On Sep. 19, 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. 19, 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. 18 and 19, 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 9-99 is currently preserved at Gioia del Colle airbase (after remaining at Grazzanise for several years), where the X Gruppo has moved to join the 36° Stormo (Wing) along with the XII Gruppo.