For the first time an Italian Air Force F-35 launched from Ghedi Air Base and recovered there after conducting a training mission with the local-based Tornados.
On Aug. 29, 2022, an F-35A of the Italian Air Force carried out the type’s first round-robin training mission from Ghedi, the military airfield located near Brescia, in northern Italy, destined to become the second Italian Air Force airbase to operate the Lighting II aircraft.
The aircraft involved in this first round-trip sortie was MM7334/32-03, assigned to the 32° Stormo (Wing) based at Amendola AB in southeastern Italy, that for the occasion, launched from Ghedi and headed to a restricted airspace located above the Adriatic Sea, where it operated alongside three Tornados (two ECRs and one IDS also from Ghedi) before returning to the base in formation. Interestingly, the Tornado IDS was tracking online on FlightRadar24.com making its route visible under callsign LUCE01.
The four-ship formation flew overhead Ghedi AB and performed a few passes before coming to a full stop landing. Our friend and contributor Daniele Zanolini was there and took the photos of the dissimilar formation that you can find in this post.
The mission was rather symbolic. In fact, as already explained, the Lockheed Martin F-35A has (slowly) started replacing the Tornado fleet: last June, the Lightning II MM7366/6-01 (AL-16), the first of two to date to sport the markings of the local-based 6° Stormo (Wing) “Diavoli Rossi” (Red Devils) [the other being MM7367/6-02], landed for the first time at Ghedi that is currently home to three Tornado squadrons: the 102º Gruppo [that is the Tornado OCU (Operational Conversion Unit)], the 154º Gruppo, equipped with the Tornado IDS, and 155º Gruppo equipped with the Tornado ECR.
Among the Tornado squadrons, the 102° Gruppo should be the first to transition to the F-35A, followed by 154° and 155° Gruppo. The process will take a few years and, in the meanwhile, joint missions that see the cooperation between F-35s and Tornados, are conducted almost routinely, to facilitate the integration between the 4th and 5th generation assets.
The Italian Air Force has already received 19x F-35s: 17x F-35A jets and 2x F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft. As mentioned, two F-35As are assigned to the 6° Stormo although they are currently operating from Amendola AB, home of the 32° Stormo and its child unit, the 13° Gruppo which, at the moment, counts on a fleet of 12x F-35A and 2x F-35Bs. Three F-35As are in the U.S. although sporting the 32° Stormo emblems. The 13° Gruppo has been operating with the 5th generation aircraft since 2016 and achieved IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the 5th generation aircraft in 2018.