The first two F-35Bs delivered to the Italian Navy have returned from the U.S.
The first two F-35B Lightning II STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft of the Marina Militare (Italian Navy), MM7451/4-01 and MM7452/4-02, landed aboard Cavour aircraft carrier on Dec. 16, 2022, completing the long return trip from the U.S. that had (virtually) started on Nov. 29, with the ceremony held last November 29, at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, to celebrate the end of the PIA (Pooling Implementing Arrangement) signed in 2018 by the Italian MOD Defense and the US Marine Corps.
The agreement included the transfer of the first Italian F-35B at Beaufort and initially foresaw an 18-month duration. Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 helped support the Italian Navy F-35B pilots and maintainers and assisted in the development of their organic F-35B training program as the service prepares to replace the aging AV-8B+ Harrier II. Therefore, to support the training, the Italian Navy sent to Beaufort its first two F-35Bs while the third (MM7454/4-03), which was initially supposed to also move to the US, was delivered to Grottaglie Air Base.
The transfer flight from MCAS Beaufort to the flight deck of the Cavour aircraft carrier, that included a technical stop at Lajes Field (Azores), was made possible by the close cooperation and joint coordination between the Italian Navy the Air Force. The transatlantic flight was in fact supported by a KC-767A refueling aircraft with the 14° Stormo (Wing) of the Italian Air Force which responded to the needs of logistical transport and in-flight Air-to-Air Refueling (BTW, the whole trip required more than 20 refuelings), by a C-130J aircraft of the 46^ Brigata Aerea from Pisa and a P-72A from the 41° Stormo from Sigonella which ensured oceanic Search and Rescue (SAR).
Interestingly, During the phases that preceded the landing on Cavour, the flagship of the Navy, the two F-35Bs returning from the USA were escorted by a formation of AV-8B+ aircraft, testifying to the important transition process underway between the 4th and 5th generation of jet aircraft the Navy is currently operating.
According to the Italian Navy, the return of the two aircraft from the U.S. and the imminent delivery of the fourth aircraft to the Navy, bring the Italian Naval Aviation closer to achieving the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with the new aircraft, scheduled for 2024. The first landing of an F-35B belonging to the Italian Navy had occurred in July 2021.