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An Italian Air Force F-35 completed the fighter jet’s first transatlantic crossing Friday, a historic event that kicks off a landmark year for the international program.
The aircraft, an Italian Air Force F-35 dubbed AL-1 made its way from Italy, through a stop in Portugal to Maryland, US.
The aircraft was assisted by an Italian Air Force KC-767 aerial refueling tanker, which refueled the fighter jet seven times during the ocean crossing. The fighter was flown by Italian Air Force pilot Major Gian Marco D., who accumulated 50 flight hours with an F-35 during his training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
Despite a turbulent flight with headwinds of 120 knots, the plane performed well during both legs of the journey. Major Marco told reporters that the aircraft required three aerial refuelings on the trip from Italy to Portugal, and another four on the final leg, Defense World reports.
“The efficiency and reliability of the aircraft has been 100 percent – we had no issues at all,” Marco said. “This demonstrates the capability of the aircraft itself, of the program.”
AL-1 is not only the first F-35 ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean, but it is also the first F-35 built overseas in Italy. “I’m really proud of it because we are not following somebody doing this – we are on the very front line,” said Marco. “We are making history here, and we’re making history for many different reasons: because we built it, because we are flying it, we are supporting it, because we are here at the very same level with [US] guys.”
As one of the first nine partner countries in the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 program, Italy’s defense industry has secured over $826 million in F-35 production contracts. The value of these contracts is expected to exceed over $9.9 billion over the life of the program.