Monthly Archives: November 2008

On board the Cavour aircraft carrier

On Nov. 9, during the Armed Forces Day celebrations (see also: November 4th 2008 – 90th Anniversary of the end of WWI) I went to Civitavecchia to visit the brand new Italian aircraft carrier Cavour.

Nave Cavour (550) was commissioned to Fincantieri on Nov 22, 2000. The ship sailed for the first time in December 2006 and was delivered to the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) on Mar. 27, 2008. The Cavour should enter the active service by the Summer 2009.

The new ship of the ItNavy, capable of hosting V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing) aircraft, was opened to everybody that wanted to “embark” in the large Italian unit to her first port visit to Civitavecchia (to the North West of Rome). The aircraft carrier was next to the Amerigo Vespucci, the famous tall ship of the Marina Militare based in Livorno and used for training purposes.

An interesting public tour brought all the visitors on the flight deck on the top/flag bridge (to visit the Primary Flight Control inside the “Tower”), and in the large hangar of 2,500 sqmt capable of recovering 12 helicopters or 8 AV-8B+ (or JSF in the future) or mix of the two types, where a static display of AB-212ASW, EH-101 and Harrier had been arranged. The hangar space can hold up to 24 main battle tanks (60 tons MBT Ariete) or 50 lighter vehicles (Landing Vehicle Transport Personnel LVTP 7, VCC 80 Dardo IFV) or 100 Iveco LMV.

The ship is huge: 244 meters long and 39 meter wide. The runway is 180 x 14 mt with a ski-jump of 12°. According to the official information published on the Marina Militare website there are 6 helicopeter ramps on the left side of the ship, 1 SAR ramp at bow and parking areas for 8 aircraft on the starboard side. The deck has two 30 tons elevators for aircraft and two 15 tons elevators for ammunitions. Cavour, whose displacement is 27,100 tons (13,850 was the displ. of the Garibaldi), can accomodate 1210 military. The maximum speed is 28 Kts, the range is 7,000 NM at 16 Kts (18 days of navigation). The unit can reach the Persian Gulf (from Taranto base some 3,300 NM) without any stop and using just the 50% of the embarked fuel.

All the following pictures were taken during the tour of the ship upon receiving authorization by the accompanying non-commissioned officer

The following panoramic image was created by Giovanni Maduli, basing on the pictures he took on Nov 8.

Tishreen War Panorama Museum, Damascus, Syria

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Damascus, in Syria, one of the most wonderful and interesting towns of the Middle East. Damascus is an ancient town (for some historical sources, it is the oldest of the World), absolutely safe for a foreign visitor (in spite of the supposed support to the international terrorists and the consequent US embargo), full welcoming people, sights, museums and places that are worth a visit. Among them, at least for aviation and military enthusiasts, the Tishereen War Panorama. Built to celebrate the Yom Kippur War that took place in the October 1973 (“Tishreen” means “October” in Arabic), during which Syria fought along Egypt against Israel to conquer the Sinai peninsula and the Golan Heights lost in the Six Days War in 1967, the Museum is located some 2 chilometers to the North East of the Old City of Damascus, along one of the most crowded local highways. Even if some tourist guides report that the Museum is open from 09.00 to 21.00, the “Panorama” (as it is widely known in Damascus) doesn’t open before 10.00 in the morning (actually, opening time should be from 10.00 to 12.00 and from 16.00 to 18.00 but I suggest to double check before planning a visit when arriving in Syria). What must be taken into account is that, opening hours aside, it could be not so easy to find a means of transportation to the Museum and a taxi driver willing to bring some tourist there and to leave them on the right side of the street. ticketTickets for tourists cost 10 USD and they provide access to the memorial. In fact, the Museum is made of a large cylindric-shaped building (that looks like a medieval “citadel”) surrounded by flowerbeds and by two areas, on the opposite sides of the main building where the most interesting part of the collection is displayed. The main building contains images, paintings and a room with a turning seating area that turns slowly to let you observe the entire panorama (hence the name of the museum) of the battle of Quneitra, the city in the Golan Heights conquered by the Israelis in “Six days war” that the Syrians were taking back. On the its right side (watching the “citadel”), Syrian equipment (aircraft, tanks, cannons) is exposed; on the left there’s an area dedicated to the Israeli “hardware” captured during the 1973 war and in 1982 war in Lebanon. In the middle, there’s a big statue of the former president Hafez al-Assad with a raised arm in the act of ordering an attack. Among the Syrian equipment the most interesting examples are the Mig-21 and the Mi-8 of the Quwwat al-Jawwiya al Arabiya as-Souriya (Syrian Arab Air Force). The fighter has no markings but the serial number “676” (in Arabic) on the left side of the tail and carries two AA-2 Atoll missiles and two UB16 pods for 16 57mm rockets. The Mi-8, coded “78” carries 4 UB16 pods. Unfortunately, both seem to have been repainted in the last years and wear colour schemes and roundels that are quite different from the original ones. Both aircraft are exposed next to the spacecraft used in 1967 by the only Syrian cosmonaut and are surrounded by all kinds of weapons systems: SA-3 and SA-6 SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles), lightly armored, radar guided anti-aircraft weapon system ZSU-23-4 “Shilka”, T-54, T-55 and T-62 tanks, BMP-1 amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicle and various kinds of cannons and trucks. The Israeli side hosts the remains of a F-4 Phantom downed in Lebanon (unfortunately, there’s no way to identify it since no serial is readable), a SUU-30B/B dispencer, an underwing tank used by both F-4s and F-15s (since it is in almost perfect conditions it was possibly jettisoned by an F-4 during a low level attack) and the wreckage of a unknown aircraft (most probably a Mystére IV or a Vautour II). Noteworthy there are many tanks and trucks that were captured in Lebanon. Among them, an M-48 , a Centurion, an AMX VCI, and an M.113 Armoured Personnel Carrier.

November 9th – Florence Armed Forces Day

As I explained in a previous post (November 4th 2008 – 90th Anniversary of the end of WWI) between Nov 4 and Nov 9, the major Italian towns hosted the celebrations of the Armed Forces Day and the 90th anniversary of the end of WWI. Matteo Marianeschi went to Florence and took the following pictures of the static and air display conducted there on Nov 9.

November 4th 2008 – 90th Anniversary of the end of WWI

Between Nov. 4 and Nov. 9, the most important Italian towns hosted the celebrations for Armed Forces day and the 90th Anniversary of the end of WWI. In particular, Rome Circus Maximus hosted an interesting static display of aircraft, helicopters and ground equipments of the Italian Armed Forces and Air Corps. Giovanni Maduli went there when the exhibition was being arranged and took the following interesting pictures of some of most important attendees. Among them, noteworthy, the Agusta A.106 of the Italian Navy (a light helicopter used for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) platform for the Impavido-class destroyers of the Marina Militare; an A.206, an A-129 and an NH-90 of the Italian Army; and an MB339 PAN of the 313° Gruppo.
As part of the celebrations, the brand new Italian aircraft carrier Cavour was in Civitavecchia harbour. We visited it on Sunday Nov. 9th. A report on that visit will be published in the next weeks on this website.

HH-3F crash caused by the fracture of a main rotor's blade

On Nov. 12, a first report about the HH-3F crash that costed the life of 8 POB (read also An Italian HH-3F crashes in France killing 8 POB & “Mammaiut”: all the ItAF HH-3Fs grounded) was published by the Aeronautica Militare on its official website. According to the first evidences collected by the investigation team, and as I had supposed after analysing the crash in the aftermath, the helicopter, belonging to the 84° Centro SAR based in Brindisi, crashed because of the break of one the main rotor blades, an event that caused the loss of the tail rotor and the quick impact of the aircraft with the terrain. The one occurred on Oct. 23 represents the first and only loss of an HH-3F in 30 years of service of the helicopter within the ItAF caused by a technical problem. During 170.000 flight hours flown by the aircraft from 1977, 5 “Pelikan” were lost because of human or environmental factors. The following picture (source: Aeronautica Militare shows a remain of the HH-3F that crashed in France.
pala1Even if the cause of the crash was identified, for the moment the ItAF fleet of HH-3F and SH-3D remains grounded. It could be a long grounding, since it is absolutely not easy to change the blades of a helicopter. As I was explained when I visited the 72° Stormo last year for an article that will be published in the next issue of RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa), the NH.500E fleet was compelled to change the blades, since the vendor no longer produced the old gas model. The new honeycomb ones are almost identical to the previous even if they are extremely different under an aerodynamical point of view. They are more perfoming and efficient but induce stronger solicitation to the airframes and for this reason they are introduced into service gradually after a long evaluation phase. Previously, each helicopter had its own bouquet of blades (3 + 2 spares), today, because of the lack of components, each aircraft shares its blades with the rest of the fleet. Each NH.500E is equipped with blades coming from 3 different aircraft but since each blade deforms in a specific way according to the peculiar shape of the airframe and of the rotor it is mounted on, the “sharing” cause tracking problem and requires many calibration and testing flights.
Consequently, in my opinion, even if the HH-3F program is due to end in 2012, there’s a possibility that the aircraft will not be released for flight for a very long time. Unfortunately, a replacement for the “Pelikan” is not available yet, and won’t be for some years to come (unless, for some reason Sikorsky is compelled by some contractual clause to provide a replacement).
At the moment, the SAR (Search And Rescue) service is provided by the AB.212 of the ItAF that were deployed as follows:
1 AB-212 of the 15° Stormo at Pratica di Mare
1 AB-212 of the 9° Stormo from Grazzanise deployed to Brindisi
1 AB-212 from Decimomannu deployed to Trapani
1 AB-212 at Decimomannu
1 AB-212 from Decimomannu deployed to Istrana
The stop doesn’t affect the SH-3D of the Italian Navy that are equipped with different blades.