The U.S. made history when two F-35A Lightning IIs arrived at the Paris Air Show to fly the first public aerial demonstrations at Le Bourget. The team had only 36 days to make it happen.

F-35A during the flying display at Paris Air Show

Just over a month after the U.S. announced the F-35 would attend the show, the gates to Le Bourget Airport opened up and the crowds came flooding in. 

With more than 100 aircraft on display and 2,300 different exhibitors at the show, the Department of Defense aircraft corral was just a drop in the bucket of what the show offered. Despite that fact, the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen drew some of the largest crowds as people clamored to get a peek at the U.S. technology on display.

Col. Justin Hickman set out to build a team to solve problems and accomplish this daunting task.

“You have two Air Combat Command (F-35A) jets being maintained by 39 ACC Airmen, flown here from the U.S. by two Air Education and Training Command pilots and we are using a Lockheed Martin demonstration pilot to perform in the show,” said Hickman.

And he still had to plan the logistics for getting the other eight aircraft here. Aside from the F-35s, the Air Force brought two F-16 Fighting Falcons, a C-130J Super Hercules, a CV-22 Osprey and a KC-135R Stratotanker. The Army brought an AH-64 Apache and a CH-47 Chinook. The Navy flew in a P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft.

“This is truly a team effort,” Hickman said. “There are a lot of people who do not work for me at all, but without their help we could never do this. And they did it because they get it. They understand the importance of this event.”

Unlike a normal unit structure, this air show brings people from all different commands and expects them to function as one cohesive team.

Through dozens of telephone conferences, three separate trips to Paris and hundreds of emails, the 130-person team came together to put on a show that wowed more than 350,000 people over the week-long event.

When during the show, after six minutes of flying display, the F-35A touched down and the crowed erupted with thunderous applause, we realized that the mission was accomplished!

What the audience didn’t see were the 39 maintainers it took to bring those jets to Paris and put them up in the sky nearly every day for two weeks, and a team of security forces to protect it.

The team had to strike the perfect balance between making the jet viewable by the air show attendees and safeguarding the multi-million dollar asset. The solution came in the form of the iron clad relationship the U.S. has with France.

“We asked for some help from the French to protect our aircraft while we moved it back and forth from the corral to the demo,” Hickman explained. “They gave us a hangar which provided security overnight. And when we moved it, they gave us a mobile rope team who helped us maintain a safe buffer between the F-35 and the crowd.”

The French also provided armed security that augmented the unarmed U.S. personnel assigned to protect the aircraft.

“It was truly a combined effort as we worked with our French allies to display the F-35,” Hickman said.

Source: USAF Public Affairs Office
Photo credit: USAF

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