Tag Archives: Cameri

Roll out: first F-35B produced outside US

The first F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant to be produced outside the US, was rolled out in a ceremony at the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy, on Friday. The aircraft is one of 30 F-35B variants purchased by Italy for use by both its navy and air force.

Related reading: Inside the F-35 FACO in Cameri, Italy. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Cameri is one of three final assembly locations for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, the others being in Nagoya, Japan, and Forth Worth in the US. The latter so far was the only one to also produce the F-35B variant, which in the US is operated by the United States Marine Corps (USMC).

Italy has ordered the STOVL F-35 along with 60 conventional take off F-35A models. Seven of those have so far been delivered, with four in use in the US for pilot training. The remaining three are based at Amendola airbase in Italy, ffrom where they have already chalked up 100 flight hours.

The first Italian-made F-35B should perform its first flight in August and delivery is scheduled in November. After a series of confidence flights, an Italian pilot will fly their first F-35B jet to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, early in 2018 to conduct required Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification. The next Italian F-35B aircraft is scheduled for delivery in November 2018

The Cameri FACO should also deliver two more F-35As to Italy this year; one in July and one later in 2017. The FACO is run by Leonardo Aircraft.

 

F-35 arrives in Israel

On the same day that saw US president-elect Donald Trump take a swing at the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II for being too expensive, Israel took delivery of its very first two jets. Both arrived at Nevatim airbase following a flight that saw stopovers in the Azores and Italy.

The Israeli jets are among the first to be based anywhere outside the US. Crewed by US pilots, both F-35I Adir (Hebrew for ‘mighty one’) jets on Monday flew to Israel after leaving the F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Italy. Airheadsfly.com had the rare opportunity to visit this facility last October.

Last week, both jets arrived at the FACO after a transatlantic flight that saw a stop over in Lajes on the Azores. The visit to the FACO was a surprise move, especially since the Israelis have said that all future maintenance on the Adir will be done in-country. Nevertheless, the FACO in Italy offers maintenance and upgrade facilities for F-35 jets.

Israeli pilots will fly the new aircraft for the first time this week. In 2018, the Israeli Air Force will put them into service. The country now has 50 jets on order.

The arrival of the advanced jet was overshadowed by Trump’s announcement that the F-35’s program costs are ‘out of control’ just hours before. His tweet – that also vaguely hints at cutting those costs – saw Lockheed Martin stocks take a plunge straightaway. Most recent estimates say the total program costs are now around 376 billion USD.

Trump’s targetting of the F-35 comes only a few weeks after another blow to the program, which was Canada’s postponement of a purchase by selecting the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for now.

Exclusive: spotlight on F-35 production in Italy

In an enormous rectangular building in Cameri, Italy, a group of people swarms over the grey object that among them is known as AL-5. To others, it is known as the fifth Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II for the Italian Air Force. But judging by the language used, it’s not Italians who seem to turn AL-5 inside out. They are Americans, employed by Lockheed Martin and the US Department of Defense (DoD). And their job at hand is quality inspection of a factory fresh, Italian-made F-35 Lightning II.

An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
Related reading: F-35 takes a hit – from Canada. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Airheadsfly.com’s recently paid a very exclusive visit to the rather secretive F-35’s Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, which is run by Leonardo Aircraft and which rolled out its first F-35 in March 2015. The FACO is the result of extensive negotiations involving Italy, the US, Lockheed Martin and Leonardo Aircraft prior to 2010.

Development of the site started as soon as the ink was put on the contract. When epxloring the facility, it is hard to image that this 22-building, one million square feet complex was raised from the ground up in just three years. It is one of only three F-35 final assembly lines in the world, the others being Lockheed Martin’s production plant in Forth Worth, Texas, and Mitsubishi’s FACO in Nagoya, Japan.

Cameri sees final assembly of F-35A and B models for Italy, plus  F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) in the future. Other potential customers  may follow as well. “So far, we have completed delivery of four jets to the Italian Air Force, and we’re getting ready to hand over AL-5 as well. The first four were flown to the US for pilot training, but the fifth will stay in Italy. It will be delivered to the 32nd Stormo (wing) at Amendola airbase soon”, says brigadier-general Giuseppe Lupoli, F-35 FACO program manager on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Defense.

(Image © Airheadsfly.com)
Work in progress on an F-35A for the Italian Air Force. Visible in the background is the first F-35B to be produced in Cameri. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)
An F-35A takes shape in one of 11 assembly docks in the Cameri FACO. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)
An F-35A takes shape in one of 11 assembly docks in the Cameri FACO. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Assembly

Situated in the center of the FACO is the assembly hall. It covers eleven assembly bays, in one of which Leonardo Aircraft employees now crawl under and over AL-8, the final aircraft of an initial order of eight F-35s from Italy. The same hall also covers five bays for future maintenace, repair and overhaul works on the Lightning II.

Whereas in Fort Worth the hugely expensive 5th generation fighter jets are manufactured on a moving production line, in Cameri an F-35 stays in a specific assembly bay for the whole build process, with parts being brought to the jet. “Our bay approach is certified by Lockheed Martin and elements of it have even been introduced in Fort Worth”, says Lupoli. At full speed, the Cameri FACO is said to be capable of delivering two new jets per month.

The first F-35 Lightning II from the assembly line in Italy (Image © Larry Bramblett / Lockheed Martin)
The first Cameri-built F-35 Lightning II was rolled out in March 2015.  (Image © Larry Bramblett / Lockheed Martin)

First F-35B

For now, production rate is not anywhere remotely near that. Most assembly bays remain unused and empty while awaiting a formal procurement decision from Rome. The exact numbers are debated for a considerable time already in Italy, but the country  currently is eyeing 52 more F-35As for its air force, plus 30 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variants to be used by both navy and air force.  Meanwhile, the FACO understandably needs to keep the production flow going. Lupoli: “Because of long lead times, we are indeed moving ahead with production of parts for the next batch of jets.” Indeed, during Airheadsfly.com’s visit the first Italian F-35B was seen in final assembly, along with more A-models for the air force.

Dutch jets

Also, 2019 will see production of the first F-35s for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The RNLAF has for several years been performing operational test and evaluation (OT&E) with its first two Lightnings in the US and should initially see delivery of six more from Fort Worth. The remaining 29 out of 37 aircraft ordered are to be assembled in Cameri.

(Image © Airheadsfly.com)
In Cameri, F-35s also receive their stealthy coating. Here, a full scale mock up is used to test the FACO’s associated installation. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Quality

In the Netherlands some concerns were raised over the fact that a 90 million USD aircraft designed and ordered in the US, is to be manufactured in an Italian factory. Those concerns were mainly about quality control…. and that’s were those Americans swarming over AL-5 come in. Not one F-35 leaves this FACO without a US pilot test flying it and without personnel from both Lockheed Martin and US DoD performing an inspection that easily lasts a couple of days. Pieces of blue tape on AL-5’s stealthy coating mark the spots that apparently are not up to standard.

Although their number has been greatly reduced since production got underway, the presence of US personnel in Italy comes as no surprise given the sensitive nature of the F-35. Lupoli: “Even with an aircraft destined for the Italian Air Force, we first hand it over to US DoD personnel for inspection and acceptance. Only then does US DoD hand it back  to our own air force. By doing so, quality control here in Cameri is totally in line with the US standard.”

(Image © Airheadsfly.com)
US personnel inspects AL-5 before acceptance. Only then will US DoD hand the aircraft over to its customer, being the Italian Air Force. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Wings

Apart from complete jets, the FACO also produces full wing sets for use in Fort Worth, with a maximum capacity of 72 sets per year. Quality control is equally strict here. Experts check each wing before it is ‘closed’, which means the upper skin is joined with the lower skin, making components inside unreachable without extensive repair jobs. Recently, faulty insulation on piping inside the wing forced Lockheed Martin to do exactly that kind of work on dozens of F-35s. According to the Italians, the problem was not found on Cameri-made wings.

The work done is testimony of the skills acquired by Leonardo Aircraft employees in just a few years’ time. In total, F-35 works in Cameri should generate an estimated 6,000 Italian jobs and add 15.8 billion USD to the Italian economy.

Lifespan
The Cameri site is projected to be in operation for at least forty years, during which focus will shift more and more to maintance, repair and overhaul of European. Lupoli: “Over the next 15 years, we expect to reduce the number of assembly bays and turn those into additional bays for F-35 maintenance.”

That’s no surpise, given the fact that Cameri back in 2014 was appointed as  the sole provider of heavy F-35 airframe maintenance in Europe. But to maintain one of the world’s most advanced and expensive military jets, this facility will first have to build them. To a passing visitor such as Airheadsfly.com, it seems the FACO is ready to fill those empty assembly bays and do exactly that. It seems ready to fulfill its projected contribution to the Italian economy as well as European defense needs. All it needs, are more actual F-35s to build.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A view of F-35 production in Cameri. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

The first F-35A for the Italian Air Force takes off from Cameri FACO (Image © Todd McQueen, Lockheed Martin
The first F-35A for the Italian Air Force took off from Cameri  in September 2015. (Image © Todd McQueen, Lockheed Martin)

First Atlantic crossing for F-35

UPDATED 6 February | The first Italian-made F-35A Lightning II is all set to start the type’s first ever Transatlantic flight to the US on Tuesday 2 February, sources in Italy confirm. A Boeing KC-767 tanker aircraft and a two seater Eurofighter Typhoon accompany the brand new fighter aircraft on its way, which includes a stop over at Lajes airbase in the Azores.

Update | The flight was delayed on 2 February due to weather. The F-35 left Italy on Wednesday 3 February and arrived in Lajes, Portugal, later in the day. A picture of the aircraft in Lajes is here. The F-35 and accompanying aircraft finally arrived at Patuxent River in the US on Friday 5 February.

An F-35A in its natural element. (Image © Frank Crébas/ Bluelifeaviation.com)
Related reading: Dutch Lightning testers. (Image © Frank Crébas/ Bluelifeaviation.com)

Subject to weather, the aircraft leaves Cameri and joins up with the tanker aircraft and Typhoon for the flight. The F-35 was produced at Cameri by FNM Aeronautics under the watchful eye of Lockheed Martin, first flew on 7 September 2015 and was then delivered to the Italian Air Force on 3 December 2015. It was the very first F-35 to be produced outside the US.

Pilots

An Italian Air Force pilot from the test squadron at Pratica di Mare will fly the F-35 on its flight over Atlantic, the very first of this kind for the new generation stealth aircraft. In the backseat of the Typhoon will be another Italian F-35 pilot. The flight to Lajes is expected to take 4.5 hours. Air-to-air refueling with the KC-767 was validated last year in the US.

The F-35 performed trials with the KC-767 tanker last year in preparation for the Atlantic crossing. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
The F-35 performed trials with the KC-767 tanker last year in preparation for the Atlantic crossing. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Tests and training

After the stop over in Lajes, another 6.5 hour flight takes the F-35 and two accompanying aircraft to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in the US. The F-35 will then remain there for six weeks for tests, before finally moving on to Luke Air Force Base. Here, the aircraft wil be used to train Italian pilots.

The second Italian made F-35 is now performing test flights at Cameri and will be among four more Italian aircraft to follow the same route later this year. By the end of 2016, the sixth aircraft produced in Cameri will be the first to remain in Italy. Cameri will also see production of Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) jets.

Italy formally has eight F-35s on order and is still debating the final number of aircraft to be ordered. That number is expected to be 90, after dropping from 131 earlier.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: The first Italian built F-35 seen during its first flight in September. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Italy takes delivery of first F-35

Italy took delivery of its first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II on Thursday 3 December, three months after the aircraft became the first F-35 to be built and fly outside the US. The handover took place at Cameri airfield, home to the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility operated by aviation manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi.

Representatives from F-35 program partners such as the US, UK, Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Australia and Norway witnessed the delivery ceremony at Cameri. The purposely built Alenia Aermacchi factory accommodates both an F-35 production line and maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade facilities.

Transatlantic

The first Italian F-35 will fly to the US this February for training purposes at Luke Air Force Base, where the first Italian pilots recently flew US-owned F-35s. A Italian Air Force KC-767 tanker will support the F-35 on the transatlantic journey, the first ever for the type. Refueling between the Lightning II and KC-767 was tested last July in the US.

The first F-35 Lightning II from the assembly line in Italy (Image © Larry Bramblett / Lockheed Martin)
The first F-35 Lightning II from the assembly line in Italy (Image © Larry Bramblett / Lockheed Martin)

Countries

Italy is now the sixth country to own the F-35, following the US, UK, the Netherlands, Australia and Norway. The latter recently received its first two aircraft and flew them to Luke for training purposes as well.

The Australian aircraft are at Luke as well, while the two Dutch F-35s are to be found at Edwards airbase for operational test and evalution (OT&E). The British Lightning IIs are at Edwards also for tests.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: The first Italian built F-35 seen during its first flight in September. (Image © Lockheed Martin)