The first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to be assembled overseas took flight this week, the manufacturer announced.
Italy's inaugural F-35A Lightning II, known as AL-1 and assembled at the Cameri Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility, on Monday flew for the first time in what was billed as the aircraft's initial flight outside the U.S, according to a press release from Lockheed Martin Corp.
The milestone came just a month after a U.S. F-35B jump-jet version of the plane gulped down thousands of pounds of jet fuel from an Italian air force KC-767 tanker.
Italy expects to purchase 90 of the fifth-generation stealth fighter jets to replace its AV-8 Harriers, Panavia Tornados and AMX fighters. That figure includes 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 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.
The F-35 last year missed its first planned international appearances, including the Farnborough International Air Show outside London, due to a fleet-wide grounding as a result of an engine fire. The order was subsequently lifted and Pratt & Whitney, maker of the F135 engine, plans to retrofit the fleet with a fix by early next year.
The Cameri facility is owned by the Italian government and operated by Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi in association with Lockheed Martin, according to the release. After beginning production of the F-35 in July 2013, the plant churned out its first F-35, the AL-1, in March, the release states. The aircraft is expected to be officially delivered to the Italian air force by the end of the year, it states.
Here's the video of the AL-1 taking to the skies: