New F-35A Demo May Transition from Heritage Flight to Solo F-35A Demo.
The U.S. Air Force has posted limited information about a new F-35A Demonstration Team for the upcoming 2019 airshow season.
The information appeared today on the official USAF Air Combat Command Aerial Events page. This web page hosts official information about the various Air Combat Command flight demonstration teams that include the F-22 Raptor Demo Team, the A-10C Thunderbolt II Demo Team, the F-16 “Viper” Demo Team and the Heritage Flight Teams.
The Air Force has not released specific information about how or if the F-35A Demo Team will perform differently in the 2018 demonstration season, but the new team name may hint at a solo F-35A Lighting II flight demonstration separate from the Heritage Flight formation. If the USAF F-35A does fly a solo demonstration under the new team designation, the routine could include some aerobatic flying, although Air Combat Command has offered no details about the team’s demonstration routine.
Included on the new page is a look at what the F-35A Demo Team patch may look like; a U.S. flag waving in the background of the patch with a front-view of an F-35A as seen on many F-35 unit patches. The patch has the inscription “F-35A Lightning II Demo Team”. A clever creative element are stripes in the flag background forming lightning bolts.
USAF F-35A Lightning IIs have flown limited flight demonstrations at airshows already but normally as part of the Heritage Flight demonstration, a formation of aircraft from several eras that showcases the heritage of Air Force aviation. In general, while the formations are spectacular and the flying is precise, the Heritage Flight formations with the F-35A did not specifically showcase the capabilities of the F-35A in a high-performance flight regime.
There have been a couple notable exceptions to F-35A flight demos though. Lockheed Martin test pilot Billy Flynn flew an aerobatic display in a USAF F-35A at the 2017 Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport outside Paris, France. USAF F-35As from the 57th Wing at Nellis AFB have also flown in air power demonstrations that included some high-performance flying in combination with other USAF aircraft to simulate various operational scenarios. These aircraft did not perform a specific capabilities demonstration of the F-35A.
Putting together a dedicated F-35A demonstration team is an interesting challenge for the USAF. Critics of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program claim the aircraft “can’t dogfight”, can’t perform aerobatics and may have limited weapons capability in current configurations. A more informed perspective includes the understanding that fifth-generation advanced combat aircraft don’t rely on aerobatics or aerobatic performance to achieve their missions. Many of the most advanced capabilities of the F-35 aren’t demonstrable in an airshow setting. For that reason, an F-35A flight demo could have a difficult time differentiating the aircraft’s unique technologies from the F-22 or other demonstration aircraft that airshow crowds are accustomed to.
Top image: Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Heritage Flight Team pilot and commander performs a vertical climb in an F-35A Lightning II during the Bell Fort Worth Alliance Air Show Oct. 14, 2018, in Fort Worth, Texas. The F-35A Lightning II’s F-135 single-engine contains 43,000 pounds of thrust. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook)