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F-35 fighter takes wing over Italy, first flight outside U.S.

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On Monday, Italy became the first international partner to fly an F-35 fifth-generation tactical fighter outside the United States.

Known as AL-1, the F-35A Lightning II aircraft made the one-hour, 22-minute flight out of Cameri Final Assembly and Check Out facility in northern Italy. This historic milestone was possible through a joint effort by Italy, Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi manufacturing and Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Md.

“Italy’s ‘primo volo’ (first flight) sets a firm foundation for Italy’s F-35 program and future opportunities for the Cameri FACO,” said Lockheed Martin F-35 Program General Manager Lorraine Martin. “My heartfelt congratulations to all who worked tirelessly to bring us to this major international program milestone.”

Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill “Gigs” Gigliotti lifted off the Cameri Air Base runway at 1:05 p.m. European Standard Time. The first AL-1 flight went exactly as planned.

“As expected, the jet performed exceptionally well and without any surprises,” Gigliotti said. “I’m honored to have flown AL-1 on its maiden flight and grateful to the Cameri team for providing a great jet.”

Owned by the Italian government, Cameri FACO is operated by Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi, the Italian leader in aeronautics, in association with Lockheed Martin. After its selection by the Pentagon last year, FACO at Cameri will be the only facility of its type outside the United States, serving as a maintenance hub for European-based Joint Strike Fighters.

Italy’s F-35 production began in July 2013, with the first AL-1 rolling out in March. Italian officials expect to receive the initial order of eight F-35 As by the end of the year and plan to order 38 by 2020.

FACO will assemble two types of the F-35: conventional takeoff and landing models and the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing version. The facility will also assemble F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. F-35As and Bs will replace the Navy AV-8 Harriers, Panavia Tornados and AMX fighters now used by the Italian air force and navy fleets.

In addition to operating FACO, Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi also produces full-wing sets for the F-35A and is one of the largest manufacturing projects for the Italian F-35 program, with 835 full-wing assemblies planned.

The F-35 Lightning II utilizes the latest innovations in fighter technology, combining advanced stealth technology with speed and agility, fully fused sensor information and network-enabled operation. So far, the project has produced more than 130 F-35s, flying more than 38,700 cumulative fleet flight hours.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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