Through the Lens: 2016 Heritage Flight Training: Lightning Strikes Twice
Article by: Steven Valinski
Photos by: Bill Word, Paul Negri and Steven Valinski
March 10, 2016
Hearing the sound of the engines on a vintage aircraft can be a rousing experience. Combine this sound with the roar of the jet engines on modern fighter aircraft, and a certain euphoria can take over. One is transported to a moment in time where old meets new, where the roots of modern day airpower meet present-day warfighting machines.
In February every year, there is only one place this can be experienced…at the Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course hosted by Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.
The purpose of the Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course, formerly known as the Heritage Flight Conference, is to train and certify pilots of vintage warbirds and modern fighters in performing heritage flights for the upcoming air show season.
Heritage Flights are part of the United States Air Force (USAF) Air Combat Command (ACC) Heritage Flight program. The Heritage Flight program is a way for ACC to showcase USAF airpower past and present. Aircraft from WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War fly alongside modern USAF fighter aircraft.
The North American P-51 Mustang, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the North American F-86 Sabre represent the warbirds of the past, while the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and, for the first time, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II represent modern USAF airpower.
While the ACC supports the Heritage Flight program, its success can also be attributed to the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation. Formed in 2010, the Heritage Flight Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the Heritage Flight to events around the US.
While the F-16 solo demo and F-22 solo demo, along with the Heritage Flights with the these aircraft flying alongside the warbirds of the past, have become featured performances at air shows around the US, for 2016, the F-35 Heritage Flight has been added to help showcase the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
While three variants of the F-35 JSF are being produced by Lockheed Martin, The USAF will be flying the F-35A variant of the JSF. The “A” variant is the standard land-based variant designed to use standard runways at airbases. The “B” variant, used by the USMC, is designed with Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) capabilities, while the “C” variant is used by the US Navy and USMC and it the carrier variant of the F-35. The F-35 Heritage Flight will feature the USAF’s “A” variant.
Major William “D-Rail” Andreotta, an F-35 Heritage Flight pilot, said in a USAF interview: “We’re so honored to be the first ever F-35 heritage flight team. We are really laying the foundation for years to come. We know it’s going to be a great season and we’re ecstatic about talking with different communities and showcasing the F-35.”
For the F-35 Heritage Flight, the Lightning II JSF will fly alongside the original “Lightning,” the P-38 Lightning. Nicknamed the “fork-tailed devil” during WWII, the P-38 was a very effective multi-role fighter in the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII.
“It’s surreal to be flying the latest and greatest fighter aircraft in the world and look over to see fighter aircraft from World War II, Vietnam and Korea right next to you that were at one point the greatest fighters of their generation,” Andreotta said. “It’s like passing the torch in the lineage.”
The F-35 Heritage Flight, Heritage Flight, and F-16 and F-22 solo demos will be performed at air shows around the US for 2016. For the first time, people in the UK will be able to see the F-35 featured with the F-35 Heritage flight being performed at the RIAT/Farnborough air show in the UK this July.
The 2016 F-35 Heritage Flight performance schedule can be found HERE. Other Heritage Flight and solo demo schedules will be release soon.
The Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course took place at Davis-Monthan AFB March 3-6, 2016.
Davis-Monthan AFB has proven to be an ideal host for this training every year due to Tucson’s optimal weather in February and the outstanding support provided by the base.
Here, Aviation Photography Digest takes a look at the 2016 Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course…“Through the Lens”…
Click on an image below to view the gallery: