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Italian Navy aircraft carrier ITS Cavour arrives at US Naval Station Norfolk to conduct F-35B qualification training

According to information published by the U.S. Navy on February 13, 2021, the Italian Navy flagship, the aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550), arrived at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. on February 13, 2021, for a series of operations alongside U.S. military assets to attain the Italian Navy’s “Ready for Operations” certification to safely land and launch F-35B aircraft.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 U.S. Sailors, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), greet the Italian Navy flagship, aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550), as it arrives at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, February 13, 2021.  (Picture source U.S. DoD)

While in the Western Atlantic, Cavour will be embarked by an F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) test team to conduct sea trials, a series of tests and functional activities to create a safe flight operating envelope for the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the 5th generation aircraft aboard the recently upgraded ship.

This carrier-based flight test and other actions with U.S. 2nd Fleet ships and aircraft improve interoperability and strengthen the relationship between the two NATO Allies.

While crossing the Atlantic from Italy, ITS Cavour was met by the Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Stout (DDG 55) and conducted a three-day interoperability exercise with support from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 and Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing (CPRW) 11. Specific events included integrated ship maneuvering, low-slow-flyer detect-to-engage, anti-surface warfare serials with P-8 participation, air defense/air intercept control event with F/A-18 participation, and C5I interoperability events in the Western Atlantic 10-12 February 2021. 

In January 2021, U.S. pilots with the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron TWO THREE (VX-23), have conducted day-into-night training in an F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant aircraft from the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., Wednesday. These workup testing and training flights were integral to preparing pilots for the ITF test team’s detachment to the Italian Navy aircraft carrier Cavour scheduled between February and March 2021.

The F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) team from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. (NAS PAX River) comprises almost 200 people with the engineering and test pilot expertise and experience to conduct F-35B envelope expansion flight test, two specially instrumented developmental flight test aircraft, and support equipment.

The Cavour is an aircraft carrier in service with the Italian Navy launched in 2004. The ship was laid down by the Italian company Fincantieri in June 2001 and launched on July 2004. The ship was designed to combine fixed wing V/STOL (Vertical and/or Short Take-Off and Landing) and helicopter air operations, command and control operations, and the transport of military or civil personnel and heavy vehicles. In December 2018, the Italian aircraft carrier undergoes a modernization plan including a metallic reinforcement of the flight deck to withstand the thermodynamic impact of the F-35B aircraft. The ship is able to carry ten F-35Bs in the hangar, and six more parked on deck.

Italy plans to buy a total of 90 f-35 fighter jets. Since June 2020, Italy has currently taken delivery of 15 F-35 aircraft including 12 F-35A’s and three F-35B’s. The F-35B Lightning II is the Take-off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 and features a vertical lift fan and pivoting engine nozzle to deliver vertical landing and short takeoff capability to expeditionary airfields. The fighter can be used on an aircraft carrier as well as landing helicopter assault (LHA) type amphibious assault ships.