Monthly Archives: February 2011

Why Libyan Air Force aircraft pose a risk to Italy

When I wrote the article about the two Mirage F1s of the Libyan Air Force (Al Quwwatal Jawwiya al Jamahiriya al Arabia al Libyya) that landed in Malta seeking asylum, I explained that as a consequence of the defection of the two fighters (whose role should be the air defence, even if they were armed with rockets), the two most southern air defence units of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), the 36° Stormo, based at Gioia del Colle and equipped with the F-2000, and the 37° Stormo, based at Trapani and equipped with the last F-16s, were put in a heightned alert status. Many readers did not understand the reasons behind this decision, since the LAF is far from being effective like it was in the 1970s or 1980s (I suggest you reading the article Memories of a fighter pilot in which an F-104 pilot recalls the interception of Russian and Libyan planes in the Cold War era) and, considering the current situation, an air attack to Italy is quite unlikely. However, what led the ItAF to put both bases in a costant QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) status on a H24 basis instead of alternating the alert shifts between the two Stormi, is not the risk of a LAF strike on targets located on the islands of Lampedusa or Pantelleria, but the risk of more aircraft defecting to Malta or Italy. These aircraft pose a serious risk to the civil and military planes flying above the Mediterranean sea since they fly at high speed and at low level to be undetected by the Libyan radars, without a proper knowledge of the possible conflicts with the traffic around them that is in contact with ATC (Air Traffic Control) units on frequencies most of times unknown to them. Hence, especially in the vicinity of their chosen destination (Malta, Lampedusa, Pantelleria or, at greater distance, Trapani, Sigonella and Catania), they can come dangerously close to other airplanes; a risk that is growing as the air bridge that is currently in progress to evacuate nationals from Tripoli, is concentrating lots of C-130s, C-17s, B747s, B777s, B737s A320s, 330s and 340s, belonging to many air forces, airlines, cargo and private companies, between the Maltese and the Libyan airspaces. For this reason any defecting aircraft has to be detected and intercepted as soon as possible. Therefore, even if the ItAF is not flying CAPs (Combat Air Patrol) in the area to protect or escort the flights to or from Libya (in spite of the rumours of a cell of F-2000s deployed to Sigonella flying surveillance orbits near Malta), AWACS (both NATO and RAF E-3s) have been reported in the area quite regularly for the last few days.  Should suspicious planes be detected by the E-3 or by the air defence radars, the nearest QRA would be scrambled to intercept it.
Those interested in monitoring the air traffic in the area of Malta can listen to the radio comms of the local ACC, APP and TWR using LiveATC service: http://www.liveatc.net/search/?icao=lmml and watch the traffic using ADS-B and transmitting the Mode S, by means of Flightradar24: http://www.flightradar24.com/

An armed F-16 ADF of the 37° Stormo over southern Sicily (courtesy of the ItAF)

Exclusive photos: IAF F-15D performing 360° roll after take off

In a previous post, published on this site on Feb. 9, 2011, titled Israeli F-15 pilot jailed after performing dangerous maneuvers at Decimomannu I explained that a pilot and a navigator of the 106 Sqn of the Israeli Air Force, based at Tel Nof, were sent to prison for 7 days and suspended from flight activities for one year, after performing a 360° roll after take off from Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, where the aircraft was detached for Exercise Vega 2010. After reading my article, Tony Lovelock, a British journalist and photographer, sent me a message to tell me that he was there when the IAF pilot made the 360° roll and that he had taken pictures of the entire maneuver. Below you can find the entire, unbelievable sequence of pictures Tony was able to shot to the F-15D 90-0275/733 at Decimomannu on Nov. 19, 2010; 8 shots taken in about 4 seconds. According to the Exif of the photos, the whole sequence of shots took place between 10.23.37LT and 10.23.44LT while the time between the third shot, as he started the roll, and the last, being 4 seconds: 10.23.40LT – 10.23.44LT. Here’s how Tony commented his own pictures: “Sadly, not all the shots are as sharp as I would have liked, but from the position I was shooting from, there is a tall tree close to my left; as he passed this, I stopped following him, the next second he was into his party act, and I had to catch up with him again. This was not as easy as it would seem, as he appeared to be going in all conceivable directions at the same time, and getting increasingly further away with each second”. Even if some images might be not as sharp as Tony would have liked, they are the only documentary evidence of the unusual maneuver that cost so much to the Israeli pilot.

Click below to open the file with the entire sequence of 8 pictures (from right to left) taken by Tony Lovelock at Decimomannu on Nov. 19, 2010.


New pictures of the Libyan Mirages in Malta

Following the article on the two Libyan Mirage F1s defecting to Malta below you can find new pictures of the two aircraft currently parked at Malta International Airport along with the two Heli Union Super Pumas.

Pictures below are a courtesy of Brendon Attard.

Introducing the Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767A

On Jan. 27, 2011, the first of four Boeing KC-767A tanker of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) was delivered to the 14° Stormo, based in Pratica di Mare. The aircraft, serialled MM62229 “14-04”, has already started air-to-air refueling training operations with the ItAF Eurofighter Typhoons and, along with the other 3 ordered examples, will be the pillar of the Italian projectable forces with a flexible configuration allowing both air-to-air refueling missions, strategic transport of passengers and/or cargo and MEDEVAC (Medical Evacution). The Italian version of the KC-767 incorporates two probe-and-drogue and one boom refueling stations which provide the capability of refueling all existing types of aircraft. The following pictures were taken by Giovanni Maduli, on Feb. 22, 2011.

Two Libyan Mirages defect to Malta

Two Libyan Air Force Mirage F.1s, armed with rocket pods, landed in the afternoon of Feb. 21, 2011, in Malta. The two aircraft were piloted by two senior officers who claimed to have defected after being ordered to bomb civilians who were protesting in Benghazi. According to the information collected from many sources, the two aircraft had taken off from Okba Ben Nafi airbase near Tripoli and landed at Benghazi, where they were refueled and armed. After taking off from Benghazi, the two Colones, were ordered to fire at protestors (multiple aircraft strikes against protestors caused 250 deads) hence they decided to defect, descended low level (someone reported they escaped at 50 ft above sea level) and headed towards Malta. Approaching Malta, they made contact with Maltese ATC using radio callsign Mirage 1 and 2 (serial 502 and 508), declared fuel emergency and landed, seeking asylum from the Maltese authorities. Upon landing, they were surrounded by local police forces. The two fighters arrived shortly after two civilian Pumas that had already landed at Malta International Airport. The choppers (F-GHOY and F-GYSH), belonging to Heli Union and usually stationed at Tripoli International Airport, carried 7 French passengers evacuated from Libya, of whom, only one was carrying a passport. The most interesting pictures of the arriving “visitors” that I’ve found so far are those available at the following address here. Don’t you think the Mirages (especially 502) are cleaner than one would expect?

Malta is currently the temporary base of an Austrian AF C-130 used for shuttle flights from Luqa to Tripoli aimed at evacuating civilians. Italian citizens will be evacuated from Feb. 22, with special Alitalia flights.

As a consequence of the defection of the two Libyan Mirages, Gioia del Colle, home of the F-2000s of the 36° Stormo, and Trapani, where the F-16s of the 37° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) are based, were put in a heightned alert status. According to rumours, Italian Air Force is about to move helicopters to the most southern bases (Lampedusa? Pantelleria? To do what? Maybe Search And Rescue or surveillance of the waters surrounding the islands where refugees are arriving by sea).
Around 21.30LT Benghazi airspace was closed; consequently, all the south bound air traffic was compelled to change the preplanned route. The following screenshot taken from Flightradar24 shows the Kenya Airways flight KQ107 changing its route to avoid entering the Libyan airspace enroute to Nairobi.

Even if rumours in the past days claimed Colonel Gaddaffi had left for Venezuela, his current location is unknown. None of the aircraft usually used by the Libyan President (mainly A340 with registration 5A-ONE, but also Falcon 900 or Beech 200) were spotted/monitored leaving Libya in the last two days.