The Biplane Class will have a tough new kid on the block to compete with at this year’s Reno Air Races. The United States Air Force has arranged special permission for one of its new F-35 Lightning II fighters to enter the race in an effort to shed the jet’s reputation as unmaneuverable, slow, and a colossal waste of money. The jet was originally intended to race in the headlining Unlimited Class, but after several practice runs it became clear that it would simply not be competitive. Race organizers felt it would be unsafe to force the Unlimited pilots to overtake the $113 million stealth fighter at such a high rate of speed, and approved the appearance only on the condition that the F-35 would compete with aircraft of a similar speed. The Biplane Class typically features similar lap times, so that is where the jet will compete.
This could easily be seen as another black mark on the program’s record, but the Air Force and the aircraft’s manufacturer are quick to point out that air race performance of the current F-35 fleet is limited by the installed software package. Program representatives say that a $45 million dollar air-racing software upgrade designed for this year’s event is currently in testing and should be ready some time in 2037. Nevertheless, the F-35 is expected to compete for a top ten finish amongst the biplanes. “It’s great for the class,” race pilot Chet Whabnoski told AirshowStuff, “because it will draw a lot of attention to the underappreciated biplanes. At the same time, the top pilots in the class don’t really have to worry about losing. It’s a win for everyone! Except the F-35 of course.”