The first short take-off/vertical landing version of the F-35, or F-35B, assembled outside the United States has left the Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy.
Manufacturer Lockheed Martin said the rollout exhibits the ongoing strong partnership between the company, the Italian Ministry of Defense and industry partner Leonardo.
The Italian FACO is owned by the Italian Ministry of Defense and is operated by Leonardo in conjunction with Lockheed Martin with a current workforce of more than 800 skilled personnel engaged in the full assembly of the conventional takeoff/landing F-35A and F-35B aircraft variants and F-35A wing production.
General Claudio Graziano, Italian chief of defense, General Carlo Magrassi, secretary general of defense/director of National Armament, Admiral Mathias Winter, deputy program executive officer at the F-35 Joint Program Office, Filippo Bagnato, Leonardo aircraft division’s managing director, and Doug Wilhelm, Lockheed Martin F-35 program management vice president, spoke at the milestone event.
"Italy is not only a valued F-35 program partner that has achieved many F-35 program ‘firsts’, but is also a critical NATO air component force, providing advanced airpower for the alliance for the coming decades," Wilhelm said. "Italian industry has participated in the design of the F-35 and Italian industry-made components fly on every production F-35 built to date."
BL-1’s first flight is anticipated in late August and it is programmed to be delivered to the Italian Ministry of Defense in November.
In addition, two Italian F-35A aircraft will deliver from Cameri this year, the first by July and the second in the fourth quarter. To date, seven F-35As have been delivered from the Cameri FACO; four of those jets are now based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for international pilot training and three are at Amendola Air Base, near Foggio on the Adriatic coast. The Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) has already flown more than 100 flight hours in its Amendola-based F-35As.
After a series of confidence flights from Cameri, an Italian pilot will fly their first F-35B jet to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, early in 2018 to conduct required electromagnetic environmental effects certification. The next Italian F-35B aircraft is scheduled for delivery in November 2018. The Cameri FACO has the only F-35B production capability outside the United States and is programmed to produce a total of 30 Italian F-35Bs and 60 Italian F-35As, along with 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and retains the capacity to deliver to other European partners in the future.
The Italian FACO is also producing 835 F-35A full wing sets to support all customers in the program. The FACO was selected by the US Department of Defense in 2014 as the F-35 Lightning II Heavy Airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade facility for the European region. The 101-acre facility includes 22 buildings and more than one million square feet of covered work space, housing 11 assembly stations, and five maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade bays.
On September 7, 2015, the first Italian-produced F-35 built at the Cameri FACO made the first international flight in F-35 program history, and in February 2016, the F-35A made the program's first transatlantic crossing. In December 2016, the Italian Air Force's first F-35s arrived at the first in-country base, Amendola Air Base.
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The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, advanced mission systems, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and cutting-edge sustainment. Three distinct variants of the F-35 will replace the A-10 and F-16 for the US Air Force, the F/A-18 for the US Navy, the F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier for the US Marine Corps, and a variety of fighters for at least 11 other countries. The Italian F-35As and Bs replace the legacy Panavia Tornado, AMX and AV-8B aircraft. More than 200 production F-35s have been delivered fleet-wide and have flown more than 90,000 flight hours.
Australia is set to receive 72 F-35A aircraft, with the full fleet in service by the end of 2023. Two, AU-001 and AU-002, have been delivered and each cost more than US$120 million.
Over 30 Australian companies have already participated in production supply chains to provide high-end solutions to the JSF capability. The current cumulative total of Australian JSF production contracts is US$681 million and is forecast to reach almost US$4 billion in 2038.