Monthly Archives: July 2010

Super Hornet road map

The F-18F Super Hornet was one of the highlights of the recent Farnborough 2010 not only because the multi-role aircraft displayed during the Air Show, but also because Shelley Lavender, Vice President and General Manager Boeing’s Global Strike Systems unveiled the new Super Hornet International Road Map, a disclosure that may indicate that slippage in the F-35 program has encouraged the company to market the Super Hornet more aggressively in order to persuade some countries that are evaluating the F-35 to opt on the F/A-18E/F.
The upgrade equip the Super Hornet, whose effectiveness in combat has been proven in years of operations in Irak and Afghanistan (that I was able to witness in October 2009 during my visit to the USS Nimitz involved in combat operations in support of Enduring Freedom) with conformal fuel tanks, enhanced performance engines, enclosed weapons pod and other systems. The modifications, include:

  • Conformal Fuel Tanks
  • Enhanced Performance Engines
  • Spherical Missile/Laser Warning
  • Enclosed Weapons Pod
  • Next Generation Cockpit
  • Internal IRST

that could be retrofitted to any Block II aircraft. The most interesting change is a stealth-configured weapon pod designed to accommodate a range of weapons, including four AMRAAMs, or a mix of two Mk82-class bombs and two AIM-120 missiles. The external pod would help to reduce the Super Hornet’s RCS (Radar Cross-Section) by removing missiles and bombs from external underwing pylons. Furthermore, the internal IRST (Infra-Red Search & Track) is another interesting upgrade. IRST offers a passive way to locate and target enemy aircraft – one that won’t trigger radar warning receivers. When coupled with medium-range IR missiles an IRST system offers a fighter both an extra set of medium-range eyes, and a stealthy air-to-air combat weapon. For instance, the Italian F-2000s are equipped with the IRST.
So far the systems that provide long range thermal imaging against air and ground targets was integraded in the Super Hornet in quite an unusual way: modifying a 480 gallon centerline fuel tank to carry 330 gallons of fuel + the IRST system. This approach would allow refits to 150 existing Super Hornets even if the drawback was that a centerline tank with IRST needed to stay on the airplane in combat, compromising its aerodynamic performance and radar signature (fuel tanks are often jettisoned in combat to improve manoeuvrability).

Sicily airports (in the Trapani area) in WWII

In 2008, I had the opportunity to fly a mission aboard a SIAI 208M of the Trapani based 37° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) within a SMI (Slow Mover Interceptor) mission. Flying as “I-2009” we played the role of a Slow Mover and were intercepted by 2 F-16 ADF of the X Gruppo (10° Gruppo) as I later described in the article “Nei panni dello Slow Mover”. The flight with the S.208 was extremely interesting: before being intercepted by the two Vipers, we perfomed a medium level navigation within the Trapani CTR, a “tour” that provided the opportunity to take some aerial photographs of some old World War II airports. After passing next to the Reserve of the Stagnone, a lagoon extending in the Marsala territory, to the South of Trapani, where a Seaplane Station of the Regia Aeronautica (Royal Italian Air Force) was located, hosting the Cant. Z.501 of the 144^ Squadriglia Ricognizione with the two hangars built between 1938 and 1943 by Pier Luigi Nervi (still preserved in the area), we headed towards Sciacca and then back towards Trapani. Our route brought us next to Castelvetrano airport. With the typical elliptical shape still clearly visible, the airport, built in the ’30s, was extensively used during WWII as “511” and was the base of the 36° Stormo and its S.79s bombers.

Located on the extended centerline of the Trapani-Birgi airport runway are the remains of the Chinisia (or Kinisia) airport. During WWII the airport was the base of the MC.202 of the 21°, 151°, 153° and 161° Gruppo, of the Ju-87 of the 103° Gruppo and in 1943 the deployment base of the MC.205 of the 351^ and 360^ Squadriglia of the 51° Stormo Caccia Terrestre. In the post-war period the airport was used to replace the Trapani-Milo airport (from 1949) and for civilian purposes from 1955 until 1961, when the activities were moved to the Trapani-Birgi airport. The airport was reported as being used by the Italian Air Force until the end of the ’80s. Interestingly, the Americans referred to this airport as Bo Rizzo (or Borizzo). Some websites still affirm that Borizzo airfield’s location is still unknown ( while the airport is the old Chinisia one that is also clearly visible using Google Earth. I was confirmed that Chinisia airport is what the Americans called “Bo Rizzo” when I found the website of the veterans of the 320th Bomb Group. The 320th began combat with Twelfth AF in April 1943 and operated from bases in Algeria, Tunisia, Sardinia, and Corsica until November 1944. At the following URL you can find the list of all the missions of the 320th BG including post-strike pictures and Google Earth .kmz file:

Below, left: Chinisia (Bo Rizzo) in 1943. Right: Chinisia today.

I took the following picture of the remains of the Kinisia airport from a Ryanair B737 landing in Trapani.

Another important WWII airport was Trapani-Milo. The airfield was used during the war and then it was replaced by Kinisia. In 1975, the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (Italian Space Agency) took what remained of the airport and used it as a stratospheric balloons launch base. Since the end of the ’70s the base is literally cut into two parts by the highway that connects Palermo with Mazara del Vallo (as the Google Earth screenshot shows).

Below, left: Trapani-Milo in 1943, in 320th BG strike photo. Right, Trapani-Milo today.

Another airport in the Trapani area was Carcitella, near Marsala. With two perpendicular runways still visible today, there are very few information about the unit based in the Carcitella airfield.

Finmeccanica seniores 2010

Pratica di Mare airbase, home of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) hosted on May 29, 2010, the Finmeccanica seniores 2010, the annual event that Finmeccanica holds each year to give a prize to all its workers with 30, 40 and 45 years of experience in the company. Traditionally, a small open day with the air display of some of the most interesting aircraft is organised. The 2010 edition saw the M-346, the C-27J, the F-2000 and the Frecce Tricolori performing during the day as the following pictures taken by Giovanni Maduli show.

Italian Typhoons news: new squadron and fewer aircraft

July 2010 will be remembered for being a month full of news for the Italian Typhoon fleet. First of all, on Jul. 1, the 10° Gruppo, equipped with the leased F-16 ADF, moved from the Trapani-based 37° Stormo, to Gioia del Colle, to join another Typhoon unit, the 12° Gruppo, within the 36° Stormo.
As I had already explained in my article published on April 2010 issue of Air Forces Monthly: “With the activation of the fourth Typhoon squadron at Gioia, the ItAF will achieve the following “configuration”: 4 Gruppi (comprising 1 OCU) equipped with the F-2000 based in 2 MOBs, one in Northern Italy and one in Southern Italy, respectively home of the so-called “QRA Nord” and “QRA Sud”. The original plan foresaw the conversion to the Typhoon of a fifth squadron, the 18° Gruppo, that was intended to fly the Typhoon along with 10° Gruppo from Trapani airbase. However, the uncertainty surrounding the Tranche 3 deal and the new trend of concentrating all the front line assets on a few dedicated airports to reduce the force’s dispersal and the overall management costs, persuaded the AM in 2007 to review the initial project; as a consequence, both the 18° Gruppo and its parent unit, the 37° Stormo, will be disbanded as last F-16s return to the US and Trapani will become a DOBs (Deployment Operating Bases) of the Typhoon fleet, meaning that, although it will not permanently host any active F-2000 squadrons, for the entire duration of the programme, it will maintain trained personnel and equipments to support and handle cells of temporarily deployed Eurofighters. The other DOBs of the fleet will be Grazzanise and Cervia, where the locally based 23° Gruppo of the 5° Stormo will be disbanded in 2010”.
As I explained, a few months ago, there were much doubts about the possibility that the Aeronautica Militare could ever get the last batch of 25 F-2000s of the Tranche 3B. Under Tranche 3A, by 2013, Italy will receive 21 Typhoons bringing the total to 95 (comprising 27 Trance 1 and 47 Tranche 2 examples). On Jul 21, the Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said at Farnborough, that Italy will cut its order by 25 examples (Tranche 3B) with an expected saving of 2 billion Euro. Many did not understand the choice, but I think that 95 aircraft are more than enough to equip the 4 interceptor squadrons as decided by the ItAF in 2007. For sure, at least another Air Defence squadron would ensure a better coverage of the peninsula but, with ever shrinking budgets and the need to relocate all the assets on a few bases, Tranche 3B was most probably useless. Furthermore, it must be considered that unlike other partners, that will employ the aircraft in the air-to-ground role, as I wrote in the above mentioned article: “the Italian aircraft will be only used in the air superiority role, as Italy, due to the cost associated with the envisaged upgrades required by the integration of the air-to-ground weapons, has always been skeptical about a multi-role Eurofighter. At the end of 2008, answering some questions about the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), Gen. Vincenzo Camporini, former ItAF Chief of Staff, current Defence Chief of Staff, affirmed that: “There’s no competition or conflict between the JSF and the Eurofighter. The Eurofighter was designed for the Air Defence, a role that the aircraft is perfectly able to fulfil, but it can’t perform the attack role in an economically sustainable manner”. That vision hasn’t changed with the Tranche 3 contract signed in July 2009. In a recent interview, Gen. Giuseppe Bernardis, Air Force Chief of Staff, said that Italy did not completely rule out the use of Eurofighters for air-to-ground missions, since both T2 and T3 aircraft will have the ability to carry Paveway and JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) that are already used by the Tornado and the AMX, and will be carried in the future by the F-35s (that Italy plans to acquire in 109 examples: 69 conventional take-off and landing F-35As and 40 short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs). Hence, the air-to-ground mission is viewed as secondary for the Typhoon; provided their ability to use the ordnance in inventory for other aircraft, the Eurofighter will be possibly be used as “back up” attack platforms until 2040“.

All the following pictures are from the Author or ItAF via Author

10.000 flight hours for the Italian C-27J fleet

The Italian Air Force’s C-27J Spartans, belonging to the 46^ Brigata Aerea di Pisa, reached the 10,000 flight hours milestone in July. The 12 new aircraft serving with the Aeronautica Militare were designed and manufactured by Alenia Aeronautica and delivered to the Air Brigade between 2007 and 2009 and have shown a high operational efficiency, providing the Air Force the ability to carry out numerous missions: since 2008, the ItAF C-27Js have been used in operations in the Afghanistan theatre of operations, where they have shown high reliability and flexibility, successfully accomplishing their missions in a demanding environment. Alenia Aeronautica guarantees the logistic support to the entire C-27J fleet in service with the Italian Air Force and has also installed a Full-Motion-type Flight Simulator at the Crews Training Centre of Pisa airbase. The Full-Motion Simulator, made by Alenia Aeronautica, has already been tested by the AMI pilots who operate the C-27J with positive results. The Simulator will soon be officially delivered to the Armed Force; they will be the first in Europe to be able to use a system of this kind.

Photo courtesy Alenia Aeronautica