Editor’s Note: Truth be told, there are a LOT of good things happening inside the F-35 Lightning II program. Unfortunately, most of those things have to stay on the other side of the curtain, due to classification. Even so, we’ve been getting a lot of really encouraging news about how the jet is doing as it continues to stretch its legs. AL-1 crossing the pond to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, is a big event to kick off what should be a banner year for the F-35 program.
An Italian Air Force F-35 completed the fighter jet’s first transatlantic crossing Friday, a historic event that kicks off a landmark year for the international program.
The aircraft, an Italian Air Force F-35A dubbed AL-1, touched down here Feb. 5 after a seven-hour flight from Lajes Air Base, Portugal. The plane, which began its journey from Cameri Air Base in Italy, on Tuesday, was scheduled to arrive here on Wednesday, but was delayed due to weather and maintenance issues.
Despite a turbulent flight with headwinds of 120 knots, the plane performed well during both legs of the journey, Major Gianmarco, whose call sign is “Ninja,” the first Italian Air Force F-35 pilot, told reporters. The F-35, which flew with two C-130s, a Eurofighter Typhoon and two Italian tankers, required three aerial refuelings on the trip from Cameri to Lajes, and another four on the final leg, he said.
The event marks two firsts for the program – AL-1 is not only the first F-35 ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean, but it is also the first F-35 built overseas, at the Cameri Final Assembly and Check-Out facility. Gianmarco expressed pride that the first-ever F-35 to cross the pond is an Italian aircraft, flown by an Italian pilot.
“I’m really proud of it because we are not following somebody doing this – we are on the very front line,” said Gianmarco, who finished training at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., in November. “We are making history here, and we’re making history for many different reasons: because we built it, because we are flying it, we are supporting it, because we are here at the very same level with you guys.”
The Lockheed Martin-built aircraft’s fusion cockpit is a game-changer, Gianmarco stressed. The advanced technology automatically manages the aircraft’s sensors and transmits information to the pilot, allowing him to focus on the mission objective.
Lara Seligman’s original article at DefenseNews can be viewed here.
(Featured photo courtesy Andy Wolfe/Released)