Tag Archives: Italian Air Force

First black-colored HH-101A Caesar special ops helicopter presented by the Italian Air Force

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.

Caesar 2

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.

Caesar 3

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.

Caesar 4

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.

Caesar 5

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.

Caesar cockpit

Image credit: Pierpaolo Maglio

 

Some stunning pics of the new HH.101 “Caesar” helicopter for the Italian Air Force

The new helicopter is ready for delivery to the Italian Air Force.

The AgustaWestland HH-101A “Caesar” is about to be delivered to the Italian Air Force.

The helicopter, a variant of the AgustaWestland AW101 advanced medium lift helicopter for Personnel Recovery, Special Forces Operations support, SAR, MEDEVAC and Slow Mover Intercept, is going to be assigned to 15° Stormo (Wing) based at Cervia, complementing the HH-139 already in service and fully replacing the recently retired HH-3F Pelican.

HH101 5

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.

HH101 4

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.

HH101 1

HH101 2

Image credit: Richard Cliff

 

Photo shows a tanker surrounded by five thirsty Eurofighter Typhoons jets at night

Aerial refueling operations always provide some cool photo opportunities.

The photographs in this post were taken from an Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767A tanker during aerial refueling operations over central and southern Italy on May 4.

Typhoon refuel close up right

They show several Eurofighter Typhoon jets belonging to the 4° Stormo (Wing) based at Grosseto, taking gas from a KC-767 tanker of the 14° Stormo from Pratica di Mare.

Typhoon refuel close up

The KC-767 is equipped with both the sixth generation flying boom (based on the one of the American KC-10), and three hose and drogue stations to refuel both aircraft equipped with onboard receptacle and those with a refueling probe: the KC-767 uses a futuristic remote boom operator’s station located behind the cockpit where boom operators, operate both the hoses and the flying boom by means of joysticks and live video filmed by cameras mounted on the aircraft’s fuselage.

Typhoon refuel formation

Image credit: Remo Guidi

 

Here’s what it’s like to experience a 280 deg/s instantaneous roll rate in a modern jet trainer

Modern jets feature an impressive instantaneous roll rate

The roll rate, expressed in degrees per second, is the rate at which an aircraft can change its roll attitude. Modern jet fighters can achieve quite high maximum roll rates: the faster they can rotate around longitudinal axis the faster they can transit from one maneuver to another one.

However, the roll rate is just one of the parameters (not all equally important) that influence the aircraft’s maneuvering performance.

Although the roll rate depends on the configuration, weight, speed, altitude and the fact the rate is measured from stable flight (instantaneous roll rate) or after the rotation has been given some time to build up (i.e. the aircraft keeps on rolling long enough), the maximum roll rates for some of the most famous combat planes can be either found on vendors datasheets or online (hence, take them with a grain of salt): according to most reports a Rafale features a maximum roll rate of 270 deg/s, the Eurofighter Typhoon is able of around 250 deg/s, the F/A-18E Super Hornet has a maximum roll rate of 120 deg/s whereas the F-16 can roll at 240 deg/s.

Accurate or not (sometimes such performance data are PR-influenced…), the maximum roll rate may data gives a hint of the ability of the modern aircraft to rotate around the longitudinal axis.

As already reported, a few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to take part in a mission aboard the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 of the Italian Air Force, one of the most advanced jet trainers currently available.

During the flight, the pilot (Maj. Alessandro Olivares, Commander of the 212° Gruppo) showed me the stunning roll performance of the new aircraft (believed to be able of a 280 deg/s roll rate): he performed an aileron roll, an aerobatic maneuver in which an aircraft does a full 360° revolution around its roll axis.

Here below you can see the video of the maneuver.

The aircraft was extremely responsive, immediately achieved a high angular acceleration and rolled so fast, my head almost hit the canopy.

The roll rate of the T-346A (the designation of the Master within the Italian Air Force) may have been 280 deg/s or not; for sure, it was impressive to me, and similar enough to that of the 4th and 5th generation fighter jets to the student pilots of the LIFT (Lead-In to Fighter Training) course on the M-346 destined to fly F-35 or Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role jets.

 

We have flown one of the world’s most advanced jet trainers: the M-346 of the Italian Air Force

Chosen by Italy, Israel, Poland and Singapore to prepare their pilots to the 4th and 5th Gen. fighter jets, the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 “Master” is considered one the world’s most advanced jet trainers.

The never-ending evolution of the front-line warplanes that operate in a hi-tech battlefield with new generation avionics, PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), EW (Electronic Warfare) suites and several hi-tech sensors, has called for the redesign of the training syllabus: rather than learning to fly fast jets, at a certain point of their training process, student pilots are required to become proficient at employing modern weapons systems in complex missions, in high-threat/high performance environments.

M-346 8

The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 “Master” is a dual-engine LIFT (Lead-In to Fighter Trainer) jet selected by Italy, Poland, Israel and Singapore for advanced pre-operative training, the latest stage of a fighter pilot 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 “Master” couples cutting edge equipment with impressive performance for a plane of its type: the jet features a high thrust-to-weight ratio, supersonic speed at high altitude, and a maneuverability similar to those of the leading combat aircraft. It is equipped with a HUD (Head Up Display), HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick), VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), and a Helmet Mounted Display system built around a lightweight HGU-55P helmet, with a night module that can to be fitted to the standard NVG eyepiece kit that works by overlaying the HMD symbology to that of the NVG imagery. In other words, it is equipped with all the “accessories” pilots can find in the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F/A-18 Hornet, the Dassault Rafale or the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

M-346 6

Furthermore, the M-346 can replicate the capabilities of the frontline aircraft in challenging tactical scenarios: the pilots can learn to use the radar, drop LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) on moving ground targets designated through an Advanced Targeting Pod, and shoot radar-guided enemy planes in dissimilar air combat, even if the plane is not equipped with any of these systems: while interacting with the other aircraft or ground stations via datalink, the on-board computer generates the required HUD and radar symbology, offers a different weapons load out, in accordance with the training needs of the mission. The real-time mission monitor can even inject new allied and enemy planes into the system via Link 16, so that the threats will show up in the radar and on the HUD. This means, a flight of two M-346 in the air can perform a simulated intercept on a “virtual” enemy plane or attack a convoy on the ground generated by an IP (Instructor Pilot) on the ground.

M-346 1

Needless to say, along with the training mission, such a plane can be used for operational roles, thanks to Electronic Warfare System Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and a Chaff & Flare (C&F) dispensing sub-system and to seven hardpoints that enable the aircraft to carry a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, including the AIM-9L and IRIS-T air-to-air missiles, a 12,7 mm Gun Pod, and BRD (Bomb Rocket Dispensers).

The aircraft is so advanced that it is considered one of the best candidates for the T-X program, to replace the U.S. Air Force Northrop T-38 Talon, even though the future of the T-100, the T-38 replacement offering based on the M-346, is unclear after General Dynamics has withdrawn itself as the prime contractor for the bid.

M-346 2

Recently we had the unique opportunity to take part in a training mission from the back seat of an Italian Air Force M-346 “Master”. And we did it from Lecce Galatina airbase, in southeastern Italy, home of the 61° Stormo (Wing), where Italian and international aircrews are trained, by far considered one the best candidates to become the European Air Training Center, a multinational flight school responsible for the training of allied pilots in accordance with NATO’s “pooling & sharing” concept: share the best assets in order to save money.

M-346 7

Four T-346A jets (as the M-346 is designated in accordance with the Mission Design Series of the Italian Air Force) are assigned to the 212° Gruppo (Squadron), one of the three squadrons (the other ones being the 213° and the 214° GIP) of the 61° Stormo. The task of the 212° Gruppo is to provide a training tailored to the needs of the frontline squadrons. “The courses delivered here at Galatina on the T-346A aim to bring the student pilots to the skill set required by the three Italian Air Force OCUs: the 101° OCU for the AMX, at Istrana; the 102° for the Tornado, at Ghedi; and the 20° for the Eurofighter, at Grosseto,” says Col. Paolo Tarantino, commander of the 61° Stormo.

“With the M-346, the training syllabus can be split into ground and air segment: half of the flight hours are flown in extremely realistic simulators and the remaining half is flown on the actual plane. Furthermore, the induction of a new trainer with an in-flight sensor and scenario simulation can “download” forefront combat planes’ workload to less expensive but highly advanced trainers with a significant cost reduction.”

M-346 break

On Apr. 16 this Author had the opportunity to be the first journalist to fly in the ItAF T-346A and here’s a brief report of the mission.

“Dragon formation”

It’s Apr. 15 and I’m on the backseat of one of the four T-346A already assigned to the Italian Air Force.

In the front seat, currently talking on the radio, there’s Maj. Alessandro Olivares, commander of the 212° Gruppo, an IP with 2,500 flight hours and a wide experience in real operations flying the Tornado fighter bomber. In front of us, there are two T-346As waiting for the clearance to line up on the runway: the plan is to take off in sequence, rejoin and proceed to a working airspace located off the coast to the southwest of Lecce. Once in the area, we will split from the other two 346s and work a bit on the air-to-air mode to shoot some (virtual missiles) against them.

The cockpit is quite large, with a HUD in front of me showing the relevant flight parameters, radio channel, distance from the selected bullseye, attitude indicator and any other information required to fly the plane while looking outside. The front panel includes digital instruments and three MFD (Multi Function Displays) that can be arranged at will, to show the nav menu, the system status, the engine status, the moving map, etc. The visibility is excellent from the backseat.

“Dragon, line up and wait, runway 32″.

Ok, it’s our turn.

We enter the runway and prepare for take off. We complete the run-up bringing the engine power to the 80 percent. The two T-346As start the take off run with a separation of 10 seconds. Once the stopwatch reaches 20 seconds, Olivares brings the throttles to the maximum power and we start rolling as well.

The acceleration is simply impressive; comparable to those of fast jets equipped with afterburner. In 11 seconds we reach 120 knots and rotate. We are airborne.

M-346 11

We soon reach 2,500 feet, at 400 knots and we rejoin with the rest of the formation to head towards the operative area. The position of the two T-346s is clearly shown on the map thanks to the datalink.

M-346 4

We transition to the working area briefly joined by an MB.339A and an MB.339CD, the other two types flown at Lecce, and once on the pre-planned breaking point, we split to work a bit with the radar.

M-346 10

Now the datalink provides the information that the on-board computer translates into a radar picture. We can work on both TWS (Track While Scan) and RWS (Range While Search) radar modes and, using the button on the throttle, select any of the tracks to lock the target.

Using the buttons on the throttle, we can select the scale and aperture of the radar.

High G turn

What is more, the datalink can be used to send encrypted messages or to provide information about the other planes’ configuration: in this case, the two M-346s carry 2 AIM-9L and 4 AIM-120 AMRAAMs.

We select TWS to scan the airspace from ground to 42,000 feet and we lock one of the two distant targets: the HUD symbology reacts accordingly showing the locked “enemy”. Distance to the target, closure speed, missile range are shown until the message “shoot” appears, stating that we are ready to fire our simulated air-to-air missile. After a couple of turns we terminate the engagement and reposition for another one.

Once again, we find the target on the radar, lock it, wait until at the right distance for using the AAM and this time, we shoot a missile. “M346 hit” message appears shortly thereafter on the MFD providing a real-time kill notification.

The aircraft provides the pilot with the same “user experience” as if he was using an APG-80 radar. Awesome.

After some more air-to-air activity, we engage another working area for some free flight, during which Olivares shows me the maneuverability of the plane. The autotrim feature is quite useful, while the way the engines react to the throttle is pretty impressive. I’ve also the opportunity to taste the flight controls and HOTAS to perform some basic maneuvers. A breathtaking 280°/s aileron roll (performed by the pilot in the front seat) ends this part of our flight.

Noteworthy, we make extensive use of the Voice Command (VC), to change radio channels or to squawk “ident” to the Air Traffic Control radar. I can even give it a try: I activate the VC with my left finger on the throttle button and by saying “Radio 2, Channel 19″ I instruct the plane to select a new radio frequency.

The VC can be used to know the fuel to bingo (in our case 140 kilograms) or to change the MFD arrangement to show the Map on the central display.

Unfortunately, it’s time to return to the base.

We coordinate with the Approach the exit from the area and head towards the base to fly a straight in approach to runway 32 at Lecce. Once established, with the field in sight, below 250 knots, we extend the landing gear and at 200 kts we lower the flaps.

The final is flown at 120 kts with 8° AOA (Angle Of Attack), following the guidance of the HUD that helps us correcting the wind drift.

After the touchdown at 110 kts, Olivares shows me the aerodynamic braking. The aircraft decelerates to 80 kts and gently lowers the nose.

M-346 touchdown

We have landed after a really interesting 70-minute flight during which we have had a taste of one of about 20-30 air-to-air modes the aircraft can provide.

“Impressive” and “Awesome” are the adjectives that I’ve used the most to describe such an experience. Stay tuned, there is more to say about the T-346A and this flight….

David e Alessandro

The Author wishes to thank the Italian Air Force Press Office, the 61° Stormo and its Commander Col. Paolo Tarantino, and the 212° Gruppo for the support provided in preparing the article. A big thank you to Iolanda Frisina and Alessandro Borsetti who contributed to the report.