“The U.S. Marine Corps is looking forward to demonstrating the capabilities of the F-35B Lightning II in the skies over the United Kingdom this July,” the Marine Deputy Commandant for Aviation, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, said in a statement yesterday to my colleague Andrea Shalal of Reuters. The Air Force just confirmed to me that two of their F-35As will also appear at the shows.
They will appear both as static display and in a heritage flight with vintage warbirds. “We want to inform the aviation enthusiasts at these air shows what the F-35 brings to the fight,” Maj. Kelley Jeter said in an email.
“We’re very excited about demonstrating this capability to the world,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in a statement. “The F-35 represents a new way of thinking about data integration, weapons and tactics. We’re thrilled to highlight the program and the amazing Airmen who support this cutting-edge fighter.”
The RIAT organizers just put out a release this afternoon confirming the F-35 will perform at the show. They only mention F-35Bs, however.
Although the news is not surprising, it remains extremely important for the F-35s to appear at the shows. The flights will be testament to Britain’s early commitment to the program, as well as proof that the planes can do what they’ll need to do on the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers being built with them in mind. The flights will also be a counter to the Russian and Chinese aircraft being hawked at the shows. While doing airshow appearances doesn’t prove combat capability, they do demonstrate that the planes are reliable enough to fly across the Atlantic, that they can be refueled in flight, and that they demonstrate something the Navy pays a great deal of attention to — presence.
The planes’ flights at RIAT will give the air chiefs assembled from around the world — including presumably the Chinese — their first (legal) look at the F-35 up close.
Davis told Andrea that “a joint U.S. Marine Corps and UK detachment would use the flights to validate overseas deployment activities and prove program interoperability.” The story also says lessons learned from the first trans-Atlantic flights “would help the Marines as they set up a second F-35 fighter attack squadron this summer and prepare for the first one to move to Iwakuni, Japan, in 2017.”
Everyone will remember the agonizing days during RIAT and Farnborough almost two years ago after the F-35A engine fire that grounded the fleet. Each day rumors swirled that F-35s might make the flight, but in the end officials decided the risk was just too great and the return too small. The problem of the F135’s infamous “bad rub” was solved with the fabulous rub-in.
The air show flights will occur just about the time the Air Force is expected to declare Initial Operating Capability for its fleet of F-35As. The Air Force plans to buy 1,763 planes. The Marines plan to buy a combined total of 450 F-35Bs and F-35Cs.