Italy unveils 1st domestically-built F-35B vertical landing jet (PHOTOS)
The aircraft, codenamed BL-1, was rolled out on Friday at an industrial facility in the northern Italian town of Cameri, according to a Lockheed Martin press release.
The F-35B, a variant of the F35 capable of short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL), is expected to take its maiden flight in late-August. The jet will be delivered to the Italian military in November of 2017 and, following a series of “confidence flights,” will be flown to the US Navy’s Patuxent River airbase in Maryland for required certification and crew training in early 2018.
The next Italian F-35B aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in November of 2018. According to Lockheed Martin, the Italian Air Force has already flown more than 100 flight hours in its conventional F-35As.
Cameri, the only F-35B assembly line outside the US, is due to produce 30 F-35Bs for the Italian Air Force and Navy, and 60 F-35As for the Italian Air Force, as well as 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
“Italy is not only a valued F-35 program partner that has achieved many F-35 program ‘firsts,’ but is also a critical NATO air component force, providing advanced airpower for the alliance for the coming decades,” said Doug Wilhelm, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Program Management.
“Italian industry has participated in the design of the F-35 and Italian industry made components fly on every production F-35 built to date,” he added.
The F-35 is being built by the US in cooperation with several partner countries. It is believed to be the costliest aircraft ever designed for the military.
The jet is expected to become the backbone of the air power of many US allies, including the UK, Israel, Canada, and Australia.
However, numerous reliability issues have caused significant delays in the F-35 program, in particular, with the jet’s advanced software, which is supposed to be the plane’s “brain.” In the latest damning report, the F35’s computer systems were described as “interfering with the pilot’s ability to survive and prevail” by Dan Glazier, a defense policy investigator at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
Other problems with the controversial fighter jet have included issues with its radar software and an increased risk of neck injury to low-weight pilots ejecting from the aircraft. To add insult to injury, the F-35 was outperformed by the older-generation F-16 in a simulated dogfight in 2015.