Olson and F-35 Demo Team Helped Change Minds About Joint Strike Fighter.
A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Andrew Olson as a Capt. but he was promoted to Maj. rank.
USAF Maj. Andrew Olson flew his last demonstration flight as F-35 Demo Team pilot and commanding officer Sunday during the Aviation Nation airshow at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada.
Maj. Olson was the first dedicated F-35 Joint Strike Fighter demonstration pilot in history. His team began their first-ever flight demonstration tour in early 2019 amid criticism of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Since then, the aircraft has been employed successfully in combat by the U.S. Marines, U.S. Air Force and the Israeli Air Force. Along with news of its successful combat record, the U.S. Air Force’s F-35 Demo Team likely played a significant role in improving public opinion of the Joint Strike Fighter program.
Maj. Olson’s last demonstration at Nellis was flown in cloudless blue skies against the dramatic mountain backdrop of Nellis AFB. Preceding the final show of the season by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, Olson’s final demo was spirited and precise. In addition to his aerobatic routine, toward the end of his flight he flew several Heritage Flight passes with a Korean War era F-86 Sabre. Olson then performed an exceptional rendition of his signature aerobatic maneuver in the F-35, the “Dojo Drift”, a dramatic horizontal, minimum radius skidding turn. Olson’s aircraft skidded sideways an incredible distance across the Nevada sky to the delight of photographers and air show fans who roared their approval.
The fence line at Nellis was packed with aviation media and photographers hoping to see the popular pilot’s final demo flight and reception at show center after his landing. The celebration did not disappoint as Olson posed momentarily for photographers before removing his integrated flight helmet and climbing down the F-35’s ladder to be greeted by the rest of the F-35 Demo Team, his wife and the customary champagne shower.
Maj. Olson’s F-35 Demo Team flew at 19 air shows this year with multiple demonstrations at each show. The team also flew in formation flights, dedication passes and other special events throughout the flight demonstration season.
“It was an incredible year. Incredibly satisfying. There are so many memories,” Maj. Olson told The Aviationist during an interview before his final flight demonstration.
During the 2019 air show season, the F-35 Demo Team’s media personnel, including USAF Senior Airman Alexander Cook and Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham, were highly effective in utilizing all forms of social and broadcast media to become key influencers in military aviation and shift the public impression of the overall Joint Strike Fighter program.
Before his final demo flight, Maj. Olson met with aviation enthusiasts in the F-35 Demo Team tent at Nellis where members of the team were doing brisk business selling patches, hats, T-shirts, coins and other souvenirs of the team. The F-35 merchandise has become popular with air show fans as the team has grown in popularity.
The successor to Maj. Olson’s assignment as F-35 Demo Team commander will be named during the off-season soon, with Olson taking responsibility for training the new, incoming demo team pilot and commander.