The first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II destined for the Aeronautica Militare's (AM, Italian Air Force's) 6º Stormo (6th Wing) 'Diavoli Rossi (Red Devils)' landed at Ghedi Air Base in Northern Italy on June 16.
The aircraft (serial MM7366, code '6-01') touched down on Ghedi’s runway and was welcomed by a variety of high-ranking personnel. This included Gen Francesco Dress, the commander of the 1st Region Air and Combat Forces Command of Milan, and Col Giacomo Lacaita, the commander of the 'Red Devils'.
After its arrival ceremony, the aircraft returned to Amendola Air Base in southern Italy, home to 14 of the 16-strong Italian F-35A fleet and 13º Gruppo, the first unit to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with the F-35A in the European continent.
The other two Italian F-35As are currently in the US for pilot training. Tail 6-01 will permanently return to Ghedi for official use with 6th Stormo personnel, but the exact date remains unknown.
The F-35A is destined to replace the AM's fleet of Tornado IDS/ECR ground attack/strike aircraft, which are currently operated by three units at Ghedi: 102º Gruppo serves Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) of the Tornado fleet, while 154º Gruppo employs the Tornado IDS (Interdictor/Strike) and 155º Gruppo flies the Tornado ECR (Electronic Combat Reconnaissance) variants, respectively. It is believed that the F-35A will completely take over responsibility for the air-to-ground role the Tornado currently serves, following the latter's retirement.
Speaking at the ceremony, Gen Alberto Biavati, the commander of Air Force Command Rome, said: “We have had the opportunity to witness the first operational flight of the first F-35A with the insignia of the 6th Wing, which with its landing on the mother base demonstrated the achievement by the Department of the initial ability to support, operate and employ with its own personnel the fifth-generation F-35 aircraft."