Five Weeks Out, Few Details in Place for F-35’s Paris Debut


By Lara Seligman

Five weeks out from the Paris Air Show, the U.S. Air Force still doesn’t know which F-35A units will go, how many aircraft will make the trip, or what exactly the planes will do when they get there.  

The Air Force is still “in the planning stages” for the F-35’s debut appearance at Europe’s largest aerospace showcase, held every other year at Le Bourget Airport, according to spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. She could not confirm whether the F-35 will participate in a flying display, or if the aircraft will be featured in the static park.

The F-35’s upcoming appearance at Paris will be a momentous occasion, marking the first time a stealth aircraft has appeared at the show since Northrop Grumman’s B-2 bomber paid a brief visit in 1995. No stealth aircraft has appeared on static display at the show since the F-117 in 1991. 

Lockheed’s F-22 was scheduled to participate in 2009, but Air Force cancelled the appearance, saying the aircraft was tied up elsewhere. At the time, news outlets reported there might have been concerns over whether the stealth plane would be exposed to radar trying to gather intelligence on U.S. technology.

This year, organizers have emphasized that they are beefing up security measures at the Paris Air Show, which runs from June 19 to June 25, following a series of terror attacks in France over the last 24 months. Tougher security checks will be in place, and more than 1,000 private and state security personnel, including soldiers and police, will protect the event during the show week, Aviation Week recently reported.

But which units will make the trip across the pond? The Air Force has F-35s stationed at five bases around the country that could potentially participate. Last year, pilots from the Air Force’s heritage team from Luke AFB, Arizona, performed at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in the UK in 2016. However, as of May 11, the Paris Air Show was not on that unit’s public flight schedule.

The Air Force’s 34th Fighter squadron, the service’s first operational F-35 squadron, or the Air Force Reserve’s 466th Fighter squadron, both based at Hill AFB, Utah, seems like the logical choice to make the trip to Le Bourget. Eight jets from these squadrons actually just returned home from Europe, after spending several weeks training with NATO allies in the region.

The Air Force also has several test and training squadrons across the country that could go to Paris. These include:

  • The 461st Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, California
  • The 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards AFB, California
  • The 58th Fighter Squadron, a training squadron at Eglin AFB, Florida
  • The 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada
  • The 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, Arizona, home to three F-35A training squadrons

Another unanswered question is: what is the cost to taxpayers of sending the F-35A to the Paris Air Show? It’s hard to say for sure without knowing how many jets will go and what events they will support. But we do know that the total cost for the F-35As to participate in RIAT was $2.5 million, including $1.5 million paid by Lockheed Martin, according to Stefanek. That includes temporary duty costs for all necessary maintenance and operations personnel, as well as the flying hours for two F-35As, a C-17 that transported the crews to and from RIAT, and two KC-135s that refueled the aircraft in flight. The cost of the Paris trip will likely be along those same lines.

Stefanek highlighted the importance of participating in international events such as the Paris Air Show.

“Participation in international events highlight our commitment to regional security and fosters interoperability between our Allies and partners as we face evolving security threats around the world,” she said.

The Air Force’s sudden decision to participate in the Paris Air Show stands in contrast to the Joint Strike Fighter’s long-anticipated appearance at RIAT and the Farnborough International Air Show in the UK in 2016. Department of Defense (DOD) officials confirmed to reporters a full six months in advance, in January 2016, that the F-35 would participate in those shows. At that point, the Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps already had plans in place for which jets would go and the events they would participate in. 

But until May 6, the Pentagon appeared to have no plans to send the stealth fighter to Le Bourget. In fact, multiple DOD officials told Aviation Week and other news outlets in late April that the F-35 would not make an appearance at the show. Some even said the aircraft had not been invited, which turned out to be incorrect: Vincent Gorry, international director of the French Aerospace Industries Association and the Paris Air Show, talked with Aviation Week in March when he visited the U.S. to speak to officials about the F-35’s potential presence at the show.

Still, the Air Force maintains that the move is not a reversal.

"The F-35A strengthens partnerships and improves regional stability," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, according to the May 6 announcement. "We welcome the opportunity to further demonstrate the revolutionary capabilities of this aircraft."

The Marine Corps F-35Bs will not participate in the Paris Air Show, as Aviation Week first reported April 26. However, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of aviation, will attend the show to represent the Marine Corps, according to spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns.


Discuss this Blog Entry 18

on May 11, 2017

WORLD STAGE, MAY, 11, 2017

The firm of USAF and LM firmly grasps the back of it's thighs and pulls mightily! Will it's head be extracted from it's anus with a loud pop in time?

Or will USAF&LM reward skeptics with a typical performance at the Paris Air Show?

on May 12, 2017

If I could choose, I'd wish to see a B model... in tandem with an AV-8B :-)

on May 12, 2017

That would be a sweet, sweet sight.
However, I think the B would upstage the AV-8B, and, although I would be impressed - I would be a little sad too.

on May 12, 2017

One easy answer could be a F-35A from Italy...

on May 12, 2017

One easy answer would be for someone in the USAF/LM Military Industrial Incompetence Complex to PLAN AHEAD.

on May 12, 2017

PERT Chart omitted from Software?

on May 12, 2017

I imagine they'll get one of the six over from RAF Lakenheath - 250 miles to the North of Paris.

on May 12, 2017

Why not a non-US plane? UK and Italy planes do not have to cross the Atlantic

on May 12, 2017

If one plane gets airborne.......

on May 12, 2017

Due to the history of the F-35's developmental problems and questionable operational "readiness", I believe that the opening sentence of this article, as quoted below, can be taken both literally and figuratively:

"Five weeks out from the Paris Air Show, the U.S. Air Force still doesn’t know which F-35A units will go, how many aircraft will make the trip, or what exactly the planes will do when they get there."

For example, how many aircraft of a planned deployment actually show up, and when they do show up, will they require extensive maintenance before being "mission capable"? Considering the F-35's history, it's tough to meet an external (non DOT/USAF) schedule, especially one involving a world class air show featuring intense media coverage.

on May 12, 2017

Turned down a ride in the "jump seat" of
a B-47B over the 1953 Paris Airshow.
At the time, the B Model was not equipped
with ejection seats.

on May 12, 2017

Whatever mission is given our men and women I know they will make us proud. As for the aircraft I will use that age old Air Force symbol that has been a staple of their tool box, I will cross my fingers. God speed for everyone involved.

on May 13, 2017

"Considering the F-35's history, it's tough to meet an external (non DOT/USAF) schedule, especially one involving a world class air show featuring intense media coverage."
- capngrog

Considering the miserable performance of the USAF / LM team on the F-35 over almost this whole century you might think they would have the snap to show up at Paris given they had two years to plan that apparently overwhelming task.

"Hi! We are selling the world's best fighter but with two years advanced notice our champ couldn't make the Paris airshow . . ."

Should this article not be headlined: "Heads Roll As USAF / LM Management Lacks the Competence to Get an Allegedly Operational Airplane to Paris Air Show?"

on May 13, 2017

One month preparation and a seasoned Atlantic crossing squadron answers the Paris call to action. Its down to an AF paperwork snafu slowing the process. The committee for who, what, when, and why has not met yet! Its Hill's F-35 squad flying a take-off and landing exhibition next month and a fly-over five finale in full afterburner mode. Because it can! A protected flight line spot with a hundred AF security people blocking full view of the F-35. The USAF needs to start the Hype machine early.

on May 16, 2017

With all the lame whines on here you'd think it was Napa Valley.

on May 17, 2017

Maybe the Paris airshow isn't all its cut up to be. F-35A's were on static display (though if you were there on Friday ypu got to see them do a few circuits as they arrived), and F-22 flying & staic display, at the most recent Australian airshow (March 2017).

on May 21, 2017

"The USAF needs to start the Hype machine early."

It was started in the last century. It has been running hard 24/7 since. The F-35 Hype machine is suffering from Credibility Deficit Disorder.

Given this Paris Air Show fiasco so it seems is AvLeak given the breathless coverage of a month ago.

on Jun 14, 2017

Bad news for Paris Air Show 2018!
New environmental laws about aircraft noise in the EU!
F-35, Tu-95 and some others will be banned from flying in our airspace!

Thanks to our ecologists, less noise pollution and much less boondoggle.

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