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First Italian F-35 mission highlights partnerships

An Italian F-35 Lightning II pilot is met by a 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit Airman Nov. 5, 2015, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., after the pilot flew the first Italian F-35 training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ridge Shan)

An Italian F-35 Lightning II pilot is met by a 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit Airman Nov. 5, 2015, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., after the pilot flew the first Italian F-35 training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ridge Shan)

An Italian F-35 Lightning II pilot shakes the hand of Squadron Leader Nathan Draper, an Australian participant maintenance liaison officer, Nov. 5, 2015, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., after flying the first Italian F-35 training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ridge Shan)

An Italian F-35 Lightning II pilot shakes the hand of Squadron Leader Nathan Draper, an Australian participant maintenance liaison officer, Nov. 5, 2015, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., after flying the first Italian F-35 training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ridge Shan)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFNS) -- Two Italian pilots completed their initial F-35 Lightning II training flights Nov. 5 at Luke Air Force Base, marking the first F-35 flights under control of Italian pilots.

The flights were also another significant step forward in the F-35 program as they showcased the full partnership aspect of F-35 operations at Luke AFB. One Italian flew his mission in an Australian F-35 with an Air Force Reserve ground instructor on the headset. In addition, the maintenance team was composed of Lockheed Martin contractors and an Australian maintenance liaison officer.

Two U.S. instructor pilots from the 61st Fighter Squadron flew alongside the Italians, guiding them through their first flights.

"This has been a big day for the 61st, for Luke AFB, and for the F-35 program," said Lt. Col. Michael Gette, the 61st Fighter Squadron commander. "Every aspect of today's operation was a multinational effort. It was a great example of how all the partner nations are cooperating to make this program a reality and shows how Luke AFB is becoming the international training hub for the F-35."

The international partnerships were on further display as two U.S. student pilots took their first flights as well, one guided by a U.S. instructor pilot and the other by an Australian.

"It is great from an Australian partner perspective to be contributing to the outcome of training F-35 aircrew," said Squadron Leader Nathan Draper, an Australian participant maintenance liaison officer. "To see (a U.S. Air Force instructor pilot) alongside an Aussie jet, with an Italian partner getting his first flight is seeing the vision for the program come to fruition. It is a great day for the F-35 and a big milestone for our team."

The pilots began the academic training phase Sept. 21, which involved approximately 90 days of classroom and simulator instruction under the supervision of the 56th Training Squadron before the pilots could step into the jet.

"New pilots will be trained in an environment where they learn how to work seamlessly with other nations both from a practical standpoint and a tactical basis," an Italian pilot said. "Future students coming through the course will be able to fly on many different tails, so it is a perfect integration."

When the Italian pilots return home, they will be equipped to help develop the training programs of their own air forces and will help pioneer the next generation of global F-35 pilots.

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