“The F-35A strengthens partnerships and improves regional stability,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in a statement Saturday. “We welcome the opportunity to further demonstrate the revolutionary capabilities of this aircraft.”
The decision to send the Air Force’s model was made Friday, service spokesman Capt. Mark Graff said during a phone call with Military.com on Monday.
The reversal comes nearly two weeks after officials said the fifth-generation fighter was not invited by the French to make an appearance at Le Bourget Airfield outside Paris.
A defense official, who spoke to Military.com on background at the time, said not receiving an invite from the French was “not a surprise,” even though F-35 leaders have attended the show in previous years.
But the organizing committee behind the Paris air show, SIAE, told Defense News days later the country did send a formal request for the F-35 to conduct a flight demonstration during the show. The U.S. defense official maintained to Military.com he was unaware of the request.
The F-35B last year participated for the first time in the biennial Farnborough International Airshow, which features both civilian and military aircraft outside London. The F-35A also participated at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), held at the Royal Air Force Fairford base in Gloucestershire last year.
Eight F-35A Lightning IIs from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, recently flew with NATO partners as part of their first training deployment to RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, as well as stops in countries such as Estonia and Bulgaria. “We’ve proved we’re able to take the F-35 across the pond with tanker support,” Graff said.
Those F-35s have recently returned stateside. Whether the same jets will return to Europe for the air show remains to be seen, as well as how many will make the trip. Some of those plans are still taking form, he said.
“We’ve sent jets from Luke Air Force Base, [Arizona] to the U.K. for RIAT — so it’s not just Hill Air Force Base jets that are capable of going to do something like that,” Graff said.
Hill is the only base with operational F-35As.
Another official said the Air Force wouldn’t typically send just one jet on a trans-Atlantic flight; it might send a handful in case one has a maintenance issue. “Although it may be one jet appearing at the airshow,” the official said.
“Given that France is a key partner, we will … show our commitment to them,” Graff said. “We have a robust and extensive heritage flight schedule so we’ve got the resources to show the capabilities of the jet to the public, whether it be American or international.”
He said the budget for the show appearance is being planned and was unaware of how much it might cost.