Did F-35 pilots from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona give us the the latest in a series of sky penises on Tuesday afternoon? Or was the suggestive contrail inadvertently left while practicing normal flight maneuvers?
Photos of the possible sky genitalia began circulating online and among the Air Force pilot community Tuesday evening. Its distinctive contours called to mind the recent trend of aeronautical anatomic art that has particularly become a Navy trademark.
But a Luke spokeswoman said in an emailed statement Wednesday that officials have looked into it, and found that wasn’t the F-35 pilots’ intention.
“We’ve seen the photos that have been circulating online from Tuesday afternoon,” Maj. Rebecca Heyse, chief of public affairs for the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke, said in the email. “56th Fighter Wing senior leadership reviewed the training tapes from the flight and confirmed that F-35s conducting standard fighter training maneuvers Tuesday afternoon in the Gladden and Bagdad military operating airspace resulted in the creation of the contrails. There was no nefarious or inappropriate behavior during the training flight.”
Or in other words, get your mind out of the gutter.
In a follow-up email, Heyse said six F-35s were practicing dogfighting at the time, with a two-ship squaring off against the remaining four in air-to-air training.
The two-ship made the contrails as they were starting the fight with the four-ship, Heyse said. They were then told to hold off, she said, which caused them to hook as they sought to reposition themselves. At that point, they resumed the mock dogfight, which caused them to hook again, she said.
The fighters made a third vertical contrail, parallel to the other two contrails, which is not visible in the photos circulating online, Heyse said.
Heyse said the pilots explained what happened, and senior leaders reviewed their flight audio, which confirmed their statements.
This is apparently the first time an F-35 — which cost about $44,000 per hour to fly — has been associated with such a drawing, unintentional or otherwise.
But it’s not the first time an Air Force pilot has drawn a sky penis by accident (presumably, that is). Last spring, a pilot from the 52nd Fighter Wing left contrails over Germany that some online found suggestive. Although the Germany contrails prompted speculation that the Air Force was following the Navy’s lead, the 52nd said its pilots were conducting normal flight patterns involving planned circles and straight lines.
Most notoriously, an EA-18G Growler jet flown by the Navy in 2017 drew a giant phallus in the sky, photos of which went viral and prompted numerous memes. The investigation that followed included a transcription of the cockpit chatter between the Growler’s pilot and electronic warfare officer, in which they plot out their drawing in remarkably graphic detail.
And in October 2018, a Marine T-34C aircraft belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 at Miramar in California was tracked on radar tracing out another — quite detailed — genitalia shape.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.