Italian Navy aircraft carrier Cavour completes operational sea trials with F-35B fighter aircraft

The aircraft carrier Cavour, the flagship of the Italian Navy, returning to the port of Norfolk on March 26, 2021, after its complete sea trials for the operational use of the F-35B, the fifth-generation combat aircraft of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program with short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities, soon to be supplied to the Italian Navy to replace the AV8B-plus.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 The Italian Navy Cavour aircraft carrier has completed sea trials for the operational use of the F-35B fighter aircraft. (Picture source Italian Navy)

Lasting four weeks, the compatibility tests began with the departure from Norfolk on February 28th and the first landing of the F-35B on March 1,  This is a great milestone in the acquisition of the strategic capability of the new aircraft and will be followed by the "Initial Operational Capability" in 2024, and ultimately the "Final Operational Capability" that will coincide with the delivery of the last F-35B to the Italian Navy under the JSF program.

"We have completed all planned tests and are currently able to issue an Interim Flight Clearance (IFC), which will allow Cavour and its crew, together with US Marine Corps F35Bs to continue training. When we return to ‘Pax River’ we will carefully analyze the data collected and then we will be able to issue the final certification" - said Ron Hess, who works as the Basing and Ship Suitability (BASS) Team Leader for the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF). The ITF is a group of 180 people including engineers, researchers, test pilots, technicians and flight deck operators temporarily embarked on board Cavour – "Thanks to the cooperation and close collaboration with the teams of the aircraft carrier we were able to carry out the sea trials safely, effectively and smoothly".

During the sea trials, two F-35Bs of the Pax River ITF were embarked on Cavour and carried out more than 50 flight missions, in all conditions of weather and sea state, a night session, around 120 vertical landings, and as many short take-offs with the aid of the ski jump, and finally a vertical take-off test.

In fact, about 800 people took part in this important certification: the 580 crew members who departed Taranto at the end of January were joined in Norfolk by the ITF team, as well as the nucleus of Italian Navy personnel who operate the aircraft and are currently carrying out training at the US Marine base in Beaufort.

The aircraft carrier ITS Cavour is currently in the port of Norfolk in the United States where it will disembark the ITF personnel while completing the necessary preparation to undertake the last phases of the Ready for Operations campaign before returning to Italy.

The Cavour is an aircraft carrier in service with the Italian Navy launched in 2004. In May 2020, it was announced that following a 16-month complex overhaul and modernization, the Cavour aircraft carrier was ready to embark the fifth-generation F-35B and replaced the Sea Harrier, a naval V/STOL (vertical and/or short take-off and landing) jet fighter.

The modernized Cavour has now a hangar for ten F-35B and six more can be parked on the flight deck. The F-35B is the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35A aircraft. Similar in size to the A variant, the B sacrifices about a third of the A variant's fuel volume to accommodate the SDLF (Shaft Driven Lift Fan).

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