Refurbished Italian Harrier returns home aboard USS Kearsarge

An Italian AV-8B Harrier hitched a ride home aboard Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) after six months of maintenance in the US.

The Italian aircraft, along with its flight crew, returned to Grottaglie Naval Base, Italy, on January 3, after the six months of scheduled maintenance at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and two weeks of final checks and training aboard Kearsarge.

Italian navy Lt. Domenico Iovino, the designated pilot, carefully tracked the maintenance from Italy and flew to Cherry Point a month prior to finish the renovations and safely return the Harrier home.

“This wasn’t my first time completing this mission,” Iovino said. “I’ve sailed on Kearsarge before, as well as Bataan and Iwo Jima. It’s a nice experience, with some learning points.”

Iovino explained it was critical to complete all of the maintenance before the aircraft was loaded onto the ship due to Kearsarge’s scheduled deployment.

“This particular maintenance must be completed prior to our preflight checks,” Iovino said. “The timeline is tight and we can’t leave the ship waiting, so we have to make sure the jet is ready.”

US Marine Corps 1st Lt. Jerett Fazendine, assistant maintenance aircraft officer assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264, was the liaison between the Italian Navy and the US Navy and Marine Corps team.

“We stored their aircraft on our flight line prior to departure,” said Fazendine. “Our maintainers assisted in getting their aircraft fueled and loaded with ordnance. Once the aircraft came out of Fleet Readiness Center, Cherry Point, it was our job to get it safely to the ship.”

The work done beforehand was a complete remodel of the Harrier.

The Harrier was brought in for a periodic maintenance inspection. First, the maintainers wrote up any discrepancies that may have occurred since its previous overhaul. Then the airframe was taken apart, to include removing the motor and wings. The entire aircraft was then updated with new hardware and software, to fit the Italians’ specifications.

“They basically break it down and rebuild it,” Fazendine said.

“They [the Italian crew] are subject matter experts on the entire aircraft,” Fazendine said. “They assisted us in avionics issues with our aircraft. It’s a good integration, seeing how other organizations operate since we don’t all operate the same. Working hand in hand you see different ways to conduct business. That’s the biggest take away for me.”

Kearsarge is deployed to the US 6th Fleet area of operations as part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. The group got underway from Norfolk on December 17, 2018.

Photo: An Italian Navy AV-8B Harrier takes off from the flight deck of USS Kearsarge (LHD 3). Photo: US Navy