A Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II is now undergoing final checks at the Cameri airbase in Italy – home to the European country’s F-35 final assembly and checkout facilities. After those checks are concluded, the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the fifth-generation stealth fighter will then be deployed on the Italian Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550).
The Italian warship arrived in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia on February 13, before docking at Norfolk, home port of the U.S. Navy’s Second Fleet. It spent the late winter and early spring in the United States to conduct certification tests, which included conducting sea trials with a pair of F-35Bs from Naval Air Station Patuxent River (NAS Pax River), Maryland. Those jets will remain in the U.S. until 2024 and will be used to train additional Italian pilots before they are eventually deployed on the carrier.
The carrier will soon receive its first embarked F-35B later this month. Photos of the aircraft undergoing its test flights had been shared on social media earlier this week.
“The test flights have been completed, so within a few days [the aircraft] will be available for the Navy to collect and it will [be] delivered directly to the Cavour,” Rear Adm. Dino Torresi, the head of the Navy’s air operations, told Defense News on Thursday.
“The Cavour has done a series of activities of certification in the U.S., and this will be completed with an Italian aircraft. Until we base an Italian aircraft on the Cavour, we cannot complete this phase,” Torresi added. “Now the job is to train the personnel on the ship and flight personnel. That is the carrier qualification phase.”
Italy Loves the F-35
Italy has ordered a total of thirty of the F-35B variants, with fifteen employed with the Italian Navy, while the remaining fifteen will be heading to the Italian Air Force. The Italian Navy received its first two jets in 2018 and 2019, and the Air Force took delivery of the first of its F-35Bs on February 22, 2020. The Italian Air Force has also ordered sixty F-35As – the standard takeoff and landing variant.
Italy’s Carrier Ready for the F-35B
ITS Cavour, which is one of the Italian Navy’s two aircraft carriers, was launched in 2004 and was designed to carry STOVL aircraft. Italy is currently replacing its carrier-based AV-8B Harrier II with the F-35B. Last year the carrier completed modernization efforts, which will allow Cavour to support the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter.
Those modernization efforts, which began in December 2018, included an upgraded flight deck that received a new deck coating and metallic reinforcement along with a reinforced flight deck to address the stress of direct thrust from the engines of the F-35B. The Italian carrier has room for a total of sixteen of the combat aircraft – including ten in the hanger and six more parked on the deck.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.