Monthly Archives: November 2007

Aerobatic flight with the Alenia C-27J

On October 13th 2007 I had the possibility to fly a mission on board an Alenia C-27J “Spartan”. The aircraft, serialled C.S.X. 62127 and wearing the JCA winner logo, is owned by Alenia Aeronautica; the company uses it for demo tours, exhibitions and airshows. The C-27J I embarked into was actually tasked for a transport from Ciampino to Pisa, where a few journalists and VIPs had been invited to attend a tactical event organised by the 46th Air Brigate (see pictures below) to demonstrate the ItAF intra theatre airlift capabilities and to show the high degree of interoperability between the C-130J and the C-27J.
The aircraft was piloted by two Alenia test pilots (Marco Venanzetti and Enrico Scarabotto), who transformed the short flight is something more than a normal passenger flight.

This is a short report on that experience.

I’m strapped in the fuselage of the “I-2127” flight. We have just released the brakes and we are accelerating along runway 15 at Ciampino. The aircraft is vibrating under maximum thrust provided by the two Rolls-Royce AE2100 engines and suddenly we begin a 30 degr. steep climb: an “aggressive” procedure used “in theatre” to bring the aircraft beyond the reach of MANPADS in the shortest time possible. Nose down again, pulling almost 1 negative G, we level off at 1.000 ft heading VFR, VMC, towards the Tyrrhenian Sea. We are now cruising slightly below 200 KIAS but still accelerating. Background noise inside the fuselage is low and passengers can talk without shouting like needed in the G.222. In a few minutes we are “feet wet” (above the sea) and Scarabotto, the PIC (Pilot In Command) on the left seat, begins a descent to low level proceeding with a North West heading along the coastline towards the boundaries of the Rome Terminal Area. As soon as the aircraft is firmly established at the preplanned crusing speed and altitude I take my camera and climb in the cockpit. The first thing I notice is the digital appearance of the avionics, with a two pilots cockpit quite different from the one of the old fashioned G.222. The flight deck looks very similar to that of the C-130J. The NVG compatible set up is based on the Electronic Flight Instrumentation System (EFIS) that incorporates five liquid crystal head-down colour displays, one of which is displaying our route on a moving map that is more advanced than those of the Tornado. Just a few instruments are still analogue. Unfortunately, unlike the ItAF aircraft, this C-27 is not equipped with the Head Up Display (it lacks also the refueling probe).

After a brief familiarization, I go back to my seat to fasten my seat belt before the aircraft begins a series of 60° bank turns with the rear door opened. Apparently the C-27 is extremely reactive, allowing pilots to promptly react to any threat a feature that will be very useful in the Afghan theatre where the aircraft is going to be deployed by the ItAF (whose 4 examples already taken on charge have already logged 1.000 flight hours on the type) in the next months.

Door closed again, we level out before entering a wingover. The throttles go to the full power and at 220 KIAS the pilots begin to pull back the control stick. As we reach the apex, 60 deg. pitch-up, the aircraft rolls 110 deg to the right. Wow! I’ve never “tasted” something similar inside such a large aircraft. Under about 2 or 3 Gs I try to take a few pictures of the left Rolls-Royce AE2100-D2 turboprop engine nacelle from the small fuselage window behind me.

There’s no time to relax and after transiting through the Grosseto control zone we approach Pisa airport. We enter the visual patter and overflying the runway we prepare for a steep landing. Idle power, flaps down, the 30 deg. dive of the so-called “Sarajevo landing” is a technique used to reduce the exposure of the mid-sized transport aicraft during approaches to landing fields located in high lethality scenarios. As soon as we gently touch down on runway 04L, pilots apply maximum reverse thrust and brakes and the aircraft is able to vacate the runway in about 500 meters. Even if it was not a pure display flight like the one described here, it was an extremely interesting experience to better undestand the capabilities and performance of an aircraft that has been selected for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Joint Cargo Aircraft Program, that has been ordered by the ItAF (12 examples), Hellenic Air Force (12), Lithuanian Air Force (1), Bulgarian Air Force (5) and Romanian Air Force (7), is under evaluation by the Royal Australian Air Force and the Canadian Armed Forces.


The following pictures were taken at Pisa during the tactical event.

After attending the event in Pisa, I boarded again the Alenia C-27J to go back to Ciampino. Noteworthy, the pilot on the right seat of the C-27 was Gen. Vincenzo Camporini, ItAF Chief of Staff (from Feb. 12th 2008 Chief of Defense Staff).

MM6507 update

I went to Grazzanise on Nov. 21st to talk again with the pilots of the 21st Gruppo and noticed that the F-104 “51-01” MM6507, that was being restored in the former 10th Gr apron (see post:, was moved on the opposite side of the runway 24, in the GEA area and it is currently parked, in the same conditions as it was one month ago, next to the remaining retired F-104s.


Air-to-air photography with the F-104D in 1964

Steve McCutcheon left two interesting comments on both my posts “Airborne pickup (rejoining with an F-104)” and “Air-to-Air photography”. He wrote that my story and pictures reminded him about his flight in a 104D  and also that he wish my explaination was available before he took his ride in an F-104 since they were too close to the other 104D and most of his photos don’t show the whole plane: “After going supersonic the pilot asked me what I wanted to do next and I said I wanted to take pictures of the other 104D. We did a 180 and pulled a lot of G’s and I don’t know how many, but I couldn’t move. We intercepted the other D around Gibralter and I got some great B/W photos”.

I asked him to describe his whole flight story and Steve kindly provided this detailed description of that sortie on the backseat on an F-104:

My flight on May 14,1964 in F-104D, 57-1330

I was in Spain at Moron Air Base on the last 2 TDY’s of the F104’s in 1964. We were packing up all our gear and getting ready for a final party and they had a drawing for anyone who wanted a flight in one of our 2 F104D’s. I was lucky and on May 14, 1964 I got my spur’s. We were given 1 hour familiarization training which was all about how to safely eject and then we got our flight. The take off and acceleration was great and the view was amazing. The Starfighter is so small that the canopy allows you to almost see directly below you. It would be hard for a plane to sneak underneath the F-104. After flying around a bit Captain Dold asked me to take the stick. I moved the stick to the left a little and the plant instantly turned about 70 degrees to the left and I moved the stick back and we were level again. He then told me to really move the stick next time. I did and this time the plane did about 260 degrees and I brought the plane back upright. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I brought both of my cameras and I had one on the instrument panel and no matter what position the plane was in my camera never left the instrument panel. Doing rolls with positive G’s was surprising. I then said I wanted to go supersonic. We accelerated and went 1.3 Mach. Captain Dold said I wouldn’t notice much difference except the air speed indicator and one other instrument would fluctuate when going through the sound barrier and the sound of the engine seem to move farther back. I know everyone on the ground knew we were supersonic. Captain Dold asked me what I wanted to do next and I told him I wanted to take pictures of the other F-104D, 57-1334. He radioed the other plane and found they were way south near the rock of Gibralter. We did a 180 and pulled a lot of G’s and I don’t know how many, but it put me way into my seat and I couldn’t move. We intercepted the other D around Gibraltar and I got some great B/W photos. After landing the farewell party had already started and I took my cameras and went to the party. After taking a few pictures and talking to my friends and telling them about my flight I realized I was really tired. I guess pulling all those G’s and my fighting them to take picture had worn me out. Pilots must be in really great shape because they are always pulling lots of G’s. I went back to the barracks and went to sleep.

It amazes me that the sound barrier was broken successfully by Chuck Yeager in October, 1947 and less than 16 years later I did it in a F-104 Starfighter which have been flying and doing it for years.

F-104 MM6930 Special Colour: 999 or 9-99?

On September 19th 2003, the 10th Gruppo Caccia, held an official ceremony at Grazzanise airbase to unveil an F-104S/ASA-M painted in a celebrative colour scheme. It was the very first celebrative aircraft in the history of the squadron that carries the famous black rearing horse on a white cloud of the WWI Italian ace Francesco Baracca and unfortunately also the last one. The Special Colour wore the code “999” to honour the 9th Stormo and to officially celebrate the twinning between the 10th Gruppo and the Ducati Racing Team. The day before the roll-out, the aircraft made a private show for the personnel: after start up, the F-104 exited the shelter and made a quick taxi along the runway for engine and instrument check. On Sept. 19th the event was memorable: the aircraft was first displayed to the public then, using c/s “Picca 01” made its maiden flight piloted by Lt.Col. Bruno Strozza who flew for 45 minutes inside the R-62 area and landed the aircraft back in Grazzanise after performing some high speed fly-bys. I was lucky enough to be at Grazzanise on Sept. 18th, during the unofficial roll out, and the following day, when I flew along the Special Colour on its very first flight inside “Jolly 11”, an MB.339A piloted by Col. Gianpaolo Miniscalco, Commander of the 9th Stormo. We took off before the F-104, performed an “airborne pickup” (read here and here) with the 999 and  after a short low level navigation inside the Grazzanise control zone, we made a series of aerobatic maneuvers in close formation during which I took some of the famous air-to-air pictures of the aircraft. If you look at the pictures I took on both Sept. 18th and 19th 2003, you’ll notice an interesting thing: the aircraft was initially coded 999 with a code that missed the dash between the first 9 and the following two ones. The dash (actually it is a dot), that transformed the 999 in 9-99, was applied in the following weeks and kept for the rest of the operative life of the aircraft. Interestingly, despite not wearing the Italian national roundel, the aircraft flew abroad before being retired.

The “999” on Sept. 18th 2003. The colour scheme was an idea of Lt. Andrea Turco, a Ducati fan:


The F-104 999 making a quick taxi on Sept. 18th, the day before the official roll-out. Pilot was Lt.Col. Strozza, 10th Gruppo Cdr:

Pilots of the 10th and 18th Gruppo (this latter temporary deployed to Grazzanise), in front of the 999 together with Col. Miniscalco and Gen. Del Meglio:

The “999” during its first flight:


The MM6930 no longer wearing code “999” but “9.99” at Grazzanise on Apr. 07th 2004 (first time with red and white tip tanks):

Close up view of the code “9.99” at Pratica di Mare on May 29th 2004 during the International F-104 reunion (pilot Lt.Col. Strozza):