ITS Cavour Receives F-35B Flight Clearance Recommendation

The ITS Cavour docked at Naval Station Norfolk on March 27 following the successful completion of its F-35B sea trials, four weeks after the Italian Navy’s flagship departed the base to carry out the trials in the Atlantic. The carrier returns with a flight clearance recommendation from the F-35 Joint Program Office for the safe operation of F-35Bs.

The Cavour is brought into port at Naval Station Norfolk on March 27, following the successful completion of its F-35B sea trials.

The recommendation was given following the successful completion of five weeks of flight testing. According to the Italian Navy, over 50 F-35B missions were carried out through a variety of sea states and weather conditions, as well as a night operations session. The Joint Program Office stated that over 115 short takeoffs were performed using the Cavour’s upgraded ski jump, alongside 120 vertical landings and two vertical takeoffs. Analysis of data generated from these activities has provided information to both the United States Marine Corps and Italian Navy on how to safely conduct F-35B flight operations on the carrier.

F-35 test pilots U.S. Marine Maj. Brad Leeman, BF-05, and British Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. Barry Pilkington, BF-19, performs night lighting evaluation flights in F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variants of the jet aboard Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550) on March 7. U.S. Navy photo by Dane Wiedmann

“The (shipboard operating bulletin) is done. We provided the data and recommendations for a limited envelope, or sail home envelope, that will allow U.S. Marine Corps and Italian F-35B pilots to fly training workups aboard the ship,” said Ron Hess, F-35 Pax River ITF Basing and Ship Suitability (BASS) team lead aboard Cavour.

A U.S. F-35B Lightning II performs an aft-facing vertical landing aboard the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550) in the Atlantic Ocean March 15, 2021. U.S. Navy photo by Dane Wiedmann

Describing as “huge” what has been accomplished, Hess said that by April, flight clearance and airworthiness documents “should be in place” for a safe launch and recovery envelope. “They don’t have to wait weeks, months, and years” to have the capability to operate F-35Bs on the flight deck, Hess explained.

The Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) and the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550) transit the Atlantic Ocean March 20, 2021, marking the first time a Ford-class and Italian carrier have operated together underway. As part of the Italian Navy’s Ready for Operations (RFO) campaign for its flagship, Cavour is conducting sea trials in coordination with the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office’s Patuxent River Integrated Test Force to obtain official certification to safely operate the F-35B. Gerald R. Ford is conducting integrated carrier strike group operations during independent steaming event 17 as part of her post-delivery test and trials phase of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Riley McDowell)

“It’s amazing how ITS Cavour crew and the ITF team have reached, so rapidly, this level of synergy and integration with great professionalism and a strong common will to achieve the ambitious goal,” said Italian Navy Capt. Giancarlo Ciappina, commanding officer, ITS Cavour. 

“I am very grateful to each and every ITF team member as well as to each sailor of my crew for the great job done and for such tremendous achievement.

In this sense, I am very proud for the success of ITS Cavour’s “Ready for Operations” campaign: our allies will soon perceive the Italian Navy and the Italian Armed Forces as a whole, as enhanced cooperative partners thanks to the strategic enabler that the fifth generation aircraft carrier capability would represent, in either specific maritime or wider joint operations.”

Capt. Giancarlo Ciappina

Once the Cavour is formally declared to be “Ready for Operations” next month, its next milestone will be Initial Operating Capability with the F-35B, which is expected to be achieved by 2024.