WASHINGTON — Two F-35As safely landed in France on Tuesday, just days ahead of the jet's debut at Paris Air Show next week.
The U.S. aircraft took off from Hill Air Force Base in Utah earlier Tuesday and landed at Le Bourget Airport, the site of the air show, on Tuesday evening, Air Force spokesman Capt. Mark Graff told Defense News. Two pilots from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida operated the aircraft during the transatlantic flight.
Although the U.S. Air Force's variant of the joint strike fighter has participated in other air shows, the demonstrations in Paris will be the first opportunity for international audiences to see the F-35's aerodynamic capabilities, including acrobatic and high G-force maneuvers on par with what viewers see during performances of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, Graff said.
The F-35 Heritage Flight Team conducted the demo at the Royal International Air Tattoo in England last year, but was only permitted to perform a flyover alongside an F-22 Raptor.
At Le Bourget, one F-35 will fly demonstrations at a time, with the second aircraft kept as a spare and for static displays, he said. A Lockheed Martin test pilot will operate the aircraft.
The F-35 is the first stealth aircraft owned by the U.S. military to visit the Paris Air Show in more than 20 years. Questions about the security of stealth planes arose in 1991, when alleged French industrial espionage of the F-117 took place during the event. The B-2 conducted a flyover in 1995, but did not land at Le Bourget. An F-22 appearance was canceled in 2009.
Weather permitting, the F-35 will fly June 19-21 during the trade show, as well as June 23-25 when the air show is open to the public, said Mike Rein, a Lockheed spokesman. A static display is currently planned for June 19-21, although Rein noted that the jet’s availability will be up to the Air Force’s discretion.
Lockheed will foot the bill for the F-35’s flight time during the air show, Rein said, adding that in the past the company and the Air Force made similar arrangements for F-22 and F-16 flights.
The Lockheed spokesman could not elaborate on whether the company would also be paying the cost of the transatlantic flight, logistics support or other expenses associated with the trip.
Valerie Insinna was Defense News' air warfare reporter. Beforehand, she worked the Navy and congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.