Monthly Archives: August 2007

Grosseto airbase

Grosseto airbase has changed a lot in the last 10 years. As described in my previous posts, today the airport it is the MOB of the ItAF Eurofighters (the Gioia del Colle and its 12th Gruppo/36th Stormo will be delivered their first Typhoon on Oct. 1st 2007). Grosseto is the homebase of two squadrons: the 20th OCU (Operational Convertion Unit) and 9th Gruppo all-weather interceptors. Aircraft of both gruppi are currently recovered in the new hangars located in the Western area of the field, opposite the former 20th Gruppo shelters and aprons. In order to understand how this important base has transformed in the last years, read the report I wrote in Y2K, dealing with Grosseto and the two gruppi equipped at that time with the F/TF-104 Starfighter: Grosseto airbase, home of the 4th Stormo.



Grosseto 19.08.04 Close up of the cockpit of the last TF-104G-M Special Colour of the 20th Gruppo. This is my very first “panoramic close up” picture of an aircraft.

Grosseto 19.08.04 The last F-104s of the 9th Gruppo on alert during one of the last QRA shifts

Flying with the MB.339CD

In a previous post dealing with the Air-to-Air photography, I explained just a few of my air-to-air pictures are 3/4 frontal (thus taken looking in the circular area behind the airplane, from 4 to 8 o’clock) and depicts the subject from ahead. Here are a couple of them.



As I explained in the previous post, photographing ahead requires less strength and so is more simple under a physical point of view. The pictures above were taken in October 2000, when I went to Lecce-Galatina airbase to report on the training courses of the 213th and 212th Gruppo of the 61° Stormo. Both were taken a few minutes after departure, while flying at FL110 VMC direct to the “Fox” area, our training airspace located above the sea, off shore Gallipoli. Since it was a demanding mission, with multiple engagements and a +5G simulated dogfight, I was able to take pictures looking towards my 5 and 7 o’clock only during transit to the operative area (the only part of the flight all 4 aircraft flew together). During the engaments, the two formations splitted and flew mainly line abreast thus I just took some pics of the wingman and of the target through the HUD; then, we performed some acrobatic maneuvers and I took some pics of the formation making a formation barrel roll above S. Maria di Leuca and, finally, during RTB, I was too tired (since G forces were severe) to try to take any picture.

If you want to see some of those pictures and read the in-depth description of the flight (in Italian) click here: In volo con l’MB-339CD.

Typhoon Block 5 and Cold War alert

Claudio Carretta left an interesting comment on my post Eurofighter Typhoon activity at Grosseto advising that among the aircraft spotted on Aug. 6, MM7285 “4-16” was the first Eurofighter Typhoon Block 5 delivered to the Italian Air Force.

I consequently checked again the pictures and finally noticed the searching head of the IRST sensor, located on the left of the nose, just in front of the cockpit. I had a glance on that area of the aircraft for a few seconds during base turn and since the aircraft was still distant, I didn’t notice the “distinctive sign” the first time I saw the images (in order to make them well visible, I had to crop sensibly the pictures below).

On the same day (Aug. 6), RAF took the first two Block 5 Typhoons on charge. The aicraft were delivered to the XI Sqn at Coningsby, a unit that on Aug. 17 launched its first genuine scramble since assuming Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties on Jun. 29, 2007, to intercept a Russian “Bear” over the North Atlantic Ocean.

The “close encouter” with the strategic bomber took place on the same day President Vladimir Putin said that Russia has resumed the long-range flights of its strategic bombers that were suspended in 1992. According to him, those tours of duty will be conducted regularly and on strategic scale and, as a consequence, Russian Tu-95s, Tu-160s and Tu-22s are expected to fly across the globe the same routes routinely flown during the Cold War.

The number of interceptions is already increasing:  on Aug. 8 two Tu-95 undertook a 13 hours round trip from Blagoveshchensk base to “visit” Guam, in the Pacific Ocean, for the first time since the end of the Cold War; and in May and July, British Tornado F3s and Norwegian F-16s were scrambled to intercept and escort Russian Bears flying in the international airspace next to the countries’ airspaces.

4th Stormo Eurofighters took over air defense of the Italian airspace (along with F-16s of the 5th and 37th Stormo) since Dec. 16, 2005.

The first real interception took place on Mar. 13, 2007, when two Eurofighters (already in flight) were vectored by the Air Defense radar to identify and shadow a Tunisian A-320 flying in Southern Italy that had lost radio contact with the civilian ATC.

So far, they have never been scrambled to intercept any Russian bomber, something that was frequent during the Cold War, when ItAF F-104s were often scrambled to intercept the long-range bombers as described in the article Memories of a fighter pilot.

Kingscote airport (and CTAF), Kangaroo Island

Kingscote Airport, located on Kangaroo Island (the third largest island of Australia), is probably one of the smallest airports I’ve ever reached. Its coordinates are 35° 42.8′ S 137° 31.3′ E, meaning some 67 miles off shore Adelaide, in South Australia. It’s not the most Southern one I’ve seen since Melbourne Tullamarine is located a few hundred miles more South (37° 40.4′ S 144° 50.6′ E). 


I flew to Kangaroo Island on May 19th on board a Saab 340 (flight ZL4771) of the Regional Express Airlines (REX), one of the two airliners (the other is Air South) currently providing passenger services from Adelaide. Kingscote is a non-towered airport meaning that unlike towered aerodrome, it doesn’t provide any sort of air traffic control associated with the flight operations in the vicinity of the airport. Until Nov. 25 2005, it was located within a Mandatory Broadcast Zone (MBZ) an airspace generally extending to a 15NM radius and up to 5.000 ft AGL of an uncontrolled aerodrome. Currently, it is designated CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency), an acronym no longer associated to the airspace surrounding the aerodrome but to a radio frequency that pilots use to make broadcast radio calls to inform other traffic of their presence and facilitate mutual separation. As a former MBZ, Kingscote is a CTAF(R) meaning that only aircraft equipped with a VHF radio can operate there. Aircraft using CTAF usually make broadcast calls when 10 nautical miles from the aerodrome; beginning a straight-in approach or before entering the downwind leg or base turn of the circuit pattern; taxiing for departure; engaging or vacating the runway or beginning the rolling run for take off. Even military aircraft that have to overfly non-towered aerodromes or have to cross airspaces in their vicinity contact CTAF VHF frequencies. As I have discovered searching for information on MBZs, F-111 of the RAAF often make radio calls on CTAF for deconfliction purposes before interesting airspaces of non-towered Australian aerodromes. Even Ayers Rock, that I visited flying with a B-737-838 of Qantas Airlines, another interesting airport in the red desert of the Northern Territory, used to visit the Uluru monolith, the main feature of the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, is a CTAF(R) aerodrome.


In Kingscote, the only terminal, serving both airline and general aviation flights, is just a small building where arriving and departing passengers are provided some of the normal airport services: car rental, toilets, payphones, etc. Despite being a small aerodrome, Kingscote has three runways, 01/19, 06/24 and 15/33, even though only the asphalt tarmac 01/19 (1402 mt) is equipped with Visual Approach Slope Indicator (VASIS) lighting System, while the other two are gravel strips used only in case of emergency. Interestingly, Kingscote uses a PAL (Pilot Activated Lighting), a system used on non-towered aerodromes to control the runway and taxiway lighting by radio. PAL are operated by performing a certain number of clicks with the trasmit button of the microphone. As soon as the lighting is activated countdown starts: after 15 minutes the lights turn off unless a different command is issued by the pilot. The number of clicks performed by the pilot determines the intensity of the lighting system.

Pilots have to look carefully at animals and birds runway incursions during flight operations: Kangaroo Island is one of the world’s most scenic wilderness destinations. It is home of kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, goannas, sea lions, penguins, seals, etc. Even if the majority of them live in conservation parks or on beaches, some of them move (I’ve met many kangaroos and wallabies at night around American River town) especially after dark.





Airborne pickup – part 2

Dan Canin provided some more info concerning the Airborne pickup described in the post titled “Airborne pickup (rejoining with an F-104)“:


I took a look at your description of the airborne pickup, and it’s good. I don’t really have much to add, as it’s a fairly simple maneuver. The only thing unusual, of course, is that the chase pilot — who is usually doing his best to be “invisible” to the test aircraft pilot and just following him around — is in this case calling the shots by giving the lead a “30 second” call and a “brake release” call. The only trick is timing those calls so you wind up in proper position when the test aircraft gets airborne. There are no special requirements or configurations, really. As chase, you can compensate for any differences in performance between chase and test aircraft by adjusting your pattern and by the timing of the “brake release” call.It’s actually very rare that we use this procedure at Fort Worth, although it’s been used recently for some of the F-35 flights. One thing it does is ensures that we have a chase airborne (it’s embarassing if the test airplane gets airborne and then the chase aborts for some reason); it also allows the chase to watch and photograph the takeoff, if that’s important to us. More generally, we just do a 10 sec interval takeoff (15 sec if using AB), with the test airplane in the lead. If there’s a ceiling, we generally try to get joined up below it; otherwise we do a radar trail departure. Formation takeoffs are possible, but it’s rare that our test aircraft and chase are the same configuration (w/i 2500 lbs of each other), as is required to do that.