The F-35 Stealth Fighter Is Pulling More Impressive Maneuvers Than We Thought Possible

February 10, 2020 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-35MilitaryTechnologyWorldVideo

The F-35 Stealth Fighter Is Pulling More Impressive Maneuvers Than We Thought Possible

Here's the video.


Key point: It remains to be seen to what extent the F-35 can maneuver.

Fresh off a major personnel shakeup, the new F-35A demonstration team has an ambitious performance lineup in store for the 2020 season.


In a potential preview of the team’s fresh routines for its upcoming shows, a highly-circulated 2019 video depicts Capt. Andrew "Dojo" Olson performing an impressive series of maneuvers never-before-seen by a F-35 demo pilot.

The videos, first posted to Instagram, show snippets from one of Olson’s training session at Luke Airforce Base (AFB) in Arizona. The first video shows Olson approaching from the left, flying straight up in what is vaguely reminiscent of the first half of a stall turn; but then, Olson pulls back and executes a remarkably tight loop before descending in a slow, flat spin. The remaining clips show Olson flying at a high angle of attack (AOA), performing tighter oops, and demonstrating what appears to be part of a falling leaf maneuver.

It was revealed late last year that Capt. Olson left the F-35A demo team, having given his last performance at Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, in November 2019. These videos, and others like it that are regularly covered by The National Interest, show just how far the F-35A demo team has come in refining their routines since their initial debut at the Paris Airshow in 2017.

Olson played a central role in the PR campaign to restore public faith in the F-35 project on the heels of reported engine problems, onboard systems malfunctions, and widespread cost concerns, going out of his way to convince a skeptical defense commentary sphere that the F-35A demo team has barely begun to scrape the surface of the fighter’s performance potential: “This year we’re going to fully unleash the full maneuvering envelope of the F-35. This airplane just takes the flight controls, and puts it on a whole different level. We’ll be able to do some similar maneuvers that [F-22] Raptor does, and without thrust vectoring, just with the advanced flight controls that put the aircraft into a post-stall flight regime and keep it fully controllable,” he said in an interview given last year to the The Aviationist, while also stressing the F-35’s under-the-hood features that are otherwise overlooked in the airshow format: “The stuff you see at the airshow is really awesome, but it doesn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg of what this airplane’re talking stealth, you’re talking sensor fusion, and then ‘information fusion… we can paint the battlespace for everybody and share that situational awareness with our fourth gen brothers and sisters and be a more effective fighting force.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Olson has also become the face of a surprisingly successful social media and branding campaign to marshall grassroots enthusiasm for the F-35 program.

It remains to be seen to what extent the maneuvers depicted in these clips, as well as the rest of Olson’s 2019 lineup, will be absorbed into the F-35 demo team’s 2020 routine, beginning with their first airshow at the Marine Corps Air Station at Yuma, Arizona, in March 13-14, and subsequent March 21-22 performance at Luke AFB.

Olson will go on to become an F-35 instructor at Luke AFB, but not before helping the incoming F-35 demo team ease into their new jobs. It’s clear that Olson’s successor, who was yet to be named by the 388th Fighter Wing, has quite the shoes to fill-- not just in a highly demanding technical capacity, but as a brand ambassador for the F-35 program.

Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as a research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University. This article first appeared last month.

Image: Flickr.