HomeNewsArticle Display

Italian F-35s train at Aviano, strengthening partnerships

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.

An Italian air force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, taxis while a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off during Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.

An Italian air force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, prepares to land at Aviano Air Base, Italy, during Astral Knight 2021 Exercise (AK21), May 21, 2021. For the first time, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21, May 20, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Willson, 419th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-35 Lightning II crew chief, pulls wheel chocks from an Italian air force (ITAF) F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, during Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. The 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and various other U.S. Air Force maintenance squadrons conducted hot-pit operations and cross-servicing with two ITAF F-35s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.

An Italian air force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, taxis while participating in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. The aircraft that participated in AK21 include the U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle, HH-60 Pave Hawk and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, Italian air force F-35 Lightning II aircraft, Hellenic air force F-16 and Emb-145 Erieye aircraft, and Croatian air force MiG-21 BisD/UMD aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.

An Italian air force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, lands at Aviano Air Base, Italy, during Astral Knight 2021 (AK21), May 21, 2021. Two F-35s participated in AK21, which is an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on defending key terrain, involving service members from Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Slovenia and the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Willson, 419th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-35 Lightning II crew chief, uses an infrared gun during a hot brake check for an Italian air force F-35A Lighting II assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, during Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. The infrared gun checks if the F-35’s brakes are less than 750 degrees Fahrenheit and safe to enter the hot pit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.

Airmen from the 31st Fighter Wing Airmen train with an Italian air force (ITAF) member on F-35 Lightning II procedures during Astral Knight 2021 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. The members trained on topics such as petroleum, oil and lubricant processes and fire and egress procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.

Tech. Sgt. Tanner Isom, 33rd Maintenance Group F-35 Lightning II crew chief, salutes and Italian air force F-35 pilot during Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. Two F-35s assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, were crossed-serviced during AK21, an integrated air and missile defense exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.

An Italian air force F-35A Lightning II pilot assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, participating in Astral Knight 2021 taxis at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. Amendola Air Base is a military airfield of the ITAF, home of the 32nd Wing, and now the main base for Italy’s F-35 program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 10 of 13

‘Decker,’ Italian air force 13th Squadron commander, second from right, and ITAF Lt. Col. Riccardo Isoli, Comando Aeroporto Aviano chief of operations, second from left, and U.S. Air Force pilots pose for a photo in front of an ITAF F-35A Lightning II at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. Two F-35s assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, participated in Astral Knight 2021, an integrated air and missile defense exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 11 of 13

U.S. Air Force Staff. Sgt. Michael Huegi, 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-35 Lightning II crew chief, prepares to perform ‘hot-pit’ operations on Italian air force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, during Astral Knight 2021 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. ‘Hot-pit’ procedures include interoperation servicing and refueling an aircraft while the engine is running, allowing it to quickly return to a mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 12 of 13

An Italian air force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, is refueled during a hot-pit refueling session during Astral Knight 2021 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. Hot-pit refueling allows aircrew to land and keep their engines running while they refuel, before taking off to continue the next leg of their respective missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

For the first time ever, two F-35s landed at Aviano in support of AK21 May 20, 2021.
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 13 of 13

U.S. Air Force and Italian air force members work together to inspect an ITAF F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, after a hot-pit refueling session at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 21, 2021. Two ITAF F-35s participated in Astral Knight 2021, an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on defending key terrain, involving service members from Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Slovenia and the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Aviano Air Base, Italy – --

For the first time ever, two Italian air force F-35 Lightning IIs, assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, landed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 20-21, in support of Astral Knight 2021.

AK21 is an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on defending key terrain, involving service members from Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Slovenia and the United States.

This year ITAF F-35 pilots, who also participated in Astral Knight 2019, played the role of “allies” during AK21.

“I was flying in AK19 with the [ITAF] squadron and a [U.S. F-35s] with my former students over the Adriatic Sea,” said ‘Decker,’ ITAF 13th Squadron commander. “I felt at home in a perfect comfort zone, sharing plans is a strength for conducting operations.”

During this multinational exercise, they had the opportunity to strengthen and improve communication, partnerships and operational capabilities.

“The opportunity to put together activities, efforts and experiences is one of the added values of this [exercise],” said Decker. “It give us the chance to operate together in a harmonized scenario that satisfies the needs from all the players.”

While at Aviano, eleven F-35 crew chiefs from Hill, Eglin, Eielson and Luke Air Force Bases performed cross-service actions on the ITAF F-35s.

“We started off with hot-pit refueling and interoperation servicing (IOS),” U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Drace Bertrand, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-35 crew chief. “We had ITAF members here with us, just in case anything went wrong. We then sent the jet up to perform another mission after the IOS.”

Hot-pit refueling allows aircrew to land and keep their engines running while they refuel, before taking off to continue the next leg of their respective missions.

Bertrand said performing cross-servicing procedures on ITAF F-35s strengthens partnerships because it helps build trust among partner nations.

The experience gained during AK21 prepares allies and partners for potential operations in support of NATO and other multinational contingencies around the globe.

“The current program of record shows European nations’ F-35 inventories outnumbering US F-35s based in Europe by almost 10 to one,” said Chief Master Sgt. Derek Conrad, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa 5th-generation integration team maintenance and logistics liaison. “European nations would have 10 times as many F-35s as the U.S. does in Europe. That's why we're taking great steps now to learn how to interoperate with partners. That’s what this is all about.”

Decker, one of the first two ITAF instructor pilots who trained on the F-35 in 2016, spoke on the F-35’s capability for interoperability with older aircraft such as F-16 Fighting Falcons during AK21.

“The Italian air force is strongly focused on the integration activity between 4th and 5th-generation aircraft, with a particular focus on the ways in which systems, including the fundamental chain of command and control, are able to interact, communicate, integrate and help each other,” said Decker.

AK21 builds upon nations’ joint capabilities, ensuring enhanced interoperability. Decker said he has high expectations for future Astral Knight exercises.

“The more exercises like [AK21] that are in place, the more partnerships will strengthen and the more we become a unified force ready to carry out the assigned tasks for the protection of NATO airspace,” said Decker.