Two F-35As — one from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and another from Hill Air Force Base in Utah — will participate at the show, set for June 19-25 at the Le Bourget Airfield outside Paris, Col. David Lyons, 388th Fighter Wing commander, told reporters during a conference call.
Lockheed Martin pilots were chosen to fly instead based on the Air Force’s needs at this time, said Air Force spokesman Capt. Mark Graff.
“Due to the Air Force’s limited number of aircraft, pilots and maintenance professionals, we have decided not to develop an F-35 demonstration profile for airshows this year,” Graff later said in an email Wednesday. “While we look forward to demonstrating the unparalleled maneuverability of the F-35 to the world, we remain singularly focused on bringing the full combat capability of the F-35 to our nation.”
Lockheed Martin pilots have been “building a flight demonstration in simulators and will now practice the demonstration in advance of the Paris Air Show,” he said.
When the F-35A participated at last year’s Royal International Air Tattoo, known as RIAT, at Royal Air Force Base Fairford in Gloucestershire, England, pilots on the Air Force’s “Heritage Flight Team” — which includes active-duty and reserve members — flew the aircraft. (Marine pilots flew the F-35B models.)
The F-35 Heritage Flight Team’s flight profile includes “only straight-pass flyovers alongside other aircraft,” Graff said. The Air Force stood up the F-35 Heritage Flight Team — which will participate in 14 scheduled shows this year — at Luke AFB in 2016.
The service earlier this month said the Joint Strike Fighter will fly to France to take part in the air show — a reversal that came nearly two weeks after officials said the stealthy fifth-generation fighter was not invited.
“The F-35A strengthens partnerships and improves regional stability,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in a statement May 6. “We welcome the opportunity to further demonstrate the revolutionary capabilities of this aircraft.”
The service also this month completed the F-35A’s first training deployment to Europe and plans to permanently base a squadron of the aircraft on the continent, beginning in 2021. The jets that flew multiple exercises with NATO and allied partners over U.K., Bulgarian and Estonian airspace were from Hill.
Graff said officials are confident the second F-35 deployment to Europe this year will be successful.
He said, “We’ve proved we’re able to take the F-35 across the pond with tanker support.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the Air Force’s statement regarding Lockheed Martin pilots.