With her departure on the morning of February 28th from the base of the US Navy’s Second Fleet in Norfolk, the aircraft carrier ITS Cavour began the “hot” phase of the “Ready for Operations” campaign. The first landing of an F-35B aircraft on the deck of the Italian Navy’s aircraft carrier Cavour represents an important milestone in the integration phase with the fifth generation aircraft. The purpose of the Sea Trials, which will continue in the Atlantic Ocean for a further four weeks, is to achieve the certification of the operational envelope of Cavour’s flight deck. Following this, it will be time to verify the impact of the fifth generation aircraft on the ship in various conditions of wind and sea when taking off and landing in order to achieve the “Ready for Operation” certification.
“Our team has trained extensively to prepare for this day, and I was honoured to land the first jet aboard Cavour,” said F-35B test pilot U.S. Marines Maj. Brad Leeman. Leeman is the ITF test team project officer. He and two other pilots attached to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, will fly the ITF jets during the test flights. “The ITF plays a key role in the ship achieving carrier qualification in the near future. All of our hard work planning and training will ensure a successful Sea Trial and ultimately lead to Italy achieving the milestone of Initial Operating Capability,” Leeman said.
“It is a remarkable achievement for all of us today, to see the 5th generation fighter aircraft on our flight deck. This indeed represents an outstanding success but, at the same time, a new challenge for the future of Italian Naval Aviation. Each and every officer and the whole crew are very proud to work closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office test team during these sea trials, and we are very well prepared to do the hard work to equip ITS Cavour and the Italian Navy with the Joint Strike Fighter’s 5th generation air combat capability”, said ITS Cavour’s Commanding Officer Captain Giancarlo Ciappina.
During the stopover in Norfolk prior to the Sea Trials, the 580 members of the aircraft carrier’s crew were joined by further Italian personnel, trained at the US Marine Corps base in Beaufort to operate the aircraft, as well as US personnel from the Integrated Test Force (ITF) team who are fundamental in the integration phase. After demonstrating safe launch and recovery of the aircraft, ITS Cavour will be declared “Ready for Operations”, which will allow her to start tests with the F-35B that will lead to the achievement of the “Initial Operational Capability” (IOC) by 2024. The process will be complete with the declaration of the “Final Operational Capability” after the delivery of the last aircraft of the program.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an American family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft that is intended to perform both air superiority and strike missions. It is also able to provide electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. Lockheed Martin is the prime F-35 contractor, with principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. The aircraft has three main variants: the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A (CTOL), the short take-off and vertical-landing F-35B (STOVL), and the carrier-based F-35C (CV/CATOBAR). Italy has currently taken delivery of 15 F-35 aircraft including 12 F-35A’s and three F-35B’s. Final assembly of the aircraft occurs at Italy’s own facility at Cameri Air Base in the north of the country, which is due to become a maintenance hub for the aircraft.
Cavour (Portaerei Cavour) is an Italian aircraft carrier launched in 2004. The Italian Navy will replace its 16 Harriers with 15 Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs. The ship is designed to combine fixed wing V/STOL and helicopter air operations, command and control operations and the transport of military or civil personnel and heavy vehicles. The 134 m (440 ft), 2,800 m2 (30,000 sq ft) hangar space can double as a vehicle hold capable of holding up to 24 main battle tanks (typically Ariete) or many more lighter vehicles (50 Dardo IFV, 100+ Iveco LMV). By 2021, the modernization to allow Cavour to support the F-35B was completed, and the carrier was ready for subsequent integration trials. Cavour will have room for ten F-35Bs in the hangar, and six more parked on deck. It complements the Italian navy’s other aircraft carrier, the Giuseppe Garibaldi.