WASHINGTON — Two F-35As will go to the Paris Air Show this June, but they won't be flown by U.S. Air Force pilots, a service official said Wednesday.
One F-35A from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and another from Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, are currently slated to conduct flying demonstrations at Paris Air Show, said Col. David Lyons, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing. Hill AFB's 388th Fighter Wing is home to the first operational F-35A squadron, while Luke AFB is a major joint strike fighter training base.
Lyons added that the two jets will be flown by test pilots from F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin during their stint in Paris, but was not able to comment on why airmen would not be piloting the aircraft.
Plans for the F-35’s first appearance in Paris are finally coming together after a slow start. In April, officials from the F-35 joint program executive office said the aircraft would sit out from the show, held every other year at Le Bourget Airport in France. But on May 8, the Air Force reversed course, announcing its intention to send aircraft to the event.
The U.S. military has been hesitant to show its stealth aircraft in Paris since the early '90s, when the Pentagon grew worried about alleged espionage involving the F-117. Since then, the Air Force has conducted a B-2 flyover in 1995, but otherwise has kept its stealth jets from appearing at the show. A scheduled F-22 visit was canceled in 2009.
An Air Force spokesman said there were no specific concerns about the aircraft flying in the show.
"We have processes, procedures and networks in place to ensure that we can fly where we want to fly and when we want to fly, and we’re not concerned about it," he said.
The Air Force does not always rely on pilots from its operational squadrons to conduct demos at air shows. For instance, its heritage flight team flew F-35s at the Royal International Air Tattoo in England last year.