Monthly Archives: June 2008

A RAF C-130 intercepted by 2 ItAF F-16s

On June 20, a RAF C-130 flying from Lyneham to Cyprus, was intercepted by a flight of 2 F-16s of the 37° Stormo. The British aircraft had lost the radio contact with the Italian Air Traffic Control and, consequently, the COFA (Comando Operativo delle Forze Aeree)/CAOC 5 at Poggio Renatico ordered the “scramble” of the Southern QRA based in Trapani to intercept the aircraft. The two fighters, departed at 13.11L, reached the British Hercules over Rosarno (Reggio Calabria), Southern Italy, visually identified and escorted it until 13.34L when they were cleared to RTB (Return To Base). In the meanwhile, the C-130 had been able to established again a positive radio contact with the ATC and was cleared to destination via FPL (Flight Plan) route.
It was the 6th scramble of the 2008, a routine Air Defense mission that from the beginning of the year is flown again by two aircraft on H24 alert (for a certain period, the Air Defense duties involved only a single fighter for the Northern QRA and another one for the Southern one).
Unlike it happened some years ago (in the F-104 era during the Cold War), when there were many bases sharing the QRA duties in Northern and Southern Italy (at the end of the ’80s they were: Istrana, Cameri, Rimini, Grosseto, Grazzanise, Gioia del Colle, Trapani and Sigonella, where a cell was deployed on rotation) the current Italian Air Defense set up foresees two QRA (Norther and Southern), each made of a flight of 2 fighters ready for departure in 15 minutes: 2 fighters in either Grosseto (9° Gruppo, equipped with the F-2000 Typhoon) or Cervia (23° Gruppo, equipped with the F-16ADF); and 2 aircraft in Trapani (where two Squadrons share the alert shifts, the 10° and 18° Gruppo). It is still unclear how the Air Defense configuration will change in the 2009-2010 period, when the ItaF will leave Cervia and Trapani with the disbandment of both the 23° and 18° Gruppo and the relocation of the 10° Gruppo to Gioia del Colle. According to the current plans, there will only be two Eurofighter MOBs (Main Operating Bases) fulfilling the Air Defense duties with the Typhoon: Grosseto (9° Gruppo and 20 OCU) and Gioia del Colle (12° and 10° Gruppo).

Spotter Day 90th Anniversary 23° Gruppo – Cervia 20.06.08

The following aircraft were noted during the Spotter Day held in Cervia on June 20, to watch the arrivals of the Italian and foreign squadrons invited by the 23° Gruppo to celebrate its 90th Anniversary.
Here’s the log of the activity:

AT-21 Alpha Jet BAF but flown by EC2/8 of the FAF crews
AT-23 Alpha Jet BAF but flown by EC2/8 of the FAF crews
135 Red L-39 2 Sqn HuAF
C.14-38 14-20 Mir F.1 Esc 141 SpAF
C.14-10 14-05 Mir F.1 Esc 141 SpAF
E-180 F-16A-MLU Esk 727
ET-199 F-16B-MLU Esk 727
XX285 Hawk 100 Sqn RAF Special markings 90th Anniversary
XX284/CA Hawk 100 Sqn RAF
89-2047 F-16CG 510FS
89-2018 F-16CG 510FS
MM54514 “61-64” MB.339A 213 Gr
MM7059 “50-47” Tornado ECR 155 Gr
MM7078 “36-30” Tornado 156 Gr
MM7080 “6-33” Tornado 102 Gr Special Colour
MM6940 “5-30” F-104ASA-M preserved
MM7169 “51-66” AMX 132Gr
MM7239 F-16ADF 23 Gr
MM7251 F-16ADF 23 Gr Special Colour
MM7252 F-16ADF 23 Gr
MM7259 F-16ADF 23 Gr
MM7262 F-16ADF 23 Gr
MM7269 F-16B 18 Gr
MM7273 “36-02” F-2000 12 Gr
MM61970 “5-55” S208M 605SC
MM81343 “15-31” HH-3F 83 CSAR

First Italian F-16 in special colour scheme and new preserved F-104 at Cervia

The highlights of the Spotter Day held on June 20 in Cervia airbase to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the 23° Gruppo were the F-16ADF MM7251 painted in a special colour scheme (since, most probably, it will be the first and only F-16 “Special Colour” in ItAF service) and the preserved F-104S (it is actually an ASA-M) MM6940/5-30, wearing the old codes and markings used by the 23° Gruppo when the Squadron and its parent unit (the 5° Stormo) were based in Rimini.
More pictures of the Spotter Day and the full log of the partecipating aircraft here.

The Queen’s birthday flypast (vs the once traditional Italian June 2 flypast in Rome)

Thanks to the BBC, on June 14 I’ve had the possibility to watch the footage of the flypast provided by the Royal Air Force to mark the Queen’s official birthday.

The flypast involved 57 aircraft of 14 different types ranging from the WWII Spitfires, Hurricane and Lancaster, to the Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon who overflew the Buckingham Palace in large formations. Absolutely stunning in my opinion, the sight of 16 Tornado GR4, a formation composed most probably by all the airworthy “Tonkas” from RAF Marham.

Noteworthy, among the 5 aircraft of the Battle of Britain Flight, there was also the only airworthy Lancaster bomber in the UK. The flypast comprised a C-130J flanked by two King Air 100, a 9 ships formation of Tornado F3s, a formation of 9 Typhoons, an E-3, a VC-10, a Nimrod and a C-17 flying along with two F3s each, and a Tristar flanked by a pair of HS125.

According to the RAF website, the formation assembled over the North Sea and routed towards Buckingham Palace with the support of two Hawks from 100 Sqn and an A.109E that performed weather checks and acted as a camera ship. The formations flew over London at altitudes between 1.300 and 1.700 feet along a corridor 20 NM long that was flown in 4 minutes.

Watching the images of all those formations made me compare the RAF flypast to the once traditional Italian flypast provided by the Italian Air Force on June 2 until 2006. In the last two years, the only formation providing a flypast during National celebrations is the one made of 9 MB339 of the Frecce Tricolori: budget constraints don’t permit the ItAF and other Armed Forces to “waste” flight hours.

Actually, even in the 2001 – 2006 period, the flypasts taking place in Italy were light years away from those that brought hundreds of aircraft and large formations of fighters above Rome: in the ’70s and ’80s, the flypast was one of the highlights of the military parade (that took place almost all years from 1948 to 1992, when it was suspended), and I have pictures of formations made by 18 F-104s and 18 G.91s or 36 F-104s overflying The Eternal City. Look at the following video (1:38) to have an idea of a flypast of 18 F-104s in 1972.

Eight years after it was abolished, in 2000, the parade with an interesting old-style flypast was planned, but something very “Italian” happened: after performing 3 rehearsals neitheir aircraft was cleared to perform the flypast on Sunday June 4, 2001. All those formation, it was later explained, would have rendered the flypast too military! Strange isn’t it? Especially if we consider that the whole parade is provided by all the Armed Forces (Navy, Army, Air Force, Carabinieri, Coast Guard, Police, Guardia Di Finanza etc).

In 2000, 100 aircraft, spares comprised, from 8 airbases, were expected to fly over Rome. Even if it was never confirmed, it was decided to keep the aircraft on the ground since many citizens (and politicians) protested for the “show of force”, for the noise pollution, for the Widow Maker (the F-104) overflying the Nation’s Capital etc.

As a consequence, only the Frecce Tricolori could attend the flypast and the following elements of the Aeronautica Militare were cancelled: 3 MB339 of the 61° Stormo (callsign “Veltro”); 3 SF-260 of the 70° Stormo (“Vespa”); 3 NH-500 of the 72° Stormo and 3 HH-3F of the 15° Stormo (“Eolo” and “Ettore”); 1 C-130 and 2 G-222 of the 46^ Brigata Aerea (“Vega”); 3 Atlantique of the 41° Stormo (“Vicky”); 3 Tornado IDS and 3 ADV of the 36° Stormo (“Vortex” and “Vulcan”), 3 AMX of the 51° Stormo (“Violet”); and 3 F-104 of the 5° Stormo (“Victor”). The fixed wing aircraft (whose c/s began with the letter “V”, for “Velivolo”, “Plane”) were expected to fly at 1.500 ft AGL, while helicopters (with c/s beginning with the letter “E”, as “Elicottero”, “Helicopter”) were expected to fly at 1.000 ft AGL.

In the following years the flypast took place but, as a compromise, only aircraft with two or more engines were authorized to overfly Rome and as a consequence, in 2001, only 48 aircraft (helicopters comprised), took part to the flypast. In 2002, the aircraft were 68 but, despite the single-engined aircraft were still banned (MB.339PAN of the Frecce Tricolori display team aside), nobody noticed that in spite of the 4 nozzles, the Italian Navy Harriers with a single engine were cleared to overfly the center of Rome. The 2003 edition saw only 54 aircraft belonging to all the Armed Forces and Corps performing the flypast; among them there was no AV8B+. Until 2005, when the last one was performed, the flypast had approximately the same shape with less than 30 aircraft and around 20 helicopters.

The following pictures (courtesy Troupe Azzurra, Aeronautica Militare) show the 2003 edition of the military parade.

Italian Tornados relocation (and possible deployment to Afghanistan)

In these days, two movements seem to interest the Italian Tornado fleet.

The first one was announced many months ago and it is part of a project of rationalization of the ItAF resources, a plan that foresees to concentrate homogeneous fleets on the same bases.

It deals with the transfer of the 156 Gruppo aircraft, currently located in Gioia del Colle and belonging to the 36 Stormo, to Ghedi. The Tonkas wearing the Lynx badge will join the 154 Gruppo and 102 OCU of the 6 Stormo, thus creating a Tornado IDS MOB (Main Operating Base).

Piacenza will remain the only other base hosting the Tonka, even if the type of aircraft equipping the 50 Stormo’s 155 Gruppo is the ECR version, used for SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) mission.

By next July, all the 156 Gr aircraft and crews will return to Ghedi 42 years after they moved in the opposite direction in 1966, when the Squadron left the 6 Aerobrigata to be annexed to the 36 Stormo.

The other possible relocation was hypothesised by the Italian MOD Ignazio La Russa during the NATO Council meeting in Bruxelles on June 13. Even if nothing has been decided yet, the Ministry explained that the deployment of the Tornado could be evaluated if demanded by the other allies to relieve the six German Tornados used for reconnaissance in Southern Afghanistan.

The GAF planes have been operating under NATO command from Apr 9 from Mazar-e-Sharif, a forward base in Northern Afghanistan. The aircraft are used for “recce” missions and equipped with high-tech cameras and provide hi-rez images providing additional security for both the ISAF troops and civilian population. This would be the same task of the Italian Tornados.

The 154 Gruppo has recently received its new Reccelite pod and has performed the first reconnaissance mission with the new equipment on Mar 13.

The Rafael Reccelite is a Day/Night electro-optical pod able to provide real-time imagery collection. It is made of a stabilized turret, Solid-state on board recorder that provides image collections in all directions, from high, medium and low altitudes and can transmit to a ground station the collected data in real-time via data-link. The Reccelite was integrated with the Tornado with the cooperation of the Alenia Aeronautica and the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, at Pratica di Mare and can be used to provide imagery of suspected Taliban positions in Afghanistan.

Since reconnaissance is one of the duties of the 154 Gruppo, which flew recce missions also on the Balkans and in case of national calamities, this Squadron is most probably the one destined to operate in Afghanistan should the need arise. In 2006, the possible deployment of the 51 Stormo AMX Ghiblis to Afghanistan was speculated; Ministry La Russa clearly explained that the only option under evaluation these days doesn’t foresee the involvement of Ghibli.