The 61st Wing of the Italian Air Force shows off its fleet of jet trainers.
The Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) has a very long tradition in pilot training. Its 61° Stormo (Wing) at Lecce-Galatina Air Base, in southeastern Italy, has been established 76 years ago and, along with its three depending squadrons (212°, 213° and 214° Gruppo) and three flight lines (MB-339CD, MB-339A, M-346 – respectively designated FT-339C, T-339A and T-346A), is currently an international Flight School whose task is to train Italian and foreign student pilots.
The flight school changed name and role many times through its history, moving from the T-6 Texan to the Aermacchi MB-326 and, in 1982, to today’s MB-339s. While the MB-339A have been upgraded via a Mid-Life Upgrade, in 1997 the unit received the first MB-339CD, an upgraded variant with glass cockpit and air-to-air refueling capabilities. In 2015 the unit received the new T-346 Master and the era of the new advanced Integrated Training System. Finally, in 2020, the first two T-345 have been delivered and will replace in the next years the T-339.
The 212th Squadron operates the T-346 for the pre-operational LIFT (Lead In Fighter Training) course, the 213th Squadron flies the FT-339C to graduate pilots assigned to the fighter track and the 214th Squadron operates the T-339A to provide initial training to military pilots and for instructor training: in other works, nowadays, the flight school trains pilots during phase II of the syllabus, the common phase for all military student pilots; phase III for fighter and Remotely Piloted Aircraft tracks and phase IV for the LIFT. Another role of the flight school, this time for experienced pilots, is the Pilot Instructor Training for all jet-powered aircraft.
On Sept. 6, 2022, 27 aircraft of the 61° Stormo took part in a rather impressive series of “Elephant Walks“, that involved both IPs and student pilots, and saw MB-339A/CD and M-346s taxi along the runway. While 27 trainers might not seem many if compared to the fleets of the U.S. training units, you should not forget that there are not many services around the world that can count, on a similar fleet of jet trainers (including advanced ones for LIFT) available on home soil.
According to the Italian Air Force, “The exercise gave full proof of the extreme effectiveness and perfect organization of the training system of the service, recognized and appreciated all over the world.”
“Further confirmation of the goodness of our military flight training sector is given by the recent activation of the new IFTS (International Flight Training School) training center at the Decimomannu base, a reality that has all the credentials to aspire to become the forge of pilots, Italians and from partner countries, destined to fly 4th and 5th generation aircraft.”
Indeed, the 61° Stormo also supports the IFTS , a joint venture between the Italian Air Force and Leonardo in collaboration with CAE. The IFTS will operate a fleet of 22 M-346 jets: four Leonardo owned aircraft (the latter of those was delivered in October 2019) and 18 Italian Air Force T-346As. Training at the IFTS is delivered by a cadre of active-duty Italian Air Force’s 212° Gruppo IPs and highly experienced international former military instructor pilots.
The IFTS, and more generally speaking the 61° Stormo, have already graduated many foreign fighter jocks from air forces that have elected the Italian Air Force Flight school for the training of their student pilots (including the German Air Force, the Qatar Emiri Air Force and the Japan Air Self Defense Force).