It was pretty much an Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) achievement: the aircraft was the ItAF’s first F-35, the first JSF built outside the U.S., piloted by one of the two ItAF test pilots, belonging to the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (Test Wing) from Pratica di Mare, who successfully completed the training at Luke AFB in November last year, and supported by a formation made by 2x KC-767s, 2x C-130Js and 2x Typhoons, all belonging to the Italian Air Force.
11 flying hours, one stopover (in Lajes, Portugal) and 7 aerial refuelings made the crossing possible.
In this post you can find some cool photographs of the trip just released by the Italian Ministry of Defense. Noteworthy, the image below (the only one on the ground) shows the pilot performing the external checks on the F-35: you can clearly see the low-visibility 13th Gruppo (Squadron) emblem applied to the left air intake.
The aircraft was piloted by one of the two ItAF test pilots, belonging to the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (Test Wing) from Pratica di Mare, who successfully completed the training at Luke AFB in November last year.
After chasing the F-35 for most of its transatlantic flight, the two-seater Typhoon and its own supporting KC-767 landed at Pease ANGB, in New Hampshire, from where they will fly to Nellis AFB, in Nevada, in anticipation of the first participation of the Italian Typhoons to a Red Flag exercise.
Interestingly, the F-35 refueled 7 times from Italy to the U.S. and most of the refueling took place in bad weather: nevertheless, there were no problems nor disconnection as the F-35 is extremely stable (so as the KC-767).
The Italian Air Force made the history by successfully accomplishing the F-35’s first transatlantic crossing.
On Feb. 5, the first Italian Air Force F-35, the first JSF built outside the U.S., landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Mariland, at the end of a 7-hour transatlantic flight from Lajes Air Base, in Portugal.
The aircraft, dubbed AL-1 and serialled MM7332 departed from Cameri on Feb. 3 and was scheduled to land in the U.S. on the following day but the trip was delayed due to strong winds over the Atlantic Ocean.
The aircraft was piloted by one of the two ItAF pilots who successfully completed the training at Luke AFB last year.
The aircraft arrived at Pax River, where it will be involved in testing activities before moving to Luke Air Force Base, was accompanied by two KC-767 tankers, two C-130Js for logistical and SAR support, and one two-seater Eurofighter Typhoon acting as chase plane. One of F-2000B remained at Lajes as spare, and will wait until all return from the States within a couple of days (except for the JSF).
The pictures in this post show the formation arriving a Lajes: noteworthy, the stopover marked the first landing of an F-35 in Portugal.
Here’s what it looks like to fly at stratospheric altitudes in a modern combat plane.
Taken with a GoPro camera on Jan. 28, this photo shows what it is like when you are in a Eurofighter Typhoon of the Italian Air Force flying at about 46,000 feet during a 4 vs 3 supersonic training mission of the 9th Gruppo (Squadron) belonging to the 4th Stormo (Wing) from Grosseto.
I will soon write a detailed report, with plenty of pictures, about the mission I took part (in the lead aircraft of the “Red Air”), for the moment here’s just a shot from the backseat of the F-2000B about to “commit” for another air-to-air engagement!
Not only is the AL-1 (as the aircraft is designated) the first F-35 for the Italian armed forces but it is also the first assembled and delivered outside the U.S.
With the delivery of its first aircraft, Italy becomes the sixth nation to receive an F-35 joining Australia, Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom and the U.S. that already operate the aircraft at various airbase across the United States.
The aircraft for the Italian Air Force, that made its very first flight from Cameri airbase on Sept. 7, it’s the first of eight aircraft currently being assembled at the Italian FACO that will assemble all the remaining F-35A and F-35B for the Italian Air Force and Navy, and build F-35A for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
AL-1 will be delivered to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, in 2016 (with the support of an Italian Air Force KC-767 tanker, the first international tanker to refuel the JSF) where Italy’s first two pilots have recently begun F-35 flight training..
Italy is a Tier II partner in the F-35 program. So far, the Government has invested 3.5 billion USD in the program with an industrial return, in terms of contracts signed, that amounts to +1 billion USD.
That said, industrial participation in the program includes Alenia Aeronautica supplying wing sets (about 75% of Italy’s participation in the program) and other companies of the Finmeccanica group supplying work on some of those quite critical systems, including the EOTS (Electro-Optical Targeting System).
Despite the cuts, the program has attracted a significant chunk of Italy’s defense budget: for this reason the F-35 surely the most famous defense program in Italy. And the most controversial. So much so that it has become a very “sensitive” subject.
A large part of the public opinion, as well as many Italian lawmakers are against it, because they believe that the about 13 billion Euro for the F-35 and no significant industrial gains can’t co-exist with the country’s fragile public finances. However, as a consequence of the cuts (from 131 to 90 examples, with the “promise” to consider more cuts if needed), the assignment of the European FACO to Cameri, and a significant investment already done (Rome remains the second largest contributing partner after the UK) the Italian Government has been able to save the F-35 and ensure the Italian Air Force its 5th generation aircraft to replace the ageing (and for this reason costly) AMX and Tornado fleets, and the Navy its F-35Bs to replace the AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets.