The F-35 Lightning II was the highlight of the most important airshow this year in Italy, broadcast live, by Italy’s national public service broadcaster.
Held at Punta Marina, near Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast of eastern Italy, on Sunday Jun. 23, “Valore Tricolore 2019” (Italian for “Tricolor Valour) was Italy’s most important airshow this year. More than 200,000 spectators observed the show from the beach along with about 1.3M people who watched all the aircraft performing flypasts and display routines live on Rai 1, the flagship television channel of Rai, Italy’s national public service broadcaster.
Among the highlights of the airshow, that was closed by the Frecce Tricolori display team with their display, some pretty interesting (at least for the average Italian airshow…) “tactical events” and, above all, some maneuvering by an Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) from Amendola. The aircraft first appeared as part of a rather unusual dissimilar Quick Reaction Alert duo made of an F-35 (that can undertake QRA tasks if needed) and a Eurofighter Typhoon, escorting a KC-767 in a simulated “renegade” scenario (a civil liner escorted by two fighter so that it can’t be turned into kamikaze aircraft by terrorists).
Minutes later, the F-35 returned on the display line leading two AMX jets from the 132° Gruppo of the 51° Stormo from Istrana for a flypast that marked the virtual, future handover of responsibility between the Ghibli light attack jets (at their 30th year of service in the ItAF) and their “omnirole” replacement: in fact, the Italian Air Force will replace its Tornado and AMX fleet with both the F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) and the F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variants (with the latter used for “expeditionary” tasks), while the Italian Navy will use the F-35B to replace its AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets.
After the break the F-35 engaged the display area for some solo maneuvers, including a high-speed pass followed by a pull to high altitude, a slow speed pass with the open weapons bay, and another pass with a final aileron roll. This was the very first time the aircraft (that had not taken part with a flying display in last year’s Bellaria airshow and made a very low profile appearance in 2017’s Marina di Grosseto airshow) was given a few minutes to star in a mid-afternoon “prime time” slot: something for obvious reasons not even comparable to the routine by Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, but much interesting and useful to show to the Italians some dynamic features of their new 5th generation aircraft.
Another interesting demo was the HAAR (Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling) by the KC-130J of the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade) from Pisa and two HH-101 Caesar choppers belonging to the 15° Stormo from Cervia: the Italian Air Force is the only European service currently able to autonomously refuel its helicopters.
Along with the display routines of the test pilots of the 311° Gruppo, belonging to the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo – Test Wing), who presented the T-346, C-27J and Typhoon, other interesting demos were those of the AW109 of the Carabinieri (Military Police), the AW139 of the Italian Coast Guard, the AW139 of Guardia di Finanza (Custom Police) and the tactical event of the Italian Navy SH-90 from Andrea Doria destroyer and Italian Army AW-129 and NH-90 from Rimini airbase.
An ItAF Predator RPV provided overwatch of the Punta Marina area:
Italian Air Force MQ-1C Predator #STREGA28 leaving “Marina” Area for RTB in Amendola #LIBA via TC JENNY FL160 pic.twitter.com/luh99tvx34
— Italian_Radar (@Italian_Spotter) June 23, 2019
As some of our readers know, for the third year in a row, I was invited to make live expert commentary during the airshow on Rai 1. The recording of the TV show can be found (for a few days) here. Although it’s in Italian language, the footage is pretty stunning. Dealing with my commentary (starting at 01:20:07), in addition to providing insights into the tactical events and maneuvers involving various types of aircraft, I also had the opportunity to explain what makes an F-35 somehow similar to a modern smartphone; why Cybersecurity matters in today’s military aviation; and why 5th generation jets are considered to be crucial to achieve the so-called “Information Superiority”.
All the stunning photographs in this article were taken by The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Fucito.