Italian Navy F-35B
Copyright: Donato Tornotti

First F-35B for Italian Naval Aviation

The first jump jet Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II assembled outside US at FACO Cameri, Italy (Final Assembly & Check-Out) has now officially received the labels of Italian Navy.

The aircraft, returned in flight on Jan. 11 2018 after several weeks but still with no marks, flown January 16 with the brand new MARINA aside the fuselage and s/n 01 just under the cockpit. January 11’s flight  took 2 hours and 30 minutes, means that the probe-and-drogue refueling system  has been tested and certified  in an air-to-air refuelling mission.

The F-35B Lighting II navy fleet will replace the ageing “jump jets” AV-8B Harrier II+ now in service with the “Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati” based in Grottaglie air base in south Italy.

The refueling system available for the STOVL stealth 5th generation jet and US Navy “C” model is different  from the Conventional F-35A in service. While F-35B and “C” use the probe-and-drogue refueling method, the F-35A in service with Italian Air Force (and the other countries that have this variant)  can be refueled through the flying boom.

The flight with the new marks and a for sure an Italian Navy pilot aboard had an Italian Air Force Eurofighter F-2000A Typhoon as chase plane and had the usual short landing and hovering tests to complete certification.

The Probe-and-drogue system  employs a flexible hose that trails from the tanker aircraft. The drogue, also called  basket, is a fitting resembling a shuttlecock, attached at its narrow end. The drogue stabilizes the hose in flight and provides a funnel to aid insertion of the receiver aircraft probe into the hose.

The receiver has a probe, which is a rigid, protruding or pivoted retractable arm placed on the aircraft’s fuselage to make the connection. The Flying boom is a rigid, telescoping tube with movable flight control surfaces that a boom operator on the tanker aircraft extends and inserts into a receptacle on the receiving aircraft.

All boom-equipped tankers (e.g. KC-135 Stratotanker, KC-10 Extender and KC-767) have a single boom, and can refuel one aircraft at a time with this mechanism. Italian Air Force has in service the Boeing KC-767A equipped with both systems and some Lockheed Martin KC-130J Hercules II that can be equipped with Probe-and-drogue system only.

Primo F-35B della Marina Militare Italiana

Primo F-35B della Marina Militare Italiana

Primo F-35B della Marina Militare Italiana

Before landing, the F-35B, completed the hovering certification granted by the advanced Rolls Royce Lift System and the rotated Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, the most powerful turbofan in service in the world.

The second STOVL aircraft (BL-2)  is currently in production and it is expected to be delivered at the end of the year meanwhile F-35B BL-1 will be delivered to Italian Navy within end of January before flying to NAS Patuxent River, MD for electromagnetical certications.

Photo credits: Donato Tornotti, Giovanni Clemente, Almos Castellazzi