Italian aircraft carrier comes to Norfolk to train for new F-35B aircraft
By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: February 13, 2021
(Tribune News Service) — Naval Station Norfolk said “ciao!” to Italy’s ITS Cavour aircraft carrier on Saturday.
The ship arrived during the cold and rainy day for what’s expected to a be a several-weeks stay to ensure it can safely launch and land F-35B jets, short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft, on its flight deck.
“Supporting our Italian allies in certification of their aircraft carrier increases our collective experience in safety and combat abilities,” said Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, Commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet in a statement Saturday. “We are stronger together.”
Before arriving, the carrier was met in the Atlantic Ocean by the crew of the Norfolk-based USS Stout destroyer to conduct three days of exercises with help from the Virginia Beach-based Carrier Air Wing 7 and Jacksonville, Florida-based Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 11, activities the Italian Navy posted about on its Facebook page.
“We consider a real privilege having the opportunity to sail and exercise alongside our closest allies and friends,” said Capt. Giancarlo Ciappina, commanding officer of ITS Cavour in a statement.
Crew of the USS John C. Stennis is coordinating all pier services for the carrier while it’s at Naval Station Norfolk, according to the Navy. A team of about 200 people who are a part of the F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, including test pilots and engineers, will be on board to conduct flight testing. Defense News reported in October that the carrier was originally planning to dock at Maryland’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River but the pandemic pushed the schedule back.
The size of the ITS Cavour’s crew upon arrival was not available. A public affairs officer for the U.S. 2nd Fleet said the crew is expected to stay on board the ship during the duration of the testing because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
The testing is part of Italy’s required “Ready for Operations” certification. The Italian Navy has bought 15 F-35B aircraft and the carrier is expected to get its first in April, according to reporting by Naval News. The site quoted Captain Gianfranco Vizzini noting that the carrier’s crew would spend six weeks training to become qualified for the F-35Bs.
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