Italian Air Force Celebrates 100th Anniversary With Memorable Airshow

Pratica di Mare airshow
Some of the snapshots from Pratica di Mare airshow (Image credit: David Cenciotti and Stefano D'Urso)

Historic aircraft from across the world joined the types in service today in Pratica di Mare, for an airshow that showcased the 100 years of history and technological evolution of the Aeronautica Militare.

The Aeronautica Militare celebrated its 100th anniversary with an incredible, long-awaited airshow which paid homage to the service’s history. The three-day airshow, which lasted from June 16 (the Spotter Day) to June 18, was hosted by Pratica di Mare air base, near Rome, which in the past was the home of the annual “Giornata Azzurra” airshows.

The airshow, one of the many initiatives planned throughout the year to celebrate the centennial, was designed as an immersive experience for visitors to experience all nuances of the Air Force, both the more visible front-line capabilities and the ones “behind the scenes” that are often overlooked by the general public. The airshow, the main one planned this year in Italy, featured both the current and past aircraft of the Italian Air Force, with many shown both in flight and static displays.

The Spad XIII and Ca.3 replica were among the most admired historical aircraft taking part in the airshow. (Image credit: Stefano D’Urso)

More than 300,000 people attended the airshow throughout the long weekend, well over the anticipated numbers, with the Italian President Sergio Mattarella, the Ministry of Defense Guido Crosetto, the Air Force Chief of Staff General Luca Goretti and the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone attending the celebrations for the grand finale on June 18. Many more joined the airshow from their homes, with more than 100,000 people watching the streaming each day on the Italian Air Force social media and over one million following the live broadcast on the Italian State TV (that once again saw the participation of our Editor David Cenciotti who provided expert commentary live on Rai 1, after taking part also in the Youtube live in the morning) on Sunday.

“This large audience is motivated by our desire to continuously transfer our passion, our desire to make ourselves known, especially by young people,” said Gen. Goretti. “We are projected towards the next hundred years and we are already ready to experience our possibilities and potential in Space. A beautiful future awaits us, at least like our past”.

Visitors were offered a chance to visit stands dedicated to the operational, technical and logistical components of the Italian Air Force, to experience the thrill of flight on the many simulators that were made available to the public and watch historic and current aircraft both on the ground and in the air. Many of those aircraft were flying again in Italy the first time after many years, bringing back memories from former members of the service and also allowing younger generation to see some of the aircraft that made the history of aviation in action.

One of the highlights of the static exhibitions was the “Campo 100”, a dedicated informational itinerary with living life-size dioramas representing the deeds of men and women of the Aeronautica Militare, from its birth to the present. Preserved static aircraft were positioned in an area of four hectares, recreating many scenarios from the history of the service in a path that ideally connected the past, the present and the future of the ItAF.

F-35A 6-01 of the 102° Gruppo (Squadron). (Image credit: David Cenciotti)

Each day, the flight displays were divided in a morning and an afternoon programme. The morning one featured displays of historic aircraft from all eras, as well as mixed formation of current and historic aircraft, while the afternoon featured more warbirds; the Legend formation; the 100 formation; a parade with all current assed of the ItAF and, obviously, the solo displays of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo along with the display of the Frecce Tricolori.

The Frecce Tricolori display team during the Saturday display. (Image credit: Stefano D’Urso)

Among the most awaited guests of the airshow were three aircraft that really made the history of the Aeronautica Militare: the Caproni Ca.3 bomber replica, the world’s only airworthy WW1 bomber; the recently restored Fiat G.91R, an all Italian light tactical aircraft which also served with the Frecce Tricolori; and the TF-104G of Starfighters Aerospace, a former Italian aircraft that was brought from the U.S. for the special occasion. Unfortunately, the latter did not fly on Saturday (although it did on Friday and Saturday), leaving disappointed many spectators who had travelled to Pratica di Mare mainly to see the F-104 perform again in Italy some 19 years since last time.

The TF-104 takes off for its display on Sunday Jun. 18, 2023. (Image credit: David Cenciotti)

Interestingly, to mark its participation in the 100th anniversary celebrations, the TF-104 “Black Beauty” sported a special logo on the tail and lettering (in Italian language) on the air intakes.


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These were joined by many others which arrived in Italy from abroad, like the Spitfire, P-51 Mustang of the Flying Horsemen display team, P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, T-33 Shooting Star, F-86 Sabre, Douglas DC-6.

The Flying Horsemen, the display team owned by Dan Friedkin, AS Roma football club’s owner). (Image credit: Giovanni Maduli)
The P-38 Lightning of the Flying Bulls (Image credit: Giovanni Maduli)

Other aircraft in Italian liveries were already in Italy, like the SPAD, Fiat G-46, T-6 Texan, MB-326E and MB-326K.

One of the most interesting formations ever seen in Italy (if not in Europe): Typhoon, F-35, F-104 and F-86. (Image credit: David Cenciotti)

Another pretty interesting thing is that the flying parade that featured all the type of aircraft (fixed and rotary-wing) in service with the Italian Air Force was opened (for the very first time in Europe) by an MQ-9 Predator B drone.

Overall, it was a really impressive airshow, one to be remembered for many years to come despite the usual, known issues at Pratica di Mare where afternoon photos of the flying display are all backlit. You can find a selection of the images our team (including also Giovanni Maduli) took in the three days at Pratica di Mare, but you can find much more on all our social media channels (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook).

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a 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 five books and contributed to many more ones.
About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.