Category Archives: F-35

Marine Corps, Air Force F-35 Jets Take Part In Red Flag Exercise Together For The First Time

Red Flag 17-3 underway at Nellis Air Force Base features both U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force F-35s, for the first time together.

Red Flag is simply one of the largest and more realistic exercises in world, designed to simulate the first 10 days of a modern conflict.

Hundred of combat aircraft along with pilots, ground forces, intelligence analysts, cyber and space operators take regularly part in RF exercises at Nellis AFB, just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, to validate tactics and weapon systems employment within the context of the Nevada Test and Training Range.

As already explained the RF scenario continuously changes in order to adapt to the real world threats: the old “fixed” battlefields, where the location of the enemy was known and remained pretty much unchanged until the aircraft reached the target area, have evolved in a more dynamic and unknown battlespace that requires real-time data coordinators able to disseminate information on the threats and targets gathered from a variety of assets and sensors. In such new “networked” scenarios, stealth technology (capability to survive and operate effectively where others cannot) combined with 5th Generation features (sensor fusing), are extremely important to achieve the “Information Superiority” required to geo-locate the threats and target them effectively.

That’s why the presence of 5th Gen. aircraft teaming with and “orchestrating” 4th Gen. combat planes (lacking the Low Observability feature but able to carry more ordnance) will become the leit motiv of the future Red Flags.

For instance, Red Flag 17-3, underway at Nellis from Jul. 10 to 28, sees two F-35 Lightning II squadrons (and as many JSF variants) participating in the drills together for the very first time: the Marine Corps’ F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft from VMFA-211 based at MCAS Yuma and the Air Force’s F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) from 33rd Wing from Eglin AFB, Fla. Furthermore, during RF 17-3, the two different variants of the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) operate alongside the F-22 Raptors from Tyndall AFB, also taking part in the exercise.

The cooperation of the three radar-evading aircraft, including the controversial F-35s, is going to be particularly interesting.

According to the USMC, VMFA-211 will conduct defensive counter air (DCA); offensive counter air (OCA); suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD); destruction of enemy air defense; dynamic taskings, which involve finding a time-sensitive target or series of targets and eliminating them; electronic warfare (EW); preplanned strikes; and combat search and rescue (CSAR).

Whereas U.S. Air Force F-35s (from a different unit) have already taken part in RF, the missions they flew during RF 17-1, at least based on reports and official statements, focused on OCA and air interdiction in a highly contested/denied aerial environment: Air Force F-35As penetrated denied airspace and directed standoff weapons from B-1B heavy bombers flying outside the denied airspace. During these missions, the F-35As with IOC (Initial Operational Capability – the FOC is expected next year with Block 3F) entered the denied airspace and engaged both aerial and ground targets, not only with weapons they carried but also with weapons launched from other platforms such as the B-1Bs as they loitered just outside the threat environment acting as “bomb trucks.” Moreover, during the RF 17-1 sorties, flying alongside the F-22 Raptors, the F-35s achieved the pretty famous kill ratio of “20-1.

Interestingly, even though it will probably not embed simulated shipborne or remote base operations (that are what the F-35Bs, in spite of the limited range and internal weapons capacity, was somehow designed to conduct) the Marine Corps will expand the role of the 5th Gen. aircraft in RF, covering also EW and CSAR support tasks.

“It’s … important to practice integrating assets from all across the [Armed Forces’] inventory because if we go to conflict, we don’t want that to be the first time we all integrate with each other,” said Maj. Paul Holst, VMFA-211’s executive officer, in a public release.

“This is the first time we [VMFA-211] have deployed on this scale … we brought 10 F-35s here with all of our maintenance equipment, all of our support equipment and personnel,” said Holst. “For the pilots, the opportunity to participate in these exercises prepares us for combat … and the opportunity to integrate and plan with the rest of the force is something you just don’t get anywhere else.”

“A lot of times at home station, we’re basically working just with each other or we’re doing things that are [smaller in] scale and only focusing on our specific mission sets that we do,” said Maj. Chris Brandt, a pilot and administration and logistics officer in charge with VMFA-211. “When we actually deploy, we’re most likely going to be part of a joint force so coming here you get that experience. It’s not until you come to exercises like these that you get to train across services and [train] with platforms that you typically would not work with at your home station.”

According to Holst, Red Flag allows each service and subordinate unit to understand the capabilities of other services, units and their equipment.

“For example, the E/A-18G exists in the Navy and the Air Force doesn’t really have a comparable asset to that. There may be situations where the only F-35s in theater are Marine Corps F-35s … and you have to integrate the F-35s into the entire package,” said Holst. “It’s always going to be necessary to bring everyone’s assets together and practicing that is really important.”

The F-35s of both variants should play a dual role: “combat battlefield coordinators,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence data while also acting as “kinetic attack platforms,” able to drop their ordnance on the targets and pass targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft via Link-16, if needed. More or less what done by the USMC F-35B in exercises against high-end threats carried out last year with some jets configured as “bomb trucks” and others carrying only internal weapons.

As a side note it’s worth mentioning that the integration of the F-35A and B variants is something another partner nation is going to explore in the future. In fact, Italy will have both A and B variants, with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) ones serving both the Air Force (that has already taken on charge its first 7 F-35As with the eight example that has recently performed its maiden flight at Cameri FACO) and the Italian Navy, that will use them on the Cavour aircraft carrier. One day we will analyse (again) whether the F-35B was really needed by the ItAF, but this is going to be another story.

 

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Here Are The World’s First F-35A Lightning II Stealth Aircraft With Special Tail Markings

Two Italian Joint Strike Fighters were given special tail markings to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 13° Gruppo.

On Saturday Jun. 24, 2017, the Italian Air Force celebrated the 100th anniversary of five of its most famous combat squadrons: the IX Gruppo (9th Squadron, using the Roman numerals), belonging to the 4° Stormo (Wing), based at Grosseto; the X and XII Gruppo (10th and 12th Squadron), both belonging to the 36° Stormo, Gioia del Colle; the XIII Gruppo (13th Squadron), with the 32° Stormo from Amendola; and the XVIII Gruppo (18th Squadron), belonging to the 37° Stormo, based at Trapani.

During a event, held at Grosseto and gathering personnel from all the centenary units, each of the five squadrons unveiled aircraft in special color scheme. Therefore, whilst the IX, X, XII and XVIII, flying the Eurofighter Typhoon, unveiled their special colored F-2000A jets (that we will cover in an upcoming post), the XIII, Italy’s first JSF unit, displayed an F-35A aircraft with special tail markings (on the left hand tail only).

Although not the standard tail markings, the still rather simple celebratory markings include the Italian flag along with a large 13° Gruppo’s emblem, Don Quixote, with the addition of a “100” number and the dates 1917-2017.

The detail of the special markings applied to the ItAF F-35As.

Here are the “standard” markings worn by the Italian F-35A: the Stormo badge along with the individual 32-xx code (credit: ItAF)

Actually, the tail markings have been applied to two aircraft, the MM7336/32-05 and the MM7357/32-07, that flew to Grosseto alongside the MM7337/32-13 on Friday Jun. 23, at the end of the Italian Air Force’s first three-ship F-35 mission.

MM7336/32-05 with the special markings on the left vertical tail.

As already reported, on Dec. 12, 2016, Italy received its first two F-35A Lightning II, becoming the very first country to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S. in what was just one of the several “firsts” scored by the Italian Air Force with the JSF: on Dec. 3, 2015, the Italian Air Force welcomed the first F-35A assembled and delivered outside the U.S. at the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy.

Then, on Feb. 5, 2016 in the hands of an ItAF test pilot, an Italian F-35 successfully completed the type’s very first transatlantic crossing landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. More recently, the first F-35B assembled internationally has rolled out of Cameri FACO.

Considered that the previous JSF in special color tails or high visibility markings were either B or C models (and mostly prototypes), those unveiled by the 13° Gruppo on Jun. 24 are, to our knowledge (and if we missed any previous “special” Lightning CTOL variant let us know) the very first operative F-35As in special tail markings. Another Italian first with the 5th generation aircraft.

One of the Italian F-35s taking off from Grosseto. This is the flagship aircraft of the 13° Gruppo belonging to the 32° Stormo (hence the code 32-13). Image credit: The Aviationist’s Giovanni Maduli.

 

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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.

 

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Paris Demo Will “Crush Years Of Misinformation” Says Lockheed Martin Demo Pilot As New F-35A Aerobatic Routine for PAS 2017 Is Revealed

“We are going to crush years of misinformation about what this aircraft is capable of doing”

After we scooped the story about the F-35A’s new fully aerobatic flight demonstration to be performed at this week’s Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport in France, Aviation Week reporter Lara Seligman wrote today in AW that Lockheed Martin company test and demo pilot Billie Flynn told her, “After 10 years since its first flight, with our first opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities and the maneuverability of the F-35, we are going to crush years of misinformation about what this aircraft is capable of doing,” during an interview for Aviation Week.

The flight demonstrations at the Paris Air Show will be flown by company pilot Billie Flynn, not U.S. Air Force crews.

The USAF F-35A demonstration aircraft to be flown in the flight demo and on static display at Paris were ferried to Europe by USAF crews even though the flying routing will be flown by a Lockheed Martin pilot.

Lockheed Martin is on an aggressive campaign to close sales for the F-35A among user-nations as confirmed by stories breaking this morning that report, “Lockheed Martin is in the final stages of negotiating a $37 billion-plus deal to sell 440 F-35 fighter jets to a group of 11 nations including the United States”, two people familiar with the deals told Reuters news agency.

Lara Seligman’s report for Aviation Week identifies both the “high show” F-35A flight demonstration routine and the “low show” routine performed at lower altitude in the event of overcast/cloudy weather conditions. A quick check of the weather forecast for the next five days in the skies above Le Bourget says conditions will be hot with high temperatures in the ‘90’s Fahrenheit and “Mostly Sunny” conditions with a small chance of rain.

The new, dynamic flight demo routine for F-35A at Paris beginning today. (Image: Lockheed Martin via Aviation Week)

Seligman quoted demo pilot Flynn as saying that, “The [Paris] flight demonstration is carefully scripted to highlight the kinematic capabilities of the F-35A, particularly its slow-speed handling qualities.” She reported that, “He will start with an afterburner takeoff, almost immediately pointing his nose to the sky and letting the aircraft climb away essentially vertically.” Flynn went on to mention tell reporter Seligman that, “This impressive move is unique to the F-22 and the F-35.”

Back in 2013, talking to Flight’s Dave Majumdar, the very same LM test pilot Bill Flynn claimed that all three variants of the Joint Strike Fighter were to have better kinematic performance than any fourth-generation fighter plane with combat payload, including the Eurofighter Typhoon, a statement that was somehow “busted” by a Typhoon pilot who clearly explained The Aviationist “No way an F-35 will ever match a Typhoon fighter jet in aerial combat.”

Anyway, along with everyone else in the aviation world, we’re looking forward to the new, dynamic F-35A show debuting this week in Paris. The first F-35A demo at Paris flies today at 3:30 PM local time in France.

Top image: Today in Paris will be the first time airshow crowds get to see what the F-35A is capable of in demonstration flight. (Inverted file photo by Tom Demerly)

 

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F-35A Filmed Rehearsing Its New Flight Demonstration Routine In Preparation For Paris Air Show 2017

F-35A Aerobatic Rehearsal for Paris.

U.S. Air Force F-35A “AF-78” tail number 13-5072 from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah performed a low show aerial demonstration practice for the 2017 Paris Airshow, near Fort Worth, Texas, earlier this month.

Aviation photographer Caulun Belcher of Texas shot the video of the F-35A rehearsing its new flight demonstration routine in Texas in preparation for the upcoming Paris Air Show next week at Le Bourget Airport in north Paris, France, from June 19-25.

We reported back on May 19 that restrictions for aerobatics imposed on the F-35A during the 2016 airshow season had likely been relaxed or lifted altogether. This video suggests a complete removal of aerobatic restrictions.

The F-35A flight demonstrations in Paris and presumably this aerobatic rehearsal in Texas are flown by Lockheed/Martin test pilots, not USAF pilots. A report suggested U.S. Air Force crews would fly the two demonstration aircraft to France for the Paris Air Show.

Video of the F-35A flight demonstration shows an all-new flight demo routine for the U.S. Air Force F-35A: the aircraft enters the demonstration box in the video from left of show center in the landing configuration and performs a touch and go.

The F-35A then performs a right and left aileron roll, a new feature in the flight demo from the previous year. Repositioning from right the aircraft repeats the aileron rolls as if to emphasize its roll rate. The aircraft executes several more complete aileron rolls and flat turns with the trademark F-35A vapor streaming from its wingtips and wing roots under tight radius turns. The demo pilot appears to be enjoying ringing the aircraft out like we’ve never seen at an F-35A demo.

Caulun Belcher’s excellent video of the F-35A demonstration practice and some of his outstanding still photos were shared on YouTube and on the Facebook page for his aviation photography.

We’re looking forward to more F-35A flight demo photos and video from Paris this coming weekend, meanwhile enjoy this preview:



Top image credit: Caulun Belcher photo of a USAF F-35A rolling inverted in Texas while rehearsing for Paris Air Show.