Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. The U.S. Marines fly the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B.

USMC Test Pilot Major Eric Northam of USMC flight test and evaluation unit VX-23 (Photo: Eric Northam via Facebook)

As a side note, an AIM-9X, the world’s most advanced infraredtracking, shortrange air-to-air and surface-to-air missile, fired by a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet at a Syrian Sukhoi Su-22 that had dropped munitions near U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria, surprisingly missed its target. According to CNN, the VFA-87’s Super Hornet locked onto the Su-22 Fitter at a range of 1.5 miles and fired an AIM-9X: the Syrian pilot released flares to successfully lure the infrared guided missile away from his tail. The Syrian jet was eventually downed by the same Super Hornet with an AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air To Air Missile).

With the frequent popular media criticism of the F-35 program and a lingering narrative of program limitations that, according to some analysts really don’t exist, these tests for flight and weapons performance at the outer edges of the mission envelope seem to send a promising signal that the F-35 is capable across its entire mission requirement set, including unusual outlying mission requirements like inverted missile launches.

The capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continue to be demonstrated across all types and services. Between Aug. 4 and Aug. 11, 2017, the U.S. Air Force conducted the first ever delivery of GBU-31 2,000-pound precision guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or “JDAM’s” at the Utah Test and Training Range near Hill AFB.

Pilots and Airmen of the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings operated the USAF’s F-35A Lightning II during the evaluations, named “Combat Hammer”. This was the first Air Force conducted operational evaluation of air-to-ground munitions for the F-35A following Lockheed Martin verification of capability tests. Official U.S. Air Force media sources quoted the performance of the tests to have, “above average mission and sortie rates”.

USAF Colonel Tim Smith, Commander of the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron detachment located at Hill AFB told media, “Overall, everything went as planned and all participating units performed very well, including the 34th Fighter Squadron F-35As.”

A USAF F-35A drops a GBU-31 2,000-pound JDAM over the Utah Test and Training Range on August 10, 2017. (Photo: Scott Wolff via USAF)



About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, 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. It’s interesting, to make such a launch, the F-35 will have to lose part of the low RCS, using external payload.

  2. I see a lot of external ordnance used in these tests, wasn’t internal carriage one of the strong points of the programme? And I guess using these stations inverted might pose more problems. External missiles would ensure the F35 can’t use its standoff capability given by stealth and ends up in furballs in the first place, just to find out the missile is decoyed easily by an old generation Russian fighter

    • A lot of the internal carriage tests have been done…

      “External missiles would ensure the F35 can’t use its standoff capability given by stealth…”?


      Stand off missiles are the ultimate in stealth capability for fighters and bombers since they wouldn’t be near the target…

  3. ” … the F-35 is capable across its entire mission requirement set …”.

    Of course it is, and anyone who understands fighter aviation and this aircraft’s superb, cutting-edge capabilities knew this. Alas, this is the first new fighter built in the age of the Internet and because of that, clickbait websites looking to drive traffic (I don’t include The Aviationist in that, but I do consider War is Boring and National Interest to be among them), people with no experience whatsoever in aviation, peace-activist communists and government agencies in Russia and China waged a relentless web-based propaganda effort against this aircraft. Russia and China for obvious reasons – they feared it so they wanted to see it killed. Guess what?

    They all failed, thanks in part to counter-efforts waged by commenters like me and many aviation-knowledgeable bloggers. So all you dummies get off the bus. F-35 is here to stay, Russia and China have inferior air forces because of it, and there’s not a damn thing any of you can do to stop the march of this unrivalled 5th generation fighter. Swallow hard boys and girls and move on. Perhaps some milk and cookies will help sooth your pain. Me? Thanks for the comedy! : )

    • The fact that you upvote you own posts makes the comment laughable. And what happened to your old account? 5000 posts gone. Is that the “counter-effort” you mentioned?

      The F-35 was “salvaged” because they had to. With enough effort (billions of tax payers Dollars) you can do a lot. It’s not cost efficient. But who cares. More money for military industrial complex.

      • Technically, the F-35 is relatively cheap to develop. What caused this overblown cost was because it is the first project where they’ve released the entire investment line, from the first drawing to the finished project.

    • Dude not saying the jet sucks, but as I have a bit of insider knowledge it isn’t yet the game changer it is supposed to be and even when it is what will be the costs.

      I have worked on all kinds of fighter aircraft, including the F35 (I loaded that missile). It is incredibly costly but it isn’t as horrible as people make it out to be. However there are many missions I would not want to do with that jet. Have you ever touched one? Looked in the weapons bay, know what AME it carries? How is the flight control software managed by the computers? What data bus is it using? Google many get you some of this but not all of it. Really botherd me when people think they know everything. My knowledge has limits, I know this but I also know a lot of people in the know and I pick up stuff. Don’t count out the bear and the dragons capabilities, they are modernizing fast.

      Final thought. Shooting a missile upside down doesn’t prove anything. Pilot training standards and tactics dictates 50-70% of an airbattles outcome. Not shooting upside down.

      • “I have worked on all kinds of fighter aircraft, including the F35 (I loaded that missile).”

        Prove it.

        • Well let’s see. CF-2 is our primary weapons test bird at the ITF. The missile, loaded on station 1, was mated to a LAU-148 launcher rail which is bolted to a SDD air to air pylon (CV specific) to a torque spec of 980 inch lbs, socket size 9/16. The propper sequence for loading the AIM-9X to a F35 LAU-148 is after you lift the missile and engage the missile hangers with the rail surface is to slide it forward until you hit the forward missile stops. Then the “one man” or “weapons lead” using a 3/8 inch ratchet with extension actuated first the aft-detent, aft snubbers, strikers, connect the forward connector, engage the snatch away, close the LAU-148 front cover and finally (in the case of IMV or live missiles, like this one) engages the midbody umbilical. Finall step not required for ATMs (which are basically ballast, one can be seen on station 11). When we load these we have to tow the jet down taxi way echo to the live loading area and point it towards the gulf course. Same place I have hand cranked the rounds in for both the B model and C models airborne live fire.

          Anything else I can help you with?

        • I know the photog in the chase but never run into the VX-23 pilots. Can you tell me what kind of plane was the chase?

      • so your saying a very well trained pilot in a Me-109 WW2 against a less trained ( yet obviously Trained )..F-16 pilot has a 50-60 percent chance (as you say the plane matters little)..

  4. Stealth fighter with.. ehm.. external loadout?
    Does that mean it’s not stealth anymore?

    • Because if the mission doesn’t require full stealth, then having those extra fuel tanks will be great. If it does, then they remove it.

      This plane was built to do a myriad of missions.

      • Then I guess the next step should be inverted missile launch from weapon bays then.

    • Even with two external sidewinders and its gunpod the F-35B and C will still me far more stealthy then any fighter aircraft out there (with exception of F-22). I would put money out that even in that configuration it would be more stealthy than the PAKFA

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