I know there's a question here which addresses the "it is invisible" claim. What I want to ask here is based on the two of the earliest (and most detailed) claims that Trump made on the topic, according to a Task & Purpose article:

Oct. 3, 2017: “Amazing job, and amazing job. So amazing that we’re ordering hundreds of millions of dollars of new airplanes for the Air Force, especially the F-35. Do you like the F-35? I said how does it do it in fights, and how do they do in fights with the F-35. He says we do very well, you can’t see it. Literally you can’t see. It’s hard to fight a plane you can’t see right? But that’s an expensive plane you can’t see. And as you probably heard we cut the price very substantially, something other administrations would never have done, that I can tell you.”

Nov. 23, 2017: “The Navy, I can tell you, we’re ordering ships. With the Air Force, we’re ordering a lot of planes, in particular the F-35 fighter jet, which is, you know, almost like an invisible fighter. I was asking the Air Force guys, I said, how good is this plane? They said, well, sir, you can’t see it. I said, yeah, but in a fight — you know, a fight — like I watch in the movies — they fight, they’re fighting. How good is this? They say, well, it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it. Even if it’s right next to it, it can’t see it. I said, that helps. That’s a good thing.”

Some of that sounds quite improbable a pilot would have told him, basically the "right next to it" part and probably even "literally you can't see it". But is the bulk of Trump's claim that he was told by "Air Force guys" that the enemy "can't see it" possibly based in something Air Force personnel have said? Trump didn't identify his Air Force sources but one way to check the for the plausibility that "Air Force guys" told him that is to look for similar statements Air Force personnel involved with the F-35 may have made prior to Trump's endorsement of the "can't see it" discourse.

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    Where do you see a claim that this information came from pilots? In the Oct 3 quote, Trump attributes the claim to an unnamed "he". In Nov 23, it is "Air Force guys" which does not necessarily indicate pilots. Aug 1, 2018 at 15:53
  • @NateEldredge: Ok, make it more broad then... Maybe Airforce brass told him that. But given that he asked about dogfights... I think he might have talked to pilots.
    – Fizz
    Aug 1, 2018 at 15:55
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    Isn't this just a duplicate of skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/41870/… ?
    – GordonM
    Aug 1, 2018 at 16:08
  • @GordonM: not in my book.
    – Fizz
    Aug 1, 2018 at 16:08
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    Donald Trump: Show me the new jet. General (knowing that Donald will blab to Putin): You can't see it. Donald Trump: Plane is invisible. Aug 2, 2018 at 21:45

1 Answer 1


It turns out there is some "prior art" basis to believe Trump may have heard something like that from actual F-35 pilots or higher-up Air Force brass relating such a story. I found an airforcetimes.com article from July 2016:

During a recent exercise at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, F-35 squadrons wanted to practice evading surface-to-air threats. There was just one problem: No one on the ground could track the plane.

"If they never saw us, they couldn't target us," said Lt. Col. George Watkins, the commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

The F-35s resorted to flipping on their transponders, used for FAA identification, so that simulated anti-air weapons could track the planes, Watkins said.

"We basically told them where we were at and said, 'Hey, try to shoot at us,' " he said, adding that without the transponders on, "most likely we would not have suffered a single loss from any SAM threats while we were training at Mountain Home."

"When we go to train, it's really an unfair fight for the guys who are simulating the adversaries," Watkins continued. "We've been amazed by what we can do when we go up against fourth-gen adversaries in our training environment, in the air and on the ground."

Watkins said he can take four F-35s and "be everywhere and nowhere at the same time because we can cover so much ground with our sensors, so much ground and so much airspace. And the F-15s or F-16s, or whoever is simulating an adversary or red air threat, they have no idea where we're at and they can't see us and they can't target us.

(N.B. same story source [Watkins] with some paraphrasing differences on https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/880950/f-35a-program-continues-to-make-improvements/)

I have no idea if Trump read that, or if he talked to anyone in this squadron, but the story sounds sufficiently similar to me (including the "dogfight" issue) that I think it plausible Trump may have heard some variant of it. I don't want to speculate here who embellished it to the point of "next to it" and so forth, even though I have a strong opinion who did that...

And pretty similar story told by someone playing OPFOR:

“We took off out of Madison (to join the fight),” said Lt. Col. Bart Van Roo, 176th FS commander. “We went to our simulated air field out in the far part of the air space. As the two ship from the Northern half of the air space we turned hot, drove for about 30 seconds and we were dead, just like that. We never even saw (the F-35A).”

Van Roo has been flying the F-16 since 2001 and as red air during Northern Lightning for 13 years. Red air is a formation of aircraft acting as the enemy for air-to-air tactics training.

“For us, as a capable fourth-generation fighter, we are used to being able to see and counter most adversaries that we have out there when we are playing red air,” Van Roo said. “Versus the F-35 it’s completely different. The most difficult thing is we just can’t see them like they can see us. It can feel like you are out there with a blindfold on trying to find someone in a huge space.

“We have been reliant on visual pickups of the aircraft only, which is extremely difficult to do, and at those ranges we are already dead before we could shoot back.”

This account is from September 2016. This also has a variant on https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/930389/f-35a-continues-fifth-generation-tradition-of-air-superiority-against-legacy-ai/

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    He doesn't seem to understand the word "literally", does he? Aug 1, 2018 at 16:09
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    Deleted my answer, but here is the 3 October 2017 transcript whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/… and 23 November whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/…
    – DavePhD
    Aug 2, 2018 at 0:09
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    @dont_shog_me_bro: I don't see anything wrong with use of "literal" in this particular case, for any of the possible meanings of "see". You literally can't detect it with radar, because of the stealth features, and you literally can't see it visually from long range (because of atmospheric interference combined with camoflage), and although you theoretically could see it visually from extremely short range, you never get the chance to literally do that because it kills you before you get close enough. The problem with the quote is the "Even if it’s right next to it, it can’t see it" line.
    – Ben Voigt
    Aug 2, 2018 at 15:23
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    @BenVoigt you are trying really, really hard to justify what he said there. To me it's pretty clear he has yet to master the English language. Aug 2, 2018 at 15:36
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    @dont_shog_me_bro his usage of the word literally is fine. a lot of people nowadays don't understand the word 'literally', and i hate trump as much as the next guy, but "you literally can't see it" is a fine usage of the word Aug 3, 2018 at 18:13

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