Monthly Archives: December 2008

The year 2008 in pictures

It’s only when you get to the end of the year that you get the full picture of what has happened in the previous 12 months. Images collected during worlwide travels, flights and base visits, used to illustrate the most different stories dealing with the World of Aviation, provide a means to get a snapshop on the most important topics discussed on this site in the 2008. A sort of “debrief at a glance”.

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During the first part of the year I often spotted in Fiumicino airport to take pictures of the civilian aircraft taking off from “Leonardo Da Vinci” airport. There are a lot of other interesting things to see at Fiumicino in that period: the first Alitalia aircraft wearing the brand new company’s livery and, in particular, the B767 (B764). In that period I’m also interested in taking pictures of the Emirates B.777-300 since I’m discussing a lot about the safety of the “Triple Seven” fleet following the British Airways 038 crash landing in London Heathrow. The analysis of the possible root causes of the crash landing of the BA038 will be updated and reviewed each time a new report is issued or new details surface. During the year Aviation Safety will be always discussed and most important emergencies analysed: the (many) Qantas emergencies (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/qantas/), the Lufthansa 044 wingstrike (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/lh044/) and the Spanair crash in Madridimg_0044 (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/spanair-5022/) just to name but few that had an extensive coverage.

At the end of February, I spent a few days in New York City and wrote a detailed Trip Report about my experiences on board one of those B767-300 still wearing the old colour scheme: Trip report: Rome Fiumicino (FCO) – New York JFK (JFK) Round-Trip

In March I went Frosinone airbase, to write a report on the 72° Stormo that will be published in 2009 on RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa). During the visit, I fly on board an NH-500E of the 208° Gruppo and to take part, along with another helicopter of the same type, to a mission inside the Frosinone (Aerodrome Traffic Zone). The flight provides an interesting opportunity for some air-to-air photography.
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In April I visited the Exhibition held in Rome, inside an anti-aircraft bunker, whose title was “L’aeroporto che non c’è” (whose translation could be more or less “the airport that doesn’t exhist”) that dealt with the project of the Magliana water airport. crw_7587The exhibition provided many interesting details about the Aeronautica Militare in the ’30s and about the airport that was to be built in Rome in a large area located in the SW of Rome (an area comprising the current EUR and Magliana districts), in the period between 1930 and 1940, the Fascism had planned to erect an intercontinental seaplane station equipped also with a “normal” runway needed to serve “normal” aircraft.

The Spring Flag exercise provided an interesting opportunity to fly on board Italy’s Air Force One: Inside the Italian Air Force One: discover the A319CJ. The

A319CJ right wing

opportunity was provided by the Italian Air Force Press Office that organized a Media Flight to bring journlists and photographers to Decimomannu to attend the Media Day of the most important Italian exercise.

Spring Flag was indeed interesting. Media Day aside (with the interesting tactical event and subsequent mass fly-by) this website extensively covered the event, with a photographer (Giovanni Maduli), spending many days in the airport and reporting directly from there. All the related posts can be read by clicking the following link: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/category/military-aviation/spring-flag-military-aviation/.

F-2000As I wrote in one of the related posts, Sardinia island (and most of Italy), during the Exercise was interested by cloudy weather that had a significant impact on the planned sorties. Just to have an idea of the rate of cancellations let’s have a look at some figures: the Coalition forces, based in Deci flew 212 out 373 missions, the 63% of the planned sorties. F-2000 nozzlesThe Opfor based in Trapani were less affected by the meteorological conditions and flew 119 sorties out of 137 planned, the 87%. Even for this reason, one of the Exercise’s lessons learned is that next year the Spring Flag could take place a little later, most probably in May. Despite the bad weather that affected also the Media Day, I was able to take some interesting pictures. As I wrote in the debrief: SF08 was a Joint, Interdepartmental, International Exercise, integrated with some Government Agencies and with the Red Cross. In two week, medium-scale air operations were conducted from two DOBs (Deployable Operating Base), Decimomannu and Trapani. This is one of the main differences between the SF07 and this 2008 edition: in order to create a more realistic scenario, the aircraft crw_7866were not all based on the same airport, so the Red Air was stationed in Sicily, while the Blue Forces were in Deci. Because of the current financial crisis, this year’ SF did not host the field hospital, kitchen and all the logistic assets that during 2007 edition were based in Decimomannu. Unlike last year, when JFACC (Joint Force Air Component Command) managed all the air ops, this year the JFACC split in a DCAOC (Deployable Combined Air Operations Center), deployed to Bari-Palese airport, that managed the coalition forces, and CAOC5 that from its usual homebase in Poggio Renatico, managed the oSMIpposing forces (”opfor”). 52 Italian and 23 foreign assets (and 1.968 people) attended the exercise, performing all range of missions; among the most interesting sorties the SF08 encopassed also Intelligence gathering missions, Combat SAR (CSAR), Slow Mover Interception (SMI) and Urban CAS (Close Air Support). In order to test the handling capabilities of the airport, an ATOC (Air Terminal Operation Center) was established in Deci and operated for 8 days with 12 people providing check-in and boarding services and handling some 600/800 passengers per day.

On Apr 26 I went to Grazzanise for the 90th Anniversary of the 21° Gruppo. During the celebration, the ItAF Tiger Sqn presented a new Special Colour (New Italian Special Colour to celebrate the 21° Gruppo 90th Anniversary) and organizeAB212ICO Speciald an interesting tactical event that ended with the spectacular release of flares by two AB.212ICOs of the 4 ships formation (that was led by the AB.212ICO Tiger Special Colour). I wrote a detailed report on the event that was published by Rivista Aeronautica on the 03/08 issue. You can read the article (in Italian) by clicking on the following link: I 90 anni delle Tigri. You can also read an article on the Squadron activities in Afghanistan, published on June 2008 issue of Air Forces Monthly, at the following link: Burka Tigers.

On Apr 26, during the Reunion, I tested for the first time my Sigma 80-4AB212ICO calendar00mm f/4.5-5.6 EX APO OS DG with a Sigma 1.4x teleconverter specially modified (by me) to work calendario-2009with the AF (Autofocus). I’m pretty satisfied of the results and I’m very proud that one of the pictures I took that day in Grazzanise (a close up on a turning AB.212ICO) was used in the official Italian Air Force calendar (it is the picture used for November 2009) and represents the only picture in the calendar (front cover aside, shot by K. Tokunaga) from an “external” photographer. To read more about this year’s calendar of the Aeronautica Militare, visit this link on the ItAF website.

At the beginning of May I visited Trapani, where I took part in a SMI (Slow Mover Interception) F-16 air-to-airmission of the 37° Stormo on board a Siai 208M of the 637th Squadriglia Collegamenti and witnessed an interception from the “zombie” point of view: Air to Air with the Trapani-based Italian F-16s. The Siai was intercepted and escorted by 2 F-16s of the 10° Gruppo that provided a unique photo oppportunity. During the stay in Trapani I also attended a training sortie with an HH-3F “Pelikan” of the 82° Centro SAR of the 15° Stormo. We flew as “Palma 01″ a so-called “SAR mare” a search and rescue mission above the sea. The mission was extremely interesting: we performed a couple of instrumcrw_8565ental procedures under GCA control, then we performed some instrumental approach to the sea to simulate the approach procedure to the hovering position during a night SAR mission and then landed on the Favignana helipad. Before returning to Trapani in VFR, we made a couple of recoveries from the ground using the winch.

At the end of May I extensively followed the Giornata Azzurra 2008, the most important Italian airshow held each year at Pratica di Mare airbase. Among the most photographed aircraft, the mock up of the Lockheed JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), the UAE Mirages, C130J Giornata Azzurrathe Turkish NF-5 and also the new Punto Abarth of the Frecce Tricolori. Other interesting aircraft were the ROF Mig-21 and AN-26, the Italian SIGINT platform G-222VS, the last ItAF B707 (that in spite of its last operative flight, was still flying some sorties from Pratica di Mare), the NH-500E with rockets and in MEDEVAC configuration. The air display was focused on the tactical event that particularly interesting as it involved HH-3F, AB.212ICO, AMX, C-27J, C-130J, Tornado and F-2000 of the Italian Air Force in a simulated blitz to F-16 GA 2008take an airport located at the border between two fighting countries in a virtual out-of-area scenario. The simulated action saw the Tornado and AMX formations, covered by F-2000 Eurofighters in sweep role, attacking the airport in order to neutralize the enemy air defenses. Then the airport was taken by the Italian Special Forces carried by 2 HH-3F and 1 AB.212 and prepared for the arrival of the C-27J and C-130J carring the personnel, materials and equipments needed for the logistical support of the Forward Operating Base. The base was then readied for the arrival of the other allied aircraft operating under the UN flag while the transport aircraft departed again full of humanitarian aids, escorted to destination by AMXs and F-2000s.
All the posts dealing with the Giornata Azzurra can be read by clicking here: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/giornata-azzurra/.

On Ju 1 I witnessed the tragic accident involving the NH90 of the Esercito Italiano (Italian Army) which crashed into the surface of Bracciano Lake, causing the death of Capt. Filippo Fornassi. To read more about this picture and the accident, visit the following link: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/nh90-crash-pictures/.
NH90 crash

On Jun 20, I visited the Spotter Day for the 90th Anniversary of the 23° Gruppo, in Cervia. The highlight of the event, that was attended by many Italian and foreign visitors (for more details click hereSpecial Colour Cervia: Spotter Day 90th Anniversary 23° Gruppo – Cervia 20.06.08 was the F-16ADF MM7251 painted in a special colour scheme; the first and probably only F-16 “Special Colour” in ItAF service. To read my article on the event, published on the 04/08 issue of Rivista Aeronautica click the following link: Spotter Day per i 90 anni del 23° Gruppo.

During the Summer, I often went to Fiumicino, in order to witness the increase of air traffic caused by the transfer of the 70% of the Alitalia flights from Milan Malpensa (MXP) to Rome Fiumicino and by the Summer season’ schedule that always bring more aircraft to the Leonardo Da Vinci. After discussing a lot during the year about the safety issues of the B747-400 and B777 fleets (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/aviation-safety/),B777 Emirates I often go to Fiumicino to watch some wide-bodies arriving or departing from Rome airport and visually assess their status. Among the interesting details I noticed spending more or less an hour on Sunday Aug. 3 next to the airport’s fence, was the red “Emirates” writing below the fuselage and the URL of the company’s website applied to B777-300 “A6-EMN” (that I had never spotted before in “Fiume”).

Cavour On Nov 9, during the Armed Forces Day celebrations I went to Civitavecchia to visit the brand new Italian aircraft carrier Cavour (see also: On board the Cavour aircraft carrier). 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.pict1464

In November, I had also the unique opportunity to visit the Tishreen War Panorama Museum, located in Damascus, Syria. 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 hosts both Syrian equipment (aircraft, tanks, cannons) and Israeli “hardware” captured during the 1973 war and in 1982 war in Lebanon.

December was dedicated to the in-depth study of the whole year, that produced this photostory and the article about the accidents that involved Italian military helicopters: 2008: a bad year for Italian military helicopters.
Obviously, this was just a quick look to the year 2008. To read what’s behind each image (and to see much more pictures) the best way is to go to the “Archive of the previous month” menu on the right hand coloumn and, by selecting desired month, to access all the posts written in that month. Otherwise, you may also use the search box located on top of the right hand coloumn.

2008: a bad year for Italian military helicopters

Most probably, 2008 will be remembered as one of the worst years in the history of the Italian military helicopter aviation. At least 5 accidents occurred to aircraft belonging to both the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), the Esercito Italiano (Italian Army, ItAy) and the Marina Militare (Italian Navy, ItNy). On Mar 13, an NH-500E of the 72° Stormo crashed in a field near Arnara, some 10 chilometers from Frosinone airbase, during the execution of a simulated crash landing. The two pilots on board (an Instructor Pilot and a Student) escaped the helicopter before it was completely destroyed by the fire. At around 12.00LT on Mar 13, I was on board Samba 01+1, a flight of 2 NH-500E that were performing a training sortie within the Frosinone ATZ to take some air-to-air pictures for a report that will be published on RID next month. We heard on the Tower frequency about the emergency: a Rescue helicopter was already approaching the crash landing site and reported fire on the ground and smoke.

On May 7 at 22.15LT, an HH-3F of the 15° Stormo ditched in the Tyrrehenian sea 5 NM W of Pratica di Mare during a night SAR training mission. The aircraft belonged to the 85 Gruppo SAR and the 5 people on board escaped the aircraft with injuries: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2008/05/08/an-italian-hh-3f-pelican-ditches-in-the-tyrrhenian-sea/
On Jun 1, an NH90 of the Army crashed into the Bracciano lake during Ali sul Lago airshow (attended also by the Frecce Tricolori), causing the death of 1 of the crew members. I was there, took pictures of the helicopter impacting the surface of the water and wrote a detailed report on the mishap: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/nh90-crash-pictures/.



One month later, on Jul 1, an AB212ASW of the Italian Navy crash landed during a training sortie in the countryside near Grottaglie airbase, causing 1 dead and 2 injured ones.


On Oct 23, an HH-3F of the ItAF belonging to the 84° CSAR (Centro SAR, SAR Center) based in Brindisi, flying to Florennes with another aircraft of the same time to attend the TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) crashed between Isle-en-Barrois and Vaubecourt, near Strasbourg, France, causing the death of 8 POB (People On Board). The accident was caused by the sudden rupture 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 (for more info on this accident, read the following articles: An Italian HH-3F crashes in France killing 8 POB; “Mammaiut”: all the ItAF HH-3Fs grounded; HH-3F crash caused by the fracture of a main rotor’s blade; Three HH-3F cleared to fly).


On Dec 16, an A129 “Mangusta” of the 7° Reggimento “Vega”, hit a the military jeep during the simulation of a typical in-theatre check point operation in Rimini airport, causing the death of one of the occupants of vehicle. Two Mangusta were taking part to the exercise: the first one had to halt the 5 vehicles coloumn, while the second had to overfly it with a 360° turn. The second vehicle of the coloumn was hit by the blade of the second A129 as this one performed a tight turn above to visually check it. The helicopter’s blade was seriously damaged and the pilot struggled to keep the aircraft flying but he was able to perform an emergency landing nearby. Even if an investigation is still in progress the accident was probably caused by a pilot’s error who misjudged the distance from the jeep or because of a wind gust (strong winds and bad weather were reported on Rimini airport on Dec 16).


Four ATR72MP to replace the ageing Italian fleet of Br.1150 Atlantic

On Dec. 22, a press release from Alenia Aeronautica announced the agreement reached by the Finmeccanica company and the Direzione Generale Armamenti Aeronautici (General Management for Aeronautical Armaments) of the Defence Ministry, for the supply of 4 ATR72MP (Maritime Patrol) aircraft, medium-range, twin-engine turbine airplanes that will replace the Sigonella based Br.1150 Atlantic of the 41° Stormo. The new aircraft, will be delivered to the Aeronautica Militare starting from 2012 and will be employed in maritime patrol missions. Since the press release doesn’t mention it, the new version developed ad-hoc by Alenia for the ItAF (7 ATR42MPs are already in service with the Guardia di Finanza (Customs Police) and the Coast Guard), should be used only for surveillance, SAR (Search And Rescue) and anti-immigration purposes and will not carry antisom equipment. According to the news issued by Alenia, the new aircraft, that will have a higher endurance, will be equipped with the SELEX Galileo ATOS mission system, which integrates the Seaspray, electronic-scan surveillance radar and the EOST (Electro-Optical multi-Sensor Turret), for the identification of boats and persons at sea in any weather condition; with RWR and passive countermeasures, ESM, and with last-generation datalink and communication systems for net-centric operations supporting Link 11, Link 16 and SICRAL. Even if the ATR72MP is quite an improvement from the ATR42MP it is less capable (but also less expensive) than the ATR72 ASW order by Turkey; consequently, the Italian Air Force (and the Italian Navy, since crews on board Br.1150 are mixed), is about to loose the capability to protect maritime and commercial routes from submarine threats. However it could also represent a sort of gap filler, a means for replacing the 18 ageing Atlantic (in service since 1972) until the budget will be available for a MMA (Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft), a platform that, ideally, should be the Boeing 737-based P-8A “Poseidon”, or alternatively, the same ATR72MP upgraded to the ASW version with antisom capabilities.

Link 16 on board the Italian Tornado F.3?

I’ve just finished reading a couple of interesting articles published on the latest issue of Rivista Aeronautica (06/08). They deal with the Trial Imperial Hammer 2008 (TIH 08), a complex exercise that was held in Decimomannu last September and whose aim was to improve the Time Sensitive Targeting and Dynamic Retasking capabilities during counter-terrorism operations. The TIH 08 proposed an asymmetric warfare scenario with UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicles) operations, GPS Jamming missions, SIGINT/ESM sorties, Improvised Electronic Device activities. Some specialized assets attended the exercise: G.222VS of the 14° Stormo, B.707 of the Spanish Air Force, French C-160G Gabriel and Mirage F1CR, a C-130 Senior Scout of the Delaware ANG, a C-160 of the Turkish Air Force, a Br.1150 of the German Navy, Luftwaffe Tornado ECR and IDS, two EH-101 in ESM configuration, and Italian Tornado ECR and IDS. AMX, HH-3F and AB.212ICO of the Aeronautica Militare (ItAF) attended the CSAR missions. Supporting the exercise also a NATO E-3 AWACS and an E-3F of the French Air Force. All the information gathered by the various assets were collected by the JFFC (Joint Forces Fusion Center) that acted as a sensor fusion unit. The JFFC was a sort of “middleware” that received and distributed all the information received from the various assets linked by means of the Tactical Data Link (TDL): Link 16, Link 11 and IDM (Improved Data Modem). Noteworthy, the Link 16 data link was implemented also on the Italian Tornado IDS and ECR – this latter equipped also with an MSR (Multi-Ship Ranging) a Link 16-based capability for integrating and fusing information coming from different ELS (Emitter Locator System) in order to geolocalize electromagnetic threats discovered by different platforms. In a typical net-centric architecture, during the TIH 08, the Italian Tornados sent the information gathered by their MSR to the JFFC that could update the picture by delivering the information via Link 16/Link 11/IDM to all the other assets involved in the exercise and to the AWACS. The same information could be sent to a Tornado IDS that could be used to attack a target detected by a Tornado ECR. That said is it clear that the Link 16 – which required the installation of a MIDS/LVT (Multifunctional Information Distribution System / Low Volume Terminal) on the Tornados – is extremely important to establish a flexible, authenticated, encrypted e communication channel between different platforms for information exchange. Considering that the first Tornado ECR with MIDS and MSR was taken on charge by the Reparto Sperimentale on Jul 17, I didn’t remember that the Link 16 capability was not achieved by the ItAF for the first time by the Tornado fleet, in 2008, until Riccardo Vestuto, an F-104 and aviation expert, requested me some Tornado F.3 cockpit pictures. After I sent him those images I shot during my visit to Gioia del Colle in 2004 for an article that was published by Rivista Aeronautica he made me notice that in WSO (Weapon System Officer) cockpit there’s a third CRT above the standard two ones, that is not present on all the examples leased from the Royal Air Force and could have been installed after the delivery (that took place on Jul 5, 1995) as a retrofit.
Since some RAF Tornado F.3 are JTIDS/Link 16 capable it is possible that the third CRT on my pictures was the JTIDS (Joint Tactical Information Display System) or MIDS terminal installed only on a few examples in service with the 12° Gruppo of the 36° Stormo based in Gioia del Colle (that is the last Squadron to have been equipped with the ADV variant of the Tornado). When in 2004 I interviewed Maj. Luca Spuntoni, Cdr of the 12° Gruppo (to read the article in Italian click here: Il 36° Stormo), he explained that the Tornado F.3 was the first aircraft to introduce the JTIDS in Italy but I don’t know if the panel in the pictures is the one used by the WSO to manage the system in the ADV. If anybody has more information, please let me know.





A day in the life of the 9° Stormo of Grazzanise

A few months ago, my father-in-law gave me a nice book titled “A day in the life of Australia”. In a few words, on March 6 1981 at 00:01 hours, 100 of the World leading photojournalists (among them also some Pulitzer Prize winners) gathered in Australia, poised in different locations and for the next 24 hours took photographs of Red Continent. This book contains 367 pictures taken across Australia that draw a portrait of the country in a single day of 1981.
The book reminded me of the days I spent in Grazzanise (especially in 2003) when I not only took pictures of the local based F-104s, but captured moments with images of people, equipment, landscape, etc. So I decided to prepare a photostory of a day spent with the 9° Stormo in Grazzanise in 2003. I did not select only the most significant or interesting pictures: in order to let everyone see the images I shot I uploaded all of them, even in some cases they look similar one another. This article will provide a snapshot about the 9° Stormo and Grazzanise airbase in a day (actually the pictures were taken in 2 days, Aug. 12 and Sept 8 during a Sqn Exch with the Hellenic Air Force F-4 Phantoms) of 2003.