Italy has become the first country to operate the F-35 outside of the U.S.

Actually, the Italian (not the Israeli) Air Force has been the first service to take delivery of the first operational F-35s outside the United States.

On Dec. 12, whilst several Israeli and international media outlets focused on the delivery of the first F-35I “Adir” to Nevatim airbase (delayed by some 6 hours because of fog) highlighting how Israel had just become “the first country after the US” to get the new plane, far from the spotlight, the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) received its first two F-35A Lightning II, becoming the very first country to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S.

Noteworthy, the delivery flight was carried out by two Italian military pilots (the Israeli planes were flown by Lockheed Martin pilots) who flew their two JSFs (Joint Strike Fighters) to Amendola, where the aircraft landed in the early afternoon on Monday.

Indeed, whereas the arrival of the first Israeli or Dutch F-35s got a significant media coverage (with constant updates, live streaming on social media, etc.), the Italian Air Force has kept a very “low profile” about its achievements with the F-35 so far.

However, Italy has made some significant work on the Lightning II: on Dec. 3, 2015, the ItAF welcomed the first F-35 at the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy. That aircraft was also the first assembled and delivered outside the U.S.

Then, on Feb. 5, 2016 the first Italian Air Force F-35, successfully completed the type’s very first transatlantic crossing landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. To prepare for the 7-hour transoceanic flight the Italian Air Force conducted tanker trials in the U.S. (in July 2015) with its KC-767A, that became the first tanker not operated by the U.S. Air Force to undergo refueling certification trials with an F-35.

Three Italian F-35s are currently deployed at Luke’s multinational F-35 pilot training centre.

And, as explained mentioned, on Dec. 12, the first two aircraft (reportedly AL-5 and AL-6) arrived at their operational base in southeastern Italy.

The first ItAF F-35 during the type’s first transatlantic crossing earlier this year (AM)

The F-35 is for sure the most famous (and controversial) defense program in Italy.

For the moment, Rome’s plan is to procure 90 F-35 to replace the ItAF’s ageing AMX and Tornado and the Italian Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets.



About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Does these mean Europeans can finally protect themselves? Probably not but thanks for sharing the burden. I’m sure the Italians will put this war planes to good use…

  2. For a country possessing the fastest, sleekest, most breathtakingly beautiful cars, I’d expect nothing less of the Italian Air Force.

      • And who the hell paid for your subprime and Lehman Brothers crack of eight years ago? The whole world and the Western countries above all !!

        I am happy that Donald has become your new president and I hope that he will drive your country to isolationism, as he promised. But I guess he won’t keep any of his electoral campaign pledges.

        • I’m European. But as far as it concerns Trump, he has so survive the onslaught of the rabid beast that the intelligence services are. The “deep state” has made him a target because he threatens all their goals for world domination. We live in interesting but also dangerous times. There’s an interesting blog named Moon of Alabama, that covers some of these things and how they could evolve.

  3. But the F-35 doesn’t work and it’s too expensive and that Russian aircraft are better… when did this happen?

    To all those self perpetuating ignorant critics and naysayers all I have to say is, suck it!

  4. One has to wonder what is the point to put an airplane in his operational base when it is at least 10 years from being ready for any operation.

    • USMC IOCed and the USAF IOCed…

      So yeah, they are operational. Are they at FOC yet? No but they are already being used in high level exercises and training events.

  5. It’s good to know that our closest neighbours are the first to receive this magnificent aircraft (contrary to what some moaners say). And yes, you are right. You did it on a low profile, and did it first. But who would compete against the Israelis for such publicity in the USA, especially in election time?

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