Ridgefield pilot returns home in fighter jet ahead of air show


U.S. Air Force Capt. Julian Kinonen flew into the Portland area in a fairly uncommon style.

The F-35A Lightning II pilot flew in one of the aircraft that is currently at the peak of military fighter jets.

It was one of two F-35As headed to the region for the Oregon International Air Show. The event featured the F-35A’s demonstration team, fronted by Major Kristin “BEO” Wolfe who piloted the craft for the event.

A 2010 Ridgefield High School graduate, Kinonen served as safety officer for the air show to ensure the demonstration went off without a hitch from the ground. He presented to a group of current students at the high school during a visit ahead of his participation in the air show.

Kinonen said in his first year of college at Washington State University, he would have rather been a police officer. He had aspirations to become a pilot later on, but a conversation with fellow Ridgefielder and former F-16 pilot Joe Leadingham turned him toward going into WSU’s ROTC program.

He managed to get a slot as a pilot and moved to the Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi for six years where he received his aeronautical badge, or his “wings.” He instructed other pilots as they worked to get their own badges for several years before he switched over to flying the F-35A two years ago, he said.

Kinonen said the jump from flying training aircraft like the T-6 Texan and the T-38 Talon to the warfare-focused F-35A was a significant difference.

“A lot more sensors, a lot more secret stuff on it, but a lot more fun to fly, I think,” Kinonen said.

The aircraft is part of the fifth generation of jet fighters, as the F-35 series producer, Lockheed Martin, bills it. The U.S. Department of Defense currently operates about 450 F-35s of any type, according to the Congressional Budget Office website. Lockheed Martin currently reports more than 900 aircraft distributed worldwide.

Kinonen showed off some of the flight gear to the students, which included a half-million-dollar helmet F-35A pilots use. The helmet has a heads-up display that provides information to the pilot directly in front of their face.

Kinonen said each helmet is custom-built based on the pilot’s dimensions, down to their eyes, in order to make the display as tailored to the user as possible.

“You really have to figure out what to look for in that moment just because it overloads you with information about everything around you,” Kinonen said.

Kinonen got involved with air shows this year, with the Oregon International Air Show being his third.

“It’s been a lot of fun. We have a really great team,” Kinonen said. “These people that get assigned to the demo team, they’re kind of the best at what they do.”

Kinonen said air shows tend to encourage people to become pilots, which could be the case for the one he was set to participate in over the weekend.

“I love going on the demo trips. It’s because that’s where a lot of 7- (and) 8-year-old kids get the dream to become a pilot,” Kinonen said.

Kinonen said he personally was inspired by the jet flyovers at Ridgefield’s Fourth of July parades. One day, he hopes to be able to take part in that kind of demonstration.

“My goal has always been to one day be able to go back and do that flyover for my hometown,” Kinonen said.