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.
Although the F-35B has been developed to meet the requirement of the nations that operate ski-jump ramp-equipped aircraft carriers, it could also attract the interest of those air forces that need to disperse their aircraft to remote locations in order to safeguard their own efficiency after the first day of war. In fact, its STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) capabilities enable the F-35B to operate from quickly-prepared landing strips close to the front and away from the fixed airfields that would rapidly come under attack during wartime.
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.
Testing of the new missile for the F-35 continues.
Last week, a Joint Strike Missile (JSM) was successfully launched at 22,000 feet from an Edwards Air Force Base F-16 over the Utah Test and Training Center during a missile flight test (which included “challenging maneuvers”) aimed at proving the maturity of the missile and its flight control software.
Unveiled on Nov. 29, 2012, the Joint Strike Missile (JSM), is going to be the only powered anti-ship missile that will fit inside the F-35’s weapons bays. Derived from the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), the anti-ship weapon, featuring long-range, low radar cross section and high maneuverability, speed and accuracy, is involved in a flight test program started early 2015 with numerous captive carry tests on an F-16. Testing will continue 2016 and 2017 when qualification program is planned to complete.
The JSM will give the F-35 the ability to fight well-defended targets across long distances. The missile will be integrated on the F-35A (as well as other types of aircraft): even though it would be useful to carry four missiles (2 in the internal bays, 2 on the external pylons) a Lightning II carrying the JSM on the underwing pylons would lose much of its stealthiness, that’s why the Joint Strike Fighter will probably only carry two such stand-off missiles.
The following images show the F-35A AM-1 5087, the first Royal Norwegian Air Force Lightning II aircraft during some of the first test flights it conducted in October from Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facilities.