In Depth

F-35A Aerial Demonstration Takes Center Stage at World’s Largest Air Show

June 19, 2017

It truly takes a village to make the impossible possible. Lockheed Martin F-35 Test Pilot Billie Flynn, along with countless others, did just that, flying the inaugural F-35A aerial demonstration flight at the Paris Air Show, one of the world’s largest airshows, yesterday. The team worked in flawless synchronicity for more than a year to create and perform a breathtaking demonstration that highlights the unique 5th Generation capabilities of the F-35.

Flynn reviews notes with fellow F-35 test pilot, Jeff "Trigger" Wallace.

While the idea to perform a public demonstration was discussed for several years, that dream only became a reality within the last several months. Flynn, along with a team of engineers and graphic artists, worked in secret to develop a dazzling profile chock-full of 90 degree climbs, 6G turns and a pedal turn that makes the jet appear to float like a butterfly.  

“We had an idea of what the show should look like,” Flynn said. “We then paired up with our engineers who helped us build maneuvers to highlight specific capabilities we wanted to emphasize. From there we fine-tuned the show in the simulator and then over the airfield in Fort Worth.”

The team of engineers, graphic professionals and animation experts flew the profile in flight simulators more than 700 times. They analyzed the data collected to develop a routine and create safety profiles in the event of an emergency. The team created animated profiles precisely mimicking the flight and as a result, Flynn was permitted to move forward with the aerial demonstration.

While it all looked great on paper and in the simulator, the real test was flying it in real life. According to Flynn, after just 10 practice flights, the team was pleasantly surprised by how predictable, repeatable and safe the aircraft’s performance was each time he flew.

While the idea to perform a public demonstration was discussed for several years, that dream only became a reality within the last several months. Flynn, along with a team of engineers and graphic artists, worked in secret to develop a dazzling profile chock-full of 90 degree climbs, 6G turns and a pedal turn that makes the jet appear to float like a butterfly.  

“We had an idea of what the show should look like,” Flynn said. “We then paired up with our engineers who helped us build maneuvers to highlight specific capabilities we wanted to emphasize. From there we fine-tuned the show in the simulator and then over the airfield in Fort Worth.”

The team of engineers, graphic professionals and animation experts flew the profile in flight simulators more than 700 times. They analyzed the data collected to develop a routine and create safety profiles in the event of an emergency. The team created animated profiles precisely mimicking the flight and as a result, Flynn was permitted to move forward with the aerial demonstration.

While it all looked great on paper and in the simulator, the real test was flying it in real life. According to Flynn, after just 10 practice flights, the team was pleasantly surprised by how predictable, repeatable and safe the aircraft’s performance was each time he flew.

Teamwork for Success

The appearance in Paris came on extremely short notice – the public announcement was made May 11, and the show began June 19.Lockheed Martin and their U.S. Air Force counterparts leapt into action to coordinate the use of two Air Force F-35As from the 388th Fighter Wing based at Hill AFB for Flynn to fly during practice flights and later at the show itself.

The 388th sent 20 maintainers to NAS Fort Worth JRB in Fort Worth, located just across the runway from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production facility, to support three weeks of air demonstration practice – flying at a rate of two flights per day, six days per week. The Air Force also provided tanker support for the 12-hour flight from the U.S. to Paris.

“The Air Force support has been awesome,” Flynn said. “This doesn’t happen without them. They are lead all maintenance and logistics aspects of to get these jets ready for the demonstration.”

While the timeline to Paris was tight, it prompted each member of the team to be all in, all the time. “Every time I fly I know I have an entire team enabling every flight,” Flynn said. “I can’t imagine a better, safer way to be prepared for this flight demonstration. I have 100 percent total confidence every time I roll down the runway because of the support team with me.”

Seeing is Believing

This aerial demonstration is the first real glimpse the world will have of the robust capabilities of the F-35A. In 2016, the F-35B flew an aerial demonstration at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough Air Show in the U.K., but that demonstration centered around the F-35B’s hover capability. The F-35A’s show emphasizes the jets aerobatic maneuvering and the jet’s raw power to climb and turn.

“Everyone needs to see how an aircraft flies and performs before they’ll ever believe in it,” Flynn said. “As compelling, overwhelming and dominating as stealth, 5th Generation aircraft are, it’s really difficult for everyone to understand the concept of what this aircraft is like without witnessing it fly in a way they are accustomed to seeing fighters perform.”

For Flynn, the demonstration is confirmation of what he believed the F-35 could do from its inception. “It is such a rush, flying the jet, and being a part of this,” Flynn said. “I’m honored to be here representing the F-35 program and Lockheed Martin and flying on behalf of the U.S. Air Force at the Paris Air Show. Seeing is truly believing!”

Watch Billie Flynn fly the F-35A aerial demonstration debut at Paris Air Show.