The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter put on an impressive performance at the Paris Air Show this week in its first-ever full aerial demonstration, climbing straight up into a cloud-strewn sky and then pulling off a series of loops, banks and stunts, including at one point slowing to a crawl.
If the intention of Lockheed Martin was to put to rest concerns about the long-troubled stealth fighter, it may have silenced at least some of the criticism.
Lockheed test pilot Billie Flynn told Aviation Week: "After 10 years since first flight, with our first opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities and the maneuverability of the F-35, we are going to crush years of misinformation about what this aircraft is capable of doing."
More important perhaps, the acrobatics may have reassured the queue of prospective buyers that Reuters reported on Monday is likely to be part of an almost $40 billion deal Lockheed is putting together.
The biggest buy yet – for 440 F-35As, the U.S. Air Force version of the jet – would also deliver the lowest per aircraft cost at an average of $85 million apiece, sources told Reuters. The prospective buyers include Australia, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, South Korea, Britain and the U.S., and the aircraft would be delivered in three batches from 2018 to 2020.
The sales to U.S. allies would be a big boost for the program, promising lower per unit costs as the production line ramps up into the 2020s.
Still, questions remain about the F-35, most recently an oxygen deprivation issue that has dogged other aircraft, including the F/A-18 Hornet, Super Hornet and T-45 training jets.
Earlier this month an F-35A Lightning II wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona was grounded after five pilots complained of hypoxia, as oxygen deprivation in the cockpit is called.
On Monday, after 11 days on the ground, the F-35As were scheduled to resume flights even though the exact cause of the incidents remains under investigation. However, until the issue is resolved, the Air Force Times said some restrictions have been put in place, along with measures to compile more data, such as having pilots wears sensors to track their performance.
In April the General Accounting Office warned against moving forward with block buys of the F-35 like the one Reuters said is in the offing until more developmental testing is completed.