As part of the effort, the U.S. Air Force has been conducting aerial refueling test flights over California with the Italian Air Force's KC-767 tanker, which is made by Boeing, and the F-35. The first tests were conducted in early August and are expected to continue for the next several weeks.
CNBC was invited aboard one of the Italian tanker's test certification flights last week and given a firsthand look at how the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is refueled. The tanker flew out of Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert, and once over the Pacific Ocean it lowered its boom to refuel the fighter. But a "technical glitch" described as "minor" led the Italian team to abort the test.
"The Italian Air Force is trying to become the first air force or first international tanker not contained in the U.S. inventory that is actually certified to refuel U.S. Air Force planes in the 70-year history of the U.S. Air Force," said Andrew Tayon, Boeing's project manager for KC-767 Tanker Support.
He said the tanker's full certification is "very, very close to being complete" and added that it was "incredibly significant because then it opens the door for not only the Italians but then the Japanese (owners of four additional KC-767 tankers) to hopefully begin refueling" of U.S. Air Force military aircraft.