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PICTURES: Italy's last F-16s returned to USA

A last flight of Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters to have been operated by the Italian air force touched down in Tucson, Arizona, on 1 June, marking the end of a "Peace Caesar" lease deal with the USA.

Five single-seat F-16As and one twin-seat trainer from the Italian air force's 37th Wing left its Trapani-Birgi air base in Sicily on 28 May, before making a longer-than-scheduled stop in the Azores due to inclement weather conditions. The formation was accompanied by one of the service's Lockheed C-130Js for search and rescue cover and by a US tanker on the journey.

 

Italian air force Troupe Azzurra

Signed in March 2001 using the USA's Foreign Military Sales funding mechanism, the lease agreement covered the provision of 30 F-16As and four B-model trainers for an expected 45,000 flying hours to be logged between 2003 and 2010.

Based in Trapani-Birgi and at Cervia air base, the aircraft covered the gap between the retirement of Italy's last Lockheed F-104 Starfighters and the operational availability of the Eurofighter Typhoon.

In 2009 the deal was extended until mid-2012 and a maximum 47,800h at no additional cost to the Italian defence ministry.

 

Italian air force Troupe Azzurra

In addition to defending Italian airspace from December 2003, some of the nation's leased F-16s were employed in air policing services during last year's NATO-led Operation Unified Protector campaign to protect Libyan civilians.

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