The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has gulped down thousands of pounds of jet fuel from an Italian air force tanker in another milestone for the weapons program, the Pentagon announced.
During the mission last week at Edwards Air Force Base in California, an Italian KC-767 tanker inserted its refueling boom into a U.S. Air Force F-35A more than two dozen times and offloaded some 16,000 pounds of fuel, according to email on Thursday from the program office.
"This test flight marked the first international tanker not operated by the U. S. Air Force to undergo refueling certification trials with a U.S. aircraft," Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the F-35 program office, said in the email. Additional testing is planned to continue until the end of the month, he said.
Italy expects to purchase 90 of the fifth-generation stealth fighter jets, including 30 F-35B jump-jet models, which fly like a plane and land like a helicopter. The Italian navy, though, will have to modify its Cavour light aircraft carrier to accommodate the new jets.
The country operates a fleet of four KC-767A tankers, a derivative of the Boeing 767 commercial aircraft, which are stationed at Pratica di Mare Air Base near Rome, according to the email.
Also last week, the U.S. Marine Corps released a statement announcing that 10 of its F-35Bs are ready to fly initial operations.
The Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-121, based in Yuma, Arizona, "is the first squadron in military history to become operational with an F-35 variant" and stands "ready for worldwide deployment" with 10 of the aircraft, according to a statement.
The F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons acquisition program, estimated to cost $391 billion to purchase 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. The Corps will begin operational flights this year -- albeit with a less lethal version of the aircraft -- followed by the Air Force in 2016 and the Navy in 2019.
Eight countries have committed to help develop the F-35, including the U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. Also, Israel, Japan and South Korea plan to buy production models of the aircraft.