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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Debuts at Paris Air Show
Photo: Air Force
PARIS — With much fanfare, the F-35A joint strike fighter made its world aerial demonstration debut at the Paris Air Show June 19.
The Air Force — which sent two aircraft from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to France — landed in Paris on June 13. On June 19, over Le Bourget Airport, the aircraft flew for the first time in an international airshow.
The occasion marked an important milestone for the aircraft, said Col. Todd Canterbury, director of the Air Force’s F-35 integration office.
“The F-35’s participation in the Paris Air Show is a clear signal of U.S. support to our NATO allies and coalition partners,” he told reporters during a briefing hours before the plane flew. “It demonstrates our vested interest in security and stability across Europe and the fact that no nation confronts today’s security challenges alone.”
Lockheed Martin pilots flew the F-35s participating in the Paris Air Show, Canterbury said. The Air Force did not have the capacity to bring over its own pilots, he added.
Besides visiting the Paris Air Show, the F-35A has reached a number of milestones recently, Canterbury noted. That includes the aircraft reaching initial operating capability last summer, completing its first overseas training, deployment to the United Kingdom, Estonia and Bulgaria, and its participation in the Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
However, issues have also plagued the F-35A, including most recently five localized incidents at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where pilots experienced “physiological issues” during flight, he said.
While it has been reported that the pilots experienced hypoxia-like effects, which created disorientation and dizziness, the actual cause could be something else and the Air Force has not yet determined what that might be, he noted.
Because of the events, all F-35s on base have been grounded. Additionally, the Air Force has set up an action team consisting of joint program office officials, industry experts and air and medical personnel to examine the incident.
“The investigation is still ongoing,” he said. “But the fact that we have all the experts on this team trying to identify the root cause of this issue puts the pilots’ minds at ease.”
Canterberry said while a timeline to lift the grounding at Luke hasn’t been established, the Air Force may eventually allow pilots to fly again but cap the altitude they can ascend to, he said. “We know exactly what altitudes that this instance happens,” he said.
Despite its issues, F-35 production is ramping up, with much of that thanks to international orders.
Jeff Babione, executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin, said: “You’re starting to see the F-35 footprint grow substantially and that’s just here as we stand in 2017."
The company is delivering approximately five airplanes every month, he said. With about 220 airplanes built today, in three years that number will be over 600 and near 1,000 in five years, he added.
Lockheed will be developing several bases in the United States and overseas for both F-35 partner nations and foreign military sale countries, he said. The company will go from having five international bases to 25 in the next five years.
“You can start to see this global enterprise really grow incredibly fast,” he said.
Babione noted that the company is receiving interest from Belgium and Finland to purchase the aircraft.
Meanwhile during the show, Raytheon, the manufacturer of the small diameter bomb II, announced that the weapon had recently completed high-speed wind tunnel testing, marking a step toward integration on the F-35.
A model of the small diameter bomb II in the F-35 weapons bay. (Yasmin Tadjdeh)
The joint strike fighter is capable of internally holding eight of the bombs in its bays, said Tom Copeman, Raytheon’s vice president for business development at air warfare systems. The bomb is capable of hitting moving targets in various weather conditions at ranges greater than 40 miles.
Operational testing is on track for the fall, he added. Additionally, the system is slated for F-35 deployment in 2022. The company is also planning to integrate the weapon on the F-15E Strike Eagle.