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).
Even while most people like to attend air shows to see aerobatic display teams performances, they usually don’t know what happens inside the formation, which are the main roles of the team, which are the solo radio calls, and which flight instruments are used during the display.
I’ve seen many Frecce videos, but this one, with 170-minute footage bringing the viewer not only inside the cockpit but also inside the formation in the most unusual attitude, is by far the most interesting and realistic I’ve ever seen.
If you want to know something more about the team, here’s some background info for you.
Based at Rivolto, not far from Udine, in NE Italy, the Frecce Tricolori official designation is 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico (Aerobatic Training Squadron).
The Frecce Tricolori team is equipped with a modified version of the Alenia Aermacchi MB.339A, a single engine tandem seat training and tactical support aircraft. Apart from the overall blue color scheme, the aircraft differ from the standard model by the presence of the onboard colored smokes generation system.
This device is controlled by two buttons: one on the control stick, for white smoke, and one on the throttle for colored smoke. The system is fed from an underwing fuel tank filled with a coloring agent which is discharged through nozzles placed in the jet exhaust. The agent, vaporized in the jet exhaust, produces a colored trail.
Although every position is key in the overall display, the roles with greater responsibility are the ones of the Commander, the Leader, the First Slot and Solo.
Unlike other display teams, the Frecce’s Commander does not fly with the formation. He is the former Leader and issues instructions from the ground supervising the display both from a technical and a flight safety perspective.
The formation Leader (aircraft numbered #1) guides the whole team, dictating timings and managing separations, opposition passes and rejoins, aided by the First Slot (#6), who flies in the centre, and acts as a reference point for speeds and distances.
The Solo (#10) is tasked with displaying to the public the aircraft’s extreme capabilities in periods when the rest of the formation momentarily exits the air show area to prepare for the next maneuver. He flies an almost independent display program, with highly technical manoeuvres in which the aircraft is pushed to the limits of its envelope.
Formation aerobatics dates back to the end of the ’20s as a means for improving pilot’s skills, and it is still today one of the most important disciplines in the background of a military pilot. At that time formation aerobatics was used to train pilots to follow the formation leader in dogfights, regardless of the aircraft attitude. Still today, formations are a typical feature of military aviation: they are used in combat, for providing mutual cover or reducing the formation radar footprint, and also during peacetime operations for both training and operational purposes, and also for bringing an unexperienced wingman on the ground during a bad weather recovery to the homebase. That’s why, unless they are launched to check an aircraft subsystems after a maintenance work or to test some specific on board or ground equipment, the majority of tactical planes (“tacair”) missions involve at least two aircraft.
Apart from those phases in which the team splits into two sections, the Frecce fly in a standard diamond formation, in which its elements are arranged in five “layers”. The leader is the highest aircraft (hence it occupies the highest layer) while the second slot (#9) is the lowest. The first left wingman and the first slot are responsible for the set up and constitute the perspective reference to the rest of the aircraft. The Frecce aircraft very close to each other: they use a vertical and horizontal separation appearing almost overlapped to the eyes of the spectators.
Instrument flight is reduced to the minimum. The artificial horizon is used for no more than 20 or 30 seconds during the whole display, this being flown “visually”, looking out, maintaining one’s own position by sighting the specific reference points. For almost all the duration of the performance wingmen and slot pilots, have “only” to follow their leader, almost disregarding their position relative to the ground.
According to the weather conditions as well as the topographic characteristics of the location in which the air show is being staged, the Frecce Tricolori can perform three types of program: “high”, “low” or “flat”.
The “high” program is the most spectacular: it is made by an uninterrupted sequence of some thirty figures (among those the Big triangle formation loop, and the Downward Bomb Burst), the performance of which requires on average some 25 minutes. After performing the first part of the program with all ten aircraft, the solo display pilot detaches, alternating his own maneuvers with the ones flown by the remaining nine planes.
Even though to the eyes of a spectator displays don’t change during an entire air show season, the way the “Frecce Tricolori” fly may differ significantly depending on the environment in which aerobatics is executed.
“In the case of displays flown over land, the terrain usually offers a multitude of fixed references which assist in the perception of speed, travelled airspace and altitude, such as crop lines, fields, roads, railways, and rivers” Capt. Piercarlo Ciacchi, Frecce Tricolori’s pilot said.
Over the water, however, it is necessary to use buoys or boats to create the reference points for the pilots for the safe execution of all the maneuvers. “Although usually free of significant obstacles, displays flown over water can hide several traps. In those flown over the sea, the sunlight reflected on the surface may reduce visibility. Displays flown over a lake require even greater concentration on behalf of the pilots, since the absence of significant wave motion, low lake bottoms, and different water salinity amplify the reflective characteristics of the surface, causing the problem of spatial disorientation” Ciacchi explains.
The training which precedes entrance in the formation lasts a little less than six months. It begins with single ship sorties and continues with other missions featuring an increasing number of aircraft. At the end of each training phase, the progress made by the new pilot is certified by a senior member of the formation, who is responsible for assessing if the trainee can proceed to the next one.
The newly assigned pilots enter the formation occupying the rear positions, considered easier and more comfortable to fly.
After publishing a post about the Thunderbirds condensation clouds induced by high-G maneuvers and high-AOAs (Angle Of Attack) during and a post about the rehearsals, below you can find some more pictures about the Jesolo Air Extreme 2011 airshow, taken on Jun. 12, 2011.
Yesterday I’ve published some pictures of the Thunderbirds performing a demo flight at Jesolo on Jun. 10 to explain the origin of condensation clouds generated by maneuvering aircraft. Here’s a gallery of the most interesting pictures taken during Jun. 10 and 11 rehearsals of Jesolo Air Extreme 2011.
Even though to the eyes of a spectator a Frecce Tricolori or Thunderbirds display overhead an airfield does not change much from the one which takes place over the coast line of a beach resort, the way display teams or solos fly may differ significantly depending on the environment in which the aerobatic display is executed. The different topographic features of the place where the air show takes place, and the surrounding landscape may, in fact, require the adoption of specific solutions in order to maintain standard distances and to correctly evaluate the separation from the terrain under peculiar light conditions. Familiarisation with the landscape and evaluating the display arena are the purposes of the preparation flight which precedes every display of a display team. In the case of displays flown over land, the terrain usually offers a multitude of fixed references which assist in the perception of speed, travelled airspace and altitude, such as crop lines, fields, roads, railways, and water courses.
Over the water, as at Jesolo, it is necessary to utilise buoys or boats which, besides delineating the display area in respect to a crowd line which is frequently extremely extended, allow the accurate determination of the display line, i.e. the line on the ground that is at least 3 Km long (1,5 Km to the left and right of display crowd centre), which must be perfectly visible from the air and placed at a distance of 230 metres in front of the public. This line constitutes the reference for the pilots for the safe execution of all the manoeuvres.
Although usually free of significant obstacles, displays flown over water can hide several traps as I’ve explained here. In those flown over the sea, the sunlight reflected on the surface may reduce into sun visibility, a phenomenon which also occurs when snow glare is encountered when flying over the mountains.
During rehearsals display teams can fly a modified display to get familiar with the display area and its references. For instance, the diamond formation of the Thunderbirds did not perform the high bomb burst on Jun. 10 while solos repeated some opposing passes while, on Jun. 11, the Frecce Tricolori’s solo did not perform the famous “crazy flight”.
People usually thinks that aircraft are subject to “bird strikes” collisions between airborne animals (usually birds) with flying aircraft. However, until the aircraft is on the ground, taxiing or rolling for take off, it is at risk of collisions with dogs, cats, hare, kangaroos, etc. (hence called “wildlife strikes”) that cross aprons, runways and taxiways with the same possible catastrophic results of a bird strike. A “near miss” (that is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, or damage although having the potential to do so) wildlife strike involving a rabbit occurred during the recent airshow held in Rivolto to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori. As the interesting picture below, taken by Giovanni Maduli shows, on Saturday Sept. 11, while the first section of five Alenia Aermacchi MB.339A/PANs of the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (Italian Aerobatic Team) was taking off for the last display of the day, a hare crossed the runway 06 not far from the aircraft number 1, flown by the leader of the Frecce Tricolori. Fortunately, the animal was fast enough to complete the crossing without being hit by any of the five aircraft, but this exclusive picture reminds us that strike hazard for both military and civilian aviation does not only come from flying animals but also from the ones on the ground living in the vicinity of airports.
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