F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter performs first launch from ski-jump in the hands of a British pilot.
On Jun. 19, BAE Systems Test Pilot Pete ‘Wizzer’ Wilson launched the Lockheed Martin F-35B from a land-based ski-jump for the very first time, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
The trials aim at validating the troubled fifth generation multi-role aircraft’s ability to take off safely and effectively from a ski-jump ramp similar to that which will be used on the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.
Italian and Greek military and coast guard aircraft, helicopters and boats are battling strong winds and massive waves to rescue 478 people trapped on a burning ferry adrift between Italy and Albania.
A complex rescue mission is underway since early in the morning on Dec. 28, when fire broke out on a car deck of the Italian flagged “Norman Atlantic” ferry, travelling from Patras, Greece, to Ancona, Italy, with 478 people on board.
Italy and Greece dispatched helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft (including an Italian Coast Guard ATR-42MP and Hellenic C-130) to support the rescue mission that will go ahead until everyone aboard is evacuated from the ferry, adrift about 15 nautical miles from the Albanian coast.
Italian Air Force HH-139s, Italian Navy SH-212 and EH-101s helicopters are rescuing passengers from the ship and carrying them to the nearby ships or hospitals in southeastern Italy.
At 21.43 GMT, 287 people must still be evacuated. One of the passengers has been declared dead. Rescue operations are particularly difficult because of the high seas, darkness and amount of smoke coming from the ship.
Both the ferry and the nearby ships can be tracked by AIS (Automatic Identification System), an automatic tracking system used for identification and geo-localization of vessels that can be considered the naval homologous of the ADS-B used by airplanes and it is used for collision avoidance, search and rescue, and for aids to navigation.
Here below you can see the track followed by the Norman Atlantic until the present position (from MarineTraffic.com):
Here below you can see the position of the ferry at 21.39 GMT:
It looks like one of the supporting helicopters is also using broadcasting its flight data by means of AIS and can be tracked. Have a look at the path it has followed.
Italian Navy EH-101 support SPAG (Submarine Parachute Assistance Group) activities of the e Gruppo Operativo Subacquei (G.O.S.) of COMSUBIN (Italian Navy Operational Divers Group).
Support of SPAG activities is among the tasks assigned to the 1° Gruppo Elicotteri, based at Luni, in northwestern Italy.
The unit is equipped with EH-101 Merlin helos. Among the variants in service with the squadron, there is also the EH-101 ASH (amphibious support helicopter) used to carry members of the SPAG team including the submarine escape specialists of the GOS (Gruppo Operativo Subacquei – Divers Operative Group) of COMSUBIN (Italian Navy Operational Diver and Raider Command Group), the elite commando frogman force of the Marina Militare.
Here are some images taken by The Aviationist’s photographer Giovanni Maduli during a SPAG training mission of the GOS in the sea near La Spezia.
The GOS is made of various specialists engaged in underwater activities capable to perform rescue of personnel from disabled submarines to a depth of 300 m; mine clearance operations and port facilities defense.
The Italian Navy is testing the Schiebel Camcopter S-100 Unmanned Aerial System from the San Giusto amphibious warfare ship
In April 2012, the tiny Camcopter S-100 became the first UAS ever to fly from an Italian ship, operating from the ITS Bersagliere frigate.
In February this year, the Italian Navy selected the S-100 as the UAS of choice for use from its fleet: it will be used for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) tasks from ships at sea, and to support military and civil activities such as SAR (Search And Rescue) or assistance in case of natural disasters.
Equipped with a Wescam MX-10 and a Shine Micro AIS (Automatic Identification System), the S-100 has the capability to collect time-critical data during 6-hour missions. By means of its electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensors it extends the warship’s ability to see beyond the range of its own sensors and to collect and share critical information, in real-time.
The S-100 carries a 75 lbs/34 kg payload at an altitude of 18,000 feet.
In these days the Marina Militare is testing the tiny drone from the San Giusto amphibious warfare ship, to evaluate the interoperability of the Camcopter with the ship, its ability to takeoff and recover on the ship’s flight deck, its noise level, as well as other operational parameters.
The San Giusto is the first Italian Navy ship to employ the Camcopter S-100 during the week-long evaluation cruise which involves technical engineers from Schiebel, pilots from the 4° GrupElicot (Heli Group) from Maristaeli Grottaglie as well as personnel from Centro Sperimentazione Aeromarittimo (CSA – Air-Land Test Center) based at Luni.
Italy plans to save 3 billion Euro (4.18 billion USD) in defense savings over the next three years, money that will come from the sale of some barracks and military buildings, from a reduction of the personnel, and from cuts to some top spending programs, first of all the F-35, on which the government has so far committed to spend some 12 billion Euro.
Dealing with the F-35, the order will be “revised,” meaning that cuts are certain, considering the amount of attention and criticism that surround the program. But, it is almost impossible to predict the extent of the revision.
Some media outlets have foreseen a drastic cut to 45 planes, half of the current plan, and about one third of the initial requirement, set to 131 Joint Strike Fighters.
The center-left PD (Democratic Party) defense committee has just published a paper about the current state of Italy’s weapons systems, highlighting the need for a significant reduction on F-35 procurement, because:
the program does not guarantee industrial gains for Italian industry
is characterized by too much variability (in terms of cost)
current costs do not include armament
Italy will not be allowed to access core sensitive technology, an embargo which “determines a factor of operational dependency on American political-industrial instances
The 10-page paper (in Italian, can be downloaded here) envisages an Air Force with two front line combat planes: the F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Noteworthy, the document highlights the multi-role capability demonstrated by the latter; it seems quite likely that, sooner or later, considered the cuts to the F-35s, the Italian Air Force (that so far has employed the Typhoon as an air superiority platform) will eventually commit its F-2000s to the air-to-surface role as done by the UK since Libya Air War.
Another issue raised by the document is the cost of the “operational redundancy” caused by the Italian Navy’s two aircraft carriers. The most obvious candidate to be scrapped is the Garibaldi, Italy’s first post-war aircraft carrier.
The Garibaldi, joined by the larger and more capable Cavour in 2008, could be sold to some emerging country looking for second-hand helicopter carrier capable to support Amphibious Assault operations.