Italian Blade 2015, the largest military rotary-wing exercise in Europe, underway at Viterbo, Italy.
More than 30 helicopters and 1000 military personnel from seven different countries are taking part in Italian Blade 2015, an exercise delivered by the Italian Army Aviation in Viterbo and supported by the EDA (European Defense Agency), about 80 km north of Rome.
Taking place from Jun. 22 June to Jul. 3, Italian Blade 2015 (IB15), the largest helicopter drills in Europe this year is the 8th rotary-wing exercise supported by the European Defence Agency under the umbrella of the Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP) whose aim is to maximise interoperability between all assets involved and share experience by flying and co-operating in conditions similar to those found in current and future operations.
The exercise involves helicopters in a joint/combined Task Force deployed in a friendly and recent pro-democracy state for a CSO (Crisis Response Operation). The main threat is represented by opposition from insurgent forces (Illegal Armed Group): a scenario reflecting military operations other-than-war (MOOTW).
The Helicopter Aviation Regiment Orbat (Order of battle) can count of the following assets:
Air Assault (AA), Special Operations Aviation (SOA), Combat Service Support (CSS), Close Air Support (CAS) including Urban CAS and Emergency CAS, Convoy/helicopter escorts, Reconnaissance and Security (R&S) operations, Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Personnel Recovery (PR), Military/Non Military extractions (NEO Ops), Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) and Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) are the types of missions flown by the Air Regiment in the assigned area of responsibility under the authority of a Regional Command.
Flying in the Hungarian Mi-17 Hip
On Jun. 25, The Aviationist had the opportunity to take part in an IB15 mission on board a Hungarian Mi-17 Hip.
The Hungarian Air Force operates a fleet of about 10 Russian-built Mil Mi-17 and Mi-8 Hip helicopters which the service plans to replace in the near future due to the lack of spare parts. While it finds a proper replacement, the Hip is still used for a variety of combat roles at home and abroad, and it is also used to support and assist the home station training of the airmen who are designated to perform air mentor duties in Afghanistan: the Afghan Air Force (AAF) flies the Mi-17 transport helicopters and Hungary supports them with an Mi-17 Air Mentoring Team (AMT), based at Shindand, Herat Province, that provides classroom instruction and on-the-job training for the Afghan helicopter aircrews as part of the Italian–Hungarian Mi-17 Air Advisory Team.
During the IB15, the Russian chopper, from 86th Szolnok Helicopter Base, was tasked with a high altitude Personnel Recovery mission along with two Austrian AB-212s.
The area of operations was Monte Terminillo, a massif with the highest altitude of 2,217 metres, located about 100 km from Rome, where the Mi-17 performed several mountain landings.
The 1,5 hour sortie gave our photographers Giovanni Maduli and Alessandro Borsetti the opportunity to take some interesting shots of the Hip and its old-styled cockpit.
Interestingly, air conditioning in the Mi-17 is supplemented by mini-fans installed in front of the pilots.
Although it is quite obsolete, the Mi-17 remains one of the most successful and interesting choppers in service with the air arms of several countries all around the world: for instance, Syria makes an extensive use of the Hip as a gunship or transport helicopter and one of the Syrian Arab Air Force Mi-17s made the news when it was shot down by a Turkish Air Force F-16 in September 2013.
Here below is a short clip filmed during the sortie:
Image credit: Giovanni Maduli and Alessandro Borsetti.
The Italian Air Force is about to take the first AgustaWestland HH-101A Caesar on charge.
On Jun. 19, the Italian Air Force presented its first AgustaWestland HH-101A Caesar helicopter (a military variant of the AW.101) to the press at Cervia airbase, home of 1st Brigata Aerea Operazioni Speciali (Special Operation Air Brigade).
Pierpaolo Maglio was there to report about the event for The Aviationist and take the interesting photographs you can find in this post.
As Maglio reports, the first Caesar, coded 15-03 (still carrying the experimental serial number CSX 81866, that will become M.M. 81866 as soon as the airframe is formally assigned to the Italian Air force) flew from the UK to Cervia with a mixed crew of 2 AgustaWestland pilots and 4 Italian Air Force crew members whose training is going to be over in the next few weeks.
The roomy cargo bay was almost void with just 5 seats installed for the journey.
The Italian Air Force has ordered 12 HH-101As with an option for 3 more examples. The aircraft will be assigned to 21° Gruppo (Squadron), currently flying the AB.212 at Grazzanise airbase. The “Tiger” squadron of the Italian Air Force will be assigned to 15° Stormo and based at Cervia, where new facilities to host the unit are being built.
Later on, a detachment will also be established at Trapani airbase in Sicily.
According to Maglio, the Commander of 15th Stormo, Col. Massimetti, said that CaeSAR is simply the perfect machine to fill the gap left in the heavy SAR role by the retirement of the old HH-3F on September 2014. Though a good and fast machine, the immediate replacement for the Pelican, the HH-139A, is in a much smaller category: in disaster relief operation the HH-101A offers a significant payload and could save as much as 25 people (or more) in each sortie.
Along with traditional SAR (Search And Rescue) duties, the HH-101A will also conduct Combat SAR, Personnel Recovery, Slow Mover Interceptor and Special Operation Air Support. For these tasks, it will be equipped with up to 3 guns (two from the sides and one six-barrel mini-gun in the rear ramp swinging down from the ceiling in order not to block the ramp while not in use), advanced self defensive systems and air refueling probe.
Col. Massimetti also praised the new machine for its maneuverability and perfect performance in brown-out and white-out conditions. Noteworthy, the tips of the blades of the main rotor of the new helicopter take advange of BERP design and have downward pointing winglets that help in keeping a clear area under the HH-101A upon landing in dust or snow conditions.
Pierpaolo Maglio talked to the aircrew of the very first HH-101A who said the CaeSAR is also very silent, much more than smaller helicopters, something that will help a lot in Special Ops missions along with its cool night paint.
The HH-101A, configured to host a combination of up to five crew members plus 22 fully equipped troops or 6 crew members plus 8 troops for special operations, can carry three M134 7.62 mm pintle mounted Gatling-type machine guns, aerial refueling kit, armoured cockpit seats, ballistic protection for machine gun operators as well as for critical systems and an Integrated Electronic Warfare System providing self-protection against radar, laser and infrared threats.
Thanks to its three Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322-01 the combat chopper can reach a maximum speed of 167 knots with an operative range of 517 miles.
The Italian Air Force plans to operate 15 such helicopters.
Recently, photographer Richard Cliff had the opportunity to visit Merryfield, a small airfield near Yeovilton Air Station which AgustaWestland and the Royal Navy use for helicopter training on a daily/nightly basis and took the stunning pictures of one of the HH101 destined to the Italian Air Force that you can find in this post.
Also known as the Black Knights, HSC-4 flies the MH-60S Knighthawk, a helicopter that features a glass cockpit with active matrix liquid crystal displays specialised in ASW, Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP) at Sea, Humanitarian Disaster Relief, Search and Rescue, Combat Search and Rescue, Aero Medical Evacuation, SPECWAR, Organic Airborne Mine Countermeasures, and Logistical support.
The video below shows HSC-4 Knignhawk helos fly in tactical formation at low level over the desert, perform winching operations and operate on warships, including aircraft carrier USS Ronald Regan.
According to the first reports four crew members survived the incident and were captured by the Nusra Front and Islamic faction close to the capsized wreckage. One of the pilot was reportedly executed on site.
Now a video allegedly filmed inside the doomed helicopter was posted on Youtube. The clip was probably shot with one of the crew member’s smartphones captured by the opposition fighters.
It shows the cockpit, the operator’s console, radar, flight instruments (including an altimeter showing 5,000 meters). One of the pilots can be seen using a tablet and a handheld GPS.
H/T to Matt Fanning for sending us the link to the video