Good bye Black Sheeps: the retirement of the P.166DL3, the Italian Air Force's aerophotogrammetry platform

Although it passed almost unnoticed, at end of November 2011, the 71° Gruppo of the Italian Air Force based at Pratica di Mare, near Rome, retired one of the less known and most interesting aircraft: the Piaggio P.166DL3 APH.

Fitted with  Leica RC-20 and RC-30 cameras (modified in order to mitigate the effects of the movement) the twin prop could perform aerophotogrammetric missions to obtain a photographic survey of a specific portion of the territory, to assess its conditions after natural calamities or to update topographical and aeronautical charts.

With this purpose, every 5 years, a DL3s made a “tour” of all the Italian bases for a so-called “obstacles campaign”, made in Summer to collect the imagery of all the national territory.

The “Black Sheeps” of the 71° Gruppo were also employed in reconnaissance missions in support of Police activities or for the survey of building abuses.

With the retirement of the “Piaggione” (Big Piaggio), the Italian Air Force has lost the capability to perform aerophotogrammetry: even if this kind of activity is being transferred to unmanned platforms the service has not yet selected any replacement for the P.166DL3.

In slightly different variants, the P.166DL3 still operates with the Guardia di Finanza (Custom Police) and Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) that use the aircraft for anti-smuggling and maritime surveillance missions.

In the following pictures, courtesy of the 71° Gruppo, the last flights of the P.166 along with the squadron’s “multitasking” P.180s.

About David Cenciotti 3733 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.