F-35A Lightning II performs at Bagotville

Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II made a loud entrance at the Bagotville International Air Show, which ran from June 22-23, 2019.

The F-35A's presence at Bagotville raised questions about whether the Canadian military was attempting to tip the scale in favour of the single-engine jet. Larry Grace Photo
The F-35A’s presence at Bagotville raised questions about whether the Canadian military was attempting to tip the scale in favour of the single-engine jet. Kevin Burkholder Photo
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The U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Demo Team performed for the first time in Canada at CFB Bagotville, Que., where a crowd of more than 143,000 gathered for the military airshow.

Flown by Capt Andrew Olson – call sign “Dojo” — from 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, the F-35A Demo Team showcased a wide range of the aircraft’s capabilities in a routine “designed from scratch,” according to the demo pilot.

“Nobody dictated anything to us on how it should look or what it should be, and I just sat down with a couple of other pilots that had been in the airshow business with me over the last couple years, and we put together a show that we thought would perfectly showcase what the F-35 does well,” explained Olson.

The routine was developed in part with Lockheed’s experimental test pilot, Canadian and former RCAF pilot Billie Flynn, who along with Olson believes “this is the most robust demo that’s ever been created.”

Keeping within established safety parameters, the performance showcased the fighter’s full range of capabilities.

In the skies above Bagotville, Olson demonstrated inside and outside loops, along with sequential barrel rolls before getting into more technical manoeuvres. A “falling leaf” exercise saw the jet seemingly drift in place, while a tight Kulbit loop earned applause.

Near the end of the show, Olson pulled the aircraft into a high alpha pass at a 30-degree angle of attack, seemingly at a standstill in mid-air, slowly drifting across the airfield. The pass was made all the more impressive because the F-35 is able to accomplish the manoeuvre without the use of thrust vectoring.

The versatile demonstration seems contrary to reports that the F-35 has been unable to match certain legacy fighter jets in simulated dogfights — reports that Olson said should be taken with a grain of salt.

“First off, I would say if you’re reading news that’s even a month old, you’re probably way out of date on what’s going on with the program. It advances so quickly … it feels like software revisions are coming out every couple of months.

Flown by Capt Andrew Olson, the F-35A Demo Team showcased a wide range of the aircraft's capabilities in a routine
Flown by Capt Andrew Olson, the F-35A Demo Team showcased a wide range of the aircraft’s capabilities in a routine “designed from scratch” according to the demo pilot. Joe Letourneau Photo
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“When people want to talk about how it dogfights against an F-16, I would say first of all … that whole story is way out of date now,” he continued. “That’s not even the right conversation to be having because a fifth generation stealth fighter isn’t getting in a dogfight; anybody that’s out there is dead already and they don’t even know that [the F-35] is there.”

The F-35A’s mere presence at Bagotville — coming at a time when Canada is preparing to procure new fighter aircraft and the jet’s competitors were not present at the airshow — raised questions about whether the Canadian military was attempting to tip the scales in favour of the single-engine jet.

Certain media reports have said that military officials allowed the F-35 to be promoted on the eve of the government’s final RFP release.

In truth, all four of the potential CF-188 Hornet replacements had an equal opportunity to perform at Bagotville.

“For the F-35, it was actually the USAF demo team and not Lockheed that did the show, which is really important,” Bagotville organizers told Skies in an email. “We also sent the invitation to the USN demo team for the F-18 Super Hornet, but they declined the invitation. As for the Gripen and the Typhoon demo teams, they didn’t have any plans of coming [to] North America.”

Despite the controversy surrounding the F-35A flight demonstration at Bagotville, it remains a memorable Canadian aerial debut for a fighter jet that is undoubtedly one of this country’s most-debated aircraft.

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