“BL-01” is the first Italian F-35B STOVL jet.
On Oct. 24, the first F-35B, the Short Take-Off Vertical Landing variant of the the F-35 Lightning II, the first assembled internationally, flew its first sortie from Cameri airfield, home of the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility, in northwestern Italy.
The aircraft, designated BL-1, is the first F-35B assembled internationally. The aircraft should be delivered to the Italian MoD soon. Then, after a series of “confidence flights” from Cameri, an Italian pilot will fly the first F-35B jet to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, to conduct required Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification. The next Italian F-35B aircraft is scheduled for delivery in November 2018.
Based on the previous LM releases, the aircraft should be destined to the Italian Navy. However, for the moment it was not given any specific unit markings.
The Cameri FACO has the only F-35B production capability outside the United States. It will assemble the 60 Italian F-35As and 30 F-35Bs (for a total of 90 aircraft to be procured by the Italian Air Force and Navy), will build 29 F-35A for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and was selected in December 2014 as the European F-35 airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade center for the entire European region.
In spite of some initial internal criticism and threatened cuts, F-35s will replace the Italian Air Force ageing Tornado and AMX attack planes and the Italian Navy AV-8B aircraft.
Image credit: Simone Bovi