New demo team commander shows off F-35 as Hill AFB prepares for Utah Air Show

Mar 19, 2024, 10:21 PM | Updated: Mar 20, 2024, 3:52 pm

CLEARFIELD — Ahead of the Utah Air Show scheduled for the last weekend in June, the new commander of the F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team showed off her plane’s capabilities Tuesday.

“A lot of people say (flying the F-35) feels like you’re on a roller coaster — I’d say that’s pretty accurate, but you’re totally in control,” Capt. Melanie “MACH” Kluesner told reporters during an availability. “You get to go upside down if you want, you get to do pretty much anything and you’ve got the most powerful fighter engine ever built, so it’s pretty incredible.”

Hill Air Force Base fighters to fly at night in March and April

Kluesner said she knew she wanted to be a pilot at the age of 7, when her father took her to an Air Force Academy football game where F-16s performed a flyover.

“I was like, ‘that is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,’ ” Kluesner said. “When I realized it was a job I could do, I never looked back.”

Kluesner said performing in a demo team varied greatly from flying combat missions because her focus is centered around precision and perfection as opposed to “big-picture tactics.”

She said the F-35 is a very sensitive aircraft, but when performing demonstration maneuvers it’s a different experience.

“I am full-stick back, full stick left,” Kluesner said.

Organizers hope the F-35 in particular gave those in attendance at the June air show an appreciation for America’s air capabilities.

“The Air Force is saying, ‘This is where your tax dollars are being spent’ and ‘This is what our capabilities are’ and ‘Be proud of what you’re seeing today,’” said Utah Air Show Foundation director Kevin Ireland. “We try to show a little bit of history and we also try to show great aircraft like the F-35 to let people know that you’re safe, you’re protected and they’re flying for your freedom.”

Ireland said the show also serves as a great recruiting tool for young people, as Kluesner’s experience seeing flyovers showed.

The 2024 Utah Air Show is planned for June 29 and 30 and is free to the public. According to organizers, doors open at 8 a.m. with performances starting at 9:30 a.m.

Ireland said organizers expected as many as 500,000 people to converge on Hill Air Force Base that weekend. Kluesner said the demonstration of air capabilities was important to her.

“We’re dedicating it to the war fighters that are out there, the veterans that came before us,” Kluesner said. “I just know it’s a meaningful thing that we do, so that kind of is what keeps me going.”

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New demo team commander shows off F-35 as Hill AFB prepares for Utah Air Show