‘This is a beastly airplane’: US F-35s at Paris Air Show seek to reassure NATO of US power, commitment



An
aviation boatswain’s mate maneuvers BF-04, front, the US Marine
Corps variant of the F-35B, after a vertical landing aboard the
amphibious assault ship USS Wasp.

US
Navy


PARIS — When the stealthy, high-tech F-35 tears through Paris
skies on its first-ever acrobatic displays this week, the fighter
jet will also be sending a message: NATO allies, the United
States is still on your side.

In an Associated Press interview at the opening Monday of the
Paris Air Show, Brig. Gen. Select Todd Canterbury said the
displays of the new jet were to “showcase the capability to all
of our European partners and NATO allies” and “to reassure them
that we are committed to NATO 100 percent and that we have got
the capability to respond to any action necessary.”

Canterbury, the director of the Air Force F-35 Integration Office
at the Pentagon, also spoke about recent problems that grounded
F-35s at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

US President Donald Trump has called NATO obsolete, and he
excoriated European allies last month for not spending enough on
their defenses.

Since May 2, F-35 pilots on five occasions have reported symptoms
of hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, Canterbury said. The Air Force
says the F-35’s backup oxygen system worked in each instance, and
the pilot was able to land the plane safely.

“It could range to anything from headaches to nausea to
color-blindness,” Canterbury told the AP.

Planes were subsequently grounded at Luke. A team of engineers,
test pilots, medics, and others experts are “digging into this
problem 24 hours a day” to try to identify the cause, Canterbury
said.

“It could be lack of oxygen,” he said. “It could be too much
oxygen, too much carbon dioxide.”

There have been similar incidents “across a number of bases, but
not in clusters like we saw at Luke.”



The
rollout of the first Japan Air Self Defense Force F-35A Lightning
II.


Courtesy
of Lockheed Martin



The local commander at Luke will decide when the planes can fly
again, Canterbury said, adding that the pilots would “start
flying as soon as they can. They are ready.”

Luke is a training base for F-35 pilots. Operational units have
not had such issues, Canterbury said.

“It’s still too early to tell the root cause,” he said. “An
airplane in development such as this will have teething
problems.”

The F-35 flew briefly at the Farnborough International Airshow
last year, but this year in Paris, it will debut its aerial
demonstrations.

The daily aerobatic shows by the F-35 promise to be spectacular,
punctuated by the howl of its 40,000 pounds of thrust.

“This is a beastly airplane,” said chief F-35 test pilot Alan
Norman.



The
F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft during its first
night flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, in January
2012.


US
Air Force photo



After roaring off the Le Bourget Airport tarmac into a vertical
climb with its afterburner, the F-35 is expected to wow with a
series of loops and gravity-defying moves, showing
maneuverability so catlike it can turn corners so sharp that it
seems to carve squares in the sky. It is also expected to show
its ability to slow down to a crawl — a trick that can force
pursuers to fly past and become the hunted, and which Tom Cruise
famously showed off in “Top Gun.”

Eight countries are partners of the program and are taking F-35s:
the UK, Australia, Italy, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands,
Canada, and Turkey.

Three other nations have bought F-35s: Japan, Israel, and South
Korea.

Canterbury said Germany, Belgium, and Singapore had requested
information about the F-35, the first step toward potential
purchases.