The maneuver represents a turning point in the maintenance and adaptation work that will, after ten years of active service, allow the ship to adapt to the standards for the F-35B fighter jet which will replace the current fleet of AV-8B Harrier II SVTOL aircraft.
Since WW2, the Cavour, with its 27,000 tons, is the largest ship to enter the « Edgardo Ferrati » dry dock. The delicate maneuver, from the entry phase to the emptying and positioning of the ship, lasted about 17 hours and involved not only the Cavour crew, but also the civilian and military personnel of the Maritime Military Arsenal.
The maneuver started at 06.00 and was conducted in two stages: a first phase, during the morning, during which the aircraft carrier moved to enter the basin, and a second phase, managed by the staff of the Arsenal, for emptying the basin and precision positioning on the notches. Divers of the S.D.A.I (Sminazione Difesa Antimezzi Insidiosi) of the COMSUBIN elite force also contributed to the safety of the ship.
In the coming months, some of the most important technical interventions will be carried out on board the aircraft, including the careening and metallization of the flight deck, necessary to limit the thermodynamic impacts when the F-35B will take off and land.
In the spring of 2020, the Cavour aircraft carrier will face a preparatory training period for the next departure for the United States in the summer of the same year, where it will conduct some tests with the F-35B aircraft on board. These activities will represent the first important steps for achieving the Initial Operational Capacity of the aircraft carrier with its renewed Italian Navy Aviation capability.
The Cavour upgrade phase started a month after the second Italian Navy’s F35B – individual registration code 4-02 – took off from the Cameri (Novara) Final Assembly and Check Out plant FACO to make its flight to the United States. The aircraft final destination is MCAS Beaufort, in South Carolina, where the aircraft will join the first F-35B (4-01) in supporting the training of the F-35B Italian pilots and technicians.
The third F-35B – already at an advanced stage of assembly at Cameri – will be transferred as well to MCAS Beaufort in support of the training of the Italian F-35B personnel. The first acceptance flights have been scheduled to be performed in late summer and delivered in autumn. The initial training programme of the Italian personnel in the US will include, starting from July, approximately 18 months of flight and aircraft maintenance activities with Marine support staff. The Italian Navy ordered a total of 15 F-35B fighter jets. The Italian Air Force has the same amount on order (in addition to about 60 F-35A models).