First of Italy’s Lockheed F-35 Fighter Jets Completes Flight

Reuters // September 08, 2015

Italy's Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet completed its inaugural flight on Monday, marking the first-ever F-35 flight outside the United States and a major international milestone for the $391 billion weapons program, Lockheed said.

Lockheed test pilot Bill Gigliotti completed a flight of nearly one-and-a-half hours in early afternoon European time on Monday, a key step toward planned delivery of the jet, known as AL-1, to the Italian government by the end of the year.

Gigliotti said the flight went as planned, with no surprises.

The jet was assembled at a final assembly and checkout plant, or FACO, in Cameri that is owned by the Italian government and managed by Finmeccanica SpA.

"Italy's 'primo volo' (first flight) sets a firm foundation for Italy's F-35 program and future opportunities for the Cameri FACO," said F-35 program manager Lorraine Martin.

Italy's FACO facility began production in July 2013. It will assemble both Italy's F-35A conventional takeoff and landing model, as well as its F-35B model jets, which take off from shorter runways and land like a helicopter. It will also assemble F-35s for the Netherlands in coming years.

Critics remain skeptical about the F-35 program, but U.S. officials say the massive weapons program has performed well in recent years after a large restructuring effort that added $6 billion to the plane's development effort.

In July, the U.S. Marine Corps declared its first squadron of 10 F-35B jets ready for combat.

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