F-35Bs Begin Sea Trials Aboard ITS Cavour

F-35B to conduct ski jump and vertical landings at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland
Marine Corps Maj. Dylan "Bilbo" Nicholas, Pax River F-35 Integrated Test Force, pilots an F-35B to conduct ski jump and vertical landings at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, Feb. 9, 2021.

Two F-35B Lighting II jets landed aboard Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550) on Mar. 1, West Atlantic Ocean.

Test pilots flew the specially instrumented U.S. F-35Bs from Naval Air Station Patuxent River (NAS Pax River), Maryland, to the Italian Navy flagship, which got underway Sunday, February 28. The F-35B is the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the F-35.

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Italian Navy flagship, the aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550), arrives at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., Feb 13. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The pilots and aircraft join a test team of approximately 180 personnel from the NAS Pax River-based F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) embarked for up to four weeks of sea trials.

“Our team has trained extensively to prepare for this day, and I was honored to land one of the first two jets aboard Cavour,” said F-35B test pilot U.S. Marine Maj. Brad Leeman, the ITF test team project officer.

Maj. Leeman and two other pilots attached to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) at NAS Pax River, will fly the ITF jets during the flight test.

“The ITF plays a key role in the ship achieving carrier qualification in the near future,” Leeman said. “All of our hard work planning and training will ensure a successful sea trial and ultimately lead to Italy achieving the milestone of initial operating capability.”

Today’s milestone, or pietra miliare, was the landing of the F-35Bs aboard Cavour.

“It is a remarkable achievement for all of us, today, to see the fifth-generation fighter aircraft on our flight deck,” said ITS Cavour Commanding Officer Italian Navy Capt. Giancarlo Ciappina. “This represents, indeed, an outstanding success but, at the same time, a new challenge for the future of Italian Naval Aviation.”

“Each and every officer and the whole crew are very proud to work closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office test team during these sea trials, and we are very well prepared to do the hard work to equip ITS Cavour and the Italian Navy with the Joint Strike Fighter’s fifth-generation air combat capability,” Ciappina said.

With the pilots and jets on board, the test team will now collect data that will ultimately lead to the ship’s officers’ and crew’s ability to safely conduct carrier operations with Italy’s own F-35s.

“We are excited to be underway with the crew of Cavour and honored to contribute to the aircraft carrier achieving the Italian Navy’s strategic goal of it being ‘Ready for Operations,’” said Andrew Maack, F-35 Pax River ITF chief test engineer and site director. Maack is embarked with the team, whose members have the engineering and test pilot expertise and experience to conduct F-35B envelope expansion flight test. “We look forward to a phenomenally successful shipboard detachment,” he said.

Italian Navy’s Flagship ITS Cavour

Cavour  is an Italian aircraft carrier launched in 2004. She is the flagship of the Italian Navy. Cavour was laid down by Fincantieri in June 2001, and was launched from the Riva Trigoso shipyard in Sestri Levante, on 20 July 2004. Sea trials began in December 2006, and she was officially commissioned 27 March 2008. Full operational capability (FOC) was reached 10 June 2009.


Displacement:27,100 metric tons (26,700 long tons) (30,000 MT full load)
Length:244 m (800 ft 6 in) LOA
Beam:29.1 m (95 ft 6 in)
39 m (127 ft 11 in) (moulded breadth)
Draught:8.7 m (28 ft 7 in)
Speed:29+ knots (54 km/h; 33 mph)
Armament:4 × 8-cell A-43 Sylver launchers carrying the MBDA Aster 15 surface-to-air missile
2 × Oto Melara 76/62 mm Strales guns
3 × Oerlikon Contraves 25/80 mm Anti-aircraft guns
2 x ODLS-H/ODLS OTO Melara decoy launching systems
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ITS Cavour maneuvering in the Gulf of Naples. (Source: Wikipedia)