Washinton: America’s newest and most technologically sophisticated fighter jet kicks off a tour of airshows in the West, Midwest, South and Northeastern United States in April alongside 20th century war birds, like the F-86 Sabre, the P-38 Lightning and the P-51 Mustang.
The F-35 Heritage Flight Team tour will feature precision flying in tight formation just a few feet apart. Combining the newest fighter with some of the classics is a way to honor the past, present and future of the U.S. Air Force, organizers said.
In a way, the tour is tacit acknowledgment of the aviation community’s fascination with this stealthy airplane. Why does the F-35 have so many fans? “Because it’s the backbone of the Air Force fleet of the future,” said the team’s F-35 pilot, Maj. William Andreotta.
Based at Arizona’s Luke Air force Base, Andreotta is better known by his call sign, D-Rail. When people ask the 33-year-old F-35 flight instructor what it’s like to fly the jet, he tells them, “It’s like being on a roller coaster controlled by an iPad — it’s like flying a roller coaster.”
Like a roller coaster, there have been more than a few ups and downs for the F-35, a plane the Pentagon has indeed pinned much of its aviation future on. The program has been criticized for delays, technical glitches and its huge price.
According to projections, the entire program will cost nearly $400 billion, making it the most expensive weapons system in history. Supporters say the plane will save the Pentagon money in the long run because it’s designed to be flown by all military branches, saving the cost of designing and constructing several types of fighters.
Parking an F-35 in a public place amid thousands of spectators adds an entirely new level of security, as you can imagine. Knapinski and his team worked with U.S. military officials to make sure everyone was comfortable with security.
The F-35 tour is scheduled to perform in Cleveland; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jones Beach, New York; Reno, Nevada; and elsewhere.
In response, F-35 program executive officer Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan described the report as “factually accurate,” but added that “it does not fully address program efforts to resolve known technical challenges and schedule risks.” Bogdan said that although the “development program is 80% complete, we recognize there are known deficiencies that must be corrected. … Our commitment to overcoming challenges is unwavering.”