F-35 completes transatlantic first flight

Earlier this month, an 11-hour transatlantic flight finally proved the F-35 can cross the pond.

On Feb. 5, an F-35A flew across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in the jet’s nine-year flight history. Taking off from Cameri Air Base, Italy, and stopping briefly in Portugal, Italian pilot Maj. Gian Marco landed the plane at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland just after noon Mountain time.

The same model of the jet is flown at Hill Air Force Base, but the plane that flew across the Atlantic is part of the Pentagon-based F-35 Joint Program Office’s Italian and European F-35 program. 

JPO spokesman Joe DellaVedova said the jet “was Italian-built, Italian-flown and the entire supporting fight package was made up of Italian Air Force assets.”

In December 2014, the U.S. Department of Defense tabbed Cameri as the main F-35 maintenance and repair facility — similiar to the work Hill does on the plane stateside — for the European countries that will fly the jet. Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands will also fly the Lightning II.

According to the JPO, the Cameri maintenance facility has a workforce of more than 1,000 Italian personnel. The facility will build all of the Italian F-35s and is programmed to build all of the Royal Netherlands Air Force jets.  

A JPO press release said an Italian Air Force KC-767 refueling tanker accompanied the F-35 across the ocean and refueled it seven times along the way. The jet stopped and stayed overnight at Lajes Air Base in Portugal before arriving in the U.S.

In the press release, Marco described his flight as “the greatest experience of my whole life” and said he encountered no technical issues during the voyage.

The Italian jet will remain in Maryland for the next three months, where it will undergo testing for final certification.

Sometime in May, the aircraft will enter the F-35 international pilot training fleet at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. where it will be used to train a group of Italian pilots and other foreign students in the F-35’s multi-national training program.

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