The Italian Air Force stole some of the Pentagon’s thunder last week when one of its F-35 Joint Strike Fighters made the aircraft’s first ever transatlantic flight.
Italy’s conventional takeoff and landing version of the aircraft, assembled in the country and dubbed AL-1, landed at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland on Feb. 5 after a 7-hour transatlantic flight from Portugal’s Lajes Air Base in the Azores. Flown by one of Italy’s two test pilots for the program, the plane refueled seven times on the trip.
The fighter, the first such jet built overseas, will spend a few months in Maryland undergoing tests before moving to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The Marine Corps’ version of the F-35 was supposed to cruise across the Atlantic in 2014 to make its international debut at the renowned Farnborough Airshow, but the engine of an Air Force F-35 variant caught fire shortly before the event and the entire F-35 fleet was temporarily grounded, ruining its coming out party.
U.S. and British F-35s are again preparing to trek the Atlantic to attend the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough this July, but thanks to Italy it’s now too late to be the first to make the ocean crossing.