ROME — The first F-35 flight outside the US took place Monday at Italy's Cameri Air Base, where Italy's Joint Strike Fighters are being assembled.

The aircraft, known as AL-1, made a one hour, 22 minute flight after rolling off the Cameri Final Assembly and Check Out line, which is owned by the Italian government and operated by Italy's Alenia Aermacchi and Lockheed Martin.

"As expected, the jet performed exceptionally well and without any surprises," said Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill "Gigs" Gigliotti, who piloted the aircraft.

The aircraft will be delivered by year-end. Before entering service with the Italian Air Force, AL-1, will fly across the Atlantic at the start of 2016 to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where Italian pilots will start training.

The FACO line at Cameri is the only one of its kind outside the US and will also serve as a maintenance hub for European based JSFs after being designated for the role by the Pentagon last year.

AL-1, the first of Italy's currently planned 90 JSFs, came off the line in March and its engines were turned on for the first time in June.

In June, a Lockheed Martin official said the first flight would be in the first half of October, meaning the schedule has been pushed up by a month. The official said in June that AL-1 was due to make six test flights before official delivery takes place.

Italy has so far ordered eight F-35 A's, including three from Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) 6, three from LRIP 7 and two from LRIP 8, and has said it will order 38 by 2020.

Italy's first six F-35As are scheduled to be delivered by October 2016. Four more will be delivered in 2017, four in 2018, seven in 2019 and 13 in 2020.

In 2019, the line will produce its first Dutch JSFs, the result of an Italian-Dutch deal under which eight of the 13 aircraft produced in 2020 at Cameri will be Dutch.


Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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