The AMX Ghibli in Italian service turns 30 and the Italians have celebrated the anniversary in style.
On Sept. 13, 2019, the Italian Air Force celebrated the 30th anniversary of its AMX “Ghibli” fleet and the 80th anniversary of the 51° Stormo (Wing) (whose child unit, the 132° Gruppo – squadron is the last unit to operate the light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft) with a reunion organized at Istrana AB (home of the 51° Stormo) in northeastern Italy.
Six prototypes were manufactured (one was lost in an accident), 136 examples (110 single and 26 twin-seat, these last called the AMX-T) were ordered by the Italian Air Force and 56 were ordered by Brazil.
The first AMX was officially delivered to the Aeronautica Militare on Apr. 19, 1989. The aircraft was the AMX serialled MM7091 that was taken on charge by the Evaluation Unit of the ItAF, the Reparto Sperimentale di Volo (RSV), based in Pratica di Mare airport, near Rome. The 311th Gruppo of the RSV took the first six examples on charge and began an intensive test campaign made of 1,500 flight hours to explore the whole aircraft flight envelope. The unit tested the aircraft in all its aspects using also all the armament it could carry operating in the Sardinian ranges out of Decimomannu, where the first prototypes were also stationed for a certain period for various tests. In October 1989 the first production examples were delivered to the unit of the Italian Air Force that had been destined to the conversion on the AMX: the 103° Gruppo of the 51° Stormo at Istrana.
The Italian AMXs, that emerged as some of the most cost-effective assets during the Air War in Libya and, much earlier, during the Allied Force in Serbia and Kosovo, operated over Afghanistan and supported Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq and Syria using the Reccelite reconnaissance pod.
For a detailed story of the AMX program, read the article: Ghiblis over the boot: the story of the AMX in the Aeronautica Militare Italiana
In 2012, Alenia Aermacchi (a subsidiary of Leonardo) completed the upgrade of the fleet to the ACOL standard (Upgrade of Operational and Logistic Capabilities – Adeguamento delle Capacità Operative e Logistiche) re-delivering 52 upgraded aircraft (42 single and 10 twin-seat) to the Italian Air Force.
The updated planes feature an inertial/GPS navigation system (EGI- Embedded GPS/Inertial) and the integration of a GPS-guided precision armament along with avionics improvements on 42 single-seat aircraft, which include New Generation Identification Friend or Foe, Night Vision Goggle (NVG) capability, a modern multi-function colour display and a more powerful computer symbol generator (CSG).
Throughout the years the AMX (nicknamed “Ghibli” and designated A-11 from 2006) has equipped the following units:
- 13° Gruppo belonging to the 32° Stormo at Amendola;
- 101° Gruppo OCU / 32° Stormo at Amendola
- 14° Gruppo / 2° Stormo at Rivolto
- 28° Gruppo / 3° Stormo at Verona Villafranca
- 103° Gruppo / 51° Stormo at Istrana
- 132° Gruppo / 51° Stormo at Istrana. This is the only remaining active unit.
As part of the celebrations held at Istrana on Sept. 13, the Italian Air Force unveiled four special colors: one is dedicated to the 30th anniversary and three aircraft with special tail. These special tails sport the colors and markings of one AMX squadron on the right hand side and another AMX squadron on the left hand side.
- AMX MM 7114/51-27 (13° Gr markings on the left side and 28° Gruppo marking on the right one)
- AMX MM7180/51-53 (14° Gr left + 103° Gr right)
- AMX-T MM55044/51-82 (101° Gr left + 132° Gr right)
- AMX MM 7194 full 30th Anniversary livery
Interestingly, another highlight of the event was a Eurofighter Typhoon MM7316/51-01 with the markings of the 51° Stormo: this wing is not equipped with the F-2000s. However, a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) cell with Typhoons coming from the other bases (Gioia del Colle, Trapani or Grosseto) is permanently based at Istrana since January 2017. In fact, the re-activation of the 22° Gruppo (an F-104 squadron that was part of the 51° Stormo at Istrana until the end of the 1990s) has long been rumored. Still, no official decision has been made yet, therefore the Typhoon was given the next code just for the event.
During the event a flight of 7 AMXs performed a flyover with the Frecce Tricolori display team.
H/T to our friend Emiliano Guerra for the photos taken at the event!