We were onboard an Italian Air Force KC-767 tasked to refuel Eurofighter Typhoon and AMX jets involved in the largest NATO exercise in decades.
On Nov. 3, we were given the opportunity to take part in an aerial refueling mission in support of Ex. Trident Juncture 2015, the largest NATO exercise in more than 10 years.
Aboard an Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767 MM62228 belonging to 8° Gruppo (Squadron) of 14° Stormo (Wing) using callsign “Breus 15,” we launched from Pratica di Mare airbase and headed to the working area located near Ponza island, over the Tyrrhenian sea, to refuel Eurofighter Typhoons with 37° Stormo, based at Trapani airbase, in Sicily, and AMXs, with 51° Stormo, from Istrana airbase, but temporarily based at Trapani.
The images in this post show the aircraft being refueling using the hose-and-drogue system: the KC-767 is a NextGen Tanker equipped with both the hose and the flying boom and, unlike all the previous boom-equipped refuelers, uses an adveniristic remote boom operator’s station located behind the cockpit.
Indeed, whilst in the KC-135, the “boomer” (as the operator is nicknamed) is prone and moves the flying boom in the receptacle watching the receiver through a rear observation window, in the KC-767 (and future KC-46 that will replace the KC-135E in the U.S. Air Force), the boomers, move the boom or control the refueling operations of the probe-equipped planes using a joystick and through the video from a series of cameras mounted on the tanker’s fuselage.
The advanced camera system feeds a Remote Vision System (RVS) that can provide high-definition stereoscopic imagery to the vision goggles attached to a sort-of flight helmet worn by the boomer during the air-to-air refueling.
The KC-767 is one of the tanker types supporting TJ2015; other aerial refuelers include the Canadian CC-130, the Dutch KC-10 and the U.S. KC-135 deployed at several airbases across southern Europe.
All images by The Aviationist’s photographer Giovanni Maduli
The Italian Air Force has recently begun training its first Eurofighter and Tornado pilots on the Alenia Aermacchi T-346A at Lecce airbase, in southeastern Italy.
At the beginning of September, the Italian Air Force has launched the very first training course on the T-346A (M-346 “Master”) at 61° Stormo (Wing) based at Lecce-Galatina.
The course, that started 6 months ahead of schedule, is a swing role class held by 212° Gruppo (Squadron) and attended by four Italian pilots who will convert to the Typhoon and Tornado combat fleets upon successful completion of the training, which aims to develop the information management and aircraft handling skills of future pilots before they are assigned to the OCUs (Operational Conversion Units).
The four Italian pilots will be trained for 9 months in accordance with a new “experimental syllabus” designed by the squadron’s Instructor Pilots (IPs) in the last months and currently based on 170 training events, 50 percent of those carried out in flight and the remaining 50 percent in the simulator.
In fact, with the “Master,” the training syllabus can be split 50-50 between ground and air segment: half of the flight hours is flown in the simulator and the remaining half is flown on the actual plane with a significant cost reduction. Indeed, thanks to an integrated training system (ITS), student pilots can attend ground lessons and practice the training missions in extremely realistic simulators several times before their knowledge and skills are evaluated by an IP, both at the sim and in flight.
The T-346A is a LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer) with impressive performance, cutting edge human-machine interface and a lot of interesting technologies such as a full digital cockpit, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) commands, carefree handling, VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), a Helmet Mounted Display as well as the ability to simulate the flight characteristics of other aircraft and to replicate a wide array of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft.
The plane itself is just the air segment of the ITS that includes ground-based facilities, academics, simulators, and mission planning and debriefing stations developed to fill the gap between the flight schools and the operational unit and to prepare the pilots to operate Gen. 4th and 5th multirole aircraft in high-threat/high performance environments.
Indeed, while current pilots are being prepared for the Typhoon or Tornado aircraft, in the near future, courses will be aimed at training attendees destined to the F-35 Lightning II.
The aircraft, belonging to the 10° Gruppo (Squadron) of 36° Stormo (Wing), based at Gioia del Colle were given an unusual camouflaged tail with a tricolored rudder and a large black rearing horse on white cloud, symbol of Italy’s top WWI ace Francesco Baracca.
Both aircraft (MM7297 and 7308) took part in the air display at Rivolto performing a flyover along with a replica of the SPAD XIII, the French biplane fighter aircraft flown by Baracca that inspired the new special color scheme (the two jets did not fly in formation with the Spad but made a fast flyby at the end of the biplane’s display).
The Italian KC-767 is the first international aerial refueling tanker to be certified to refuel the F-35.
A KC-767A belonging to 8° Gruppo (Squadron) of 14° Stormo (Wing) from Pratica di Mare airbase, near Rome, became the first international tanker to successfully complete aerial refueling of a U.S. Air Force F-35A during a boom receiver certification refueling flight conducted over California’s High Desert region on Jul. 29.
The Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) KC-767A is the first tanker not operated by the U.S. Air Force to undergo refueling certification trials with a U.S. aircraft.
Italy operates a fleet of four KC-767A next generation tankers equipped with both the sixth generation flying boom (based on the one of the American KC-10) and used to refuel the F-35A, and three hose and drogue stations that give the KC-767 the ability to refuel aircraft equipped with onboard receptacle or those with a refueling probe (as the F-35B).
The first KC-767 was delivered to the Italian Air Force on Jan. 27, 2011 and had its “baptism of fire” few months later, during the Air War in Libya, when the new tanker conducted air-to-air refueling missions of Italian planes involved in Operation Unified Protector.
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.