The tenth F-35A for the Aeronautica Militare (AM, Italian Air Force) completed its maiden flight yesterday, June 14.
The aircraft, MM7360 ‘32-10’ (AL-10), took off from Cameri air base at 13.15hrs, chased by a 36° Stormo Eurofighter F-2000A, and returned to the same airfield at 14.35hrs. It will be delivered to 32° Stormo’s 13° Gruppo at Amendola.
In September 2011 a $17m contract modification was awarded to Lockheed Martin, via the US Department of Defense, to procure long-lead items in support of the Italian Air Force’s first F-35A. This was followed by the award of a similar modification, in June 2012, to finance the same items for a further three F-35As for Italy.
Original procurement plans envisaged a total buy of 69 F-35A aircraft for the Italian Air Force, although defence cuts announced in February 2012 saw this number reduced to 60. The first three aircraft were placed under contract, as part of Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 6, and were followed by three F-35As (LRIP 7), two F-35As (LRIP 8, FY2014) and one F-35A (LRIP 9, FY2015).
The first Lightning II to be assembled away from the Fort Worth, Texas production line was completed in March 2015, when an F-35A destined for the Italian Air Force rolled off the Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) facility at Cameri. The aircraft, AL-1, was assembled at the FACO and made its maiden flight on September 7, 2015.
The first four aircraft are at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for crew training. Meanwhile, the first two examples arrived with 32° Stormo at Amendola air base in December 2016.
The AM was the first air arm in Europe to formally introduce the F-35A to the country’s national air defence network. Since March 1, Lightning IIs of 32° Stormo at Amendola have been a fully operational component of the Servizio di Sorveglianza dello Spazio Aereo (SSSA, Airspace Surveillance Service). As well as AM F-35A operations, the unit carries out operational, training and technical activities for the air arm’s Predator remotely piloted aircraft fleet and trains RPA pilots in the MB339.