Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Flight Simulator(s)

An interesting easter egg was discovered in the last weeks by a student that found that by depressing CNTRL+ALT+A on the keyboard when using Google Earth, he was given access to an embedded flight simulator (once you have used the flight simulator for the first time, your client will disclose the relative tab and you won’t need to use the above sequence to access). I obviously tried it and gave the simulator a try. I found it funny, especially thinking to the future (possible) development of the product.

 

 

Currently, the simulator is at least basic: you can choose a fighter or a prop, you have just the HUD view, and you can wander everywhere in the globe by choosing if departing from either one of the proposed airports or directly “in flight” from a preferred location. Since now most of the terrain in GE is 3D (unfortunately not all), flying low level between the mountains is quite realistic. I picked the F-16 and flew low level in Central Italy. As said, the simulator is basic, funny but still ages away from Falcon 4.0 or Microsoft Flight Simulator. I used the latter to train in IFR, to perform instrumental navigation and approach procedures using real charts and in my honest opinion nothing is currently comparable to the Microsoft product. The only (!) problem is that FS requires a constant update of the HW and SW configuration of your desktop if you want to fly the latest aicraft in the most realistic sceneries and you want it to run smoothly on you machine. Many virtual companies and squadrons were created within the virtual World of FS.
Perhaps, one of the most interesting is the Virtual 102nd Gruppo CBOS (http://www.mariomotta.it/102V/). Led by Mario Motta, former F-104 pilot with 1500 flight hours on the Starfighter and Commander of the real 102nd Gruppo in 1981, the group was created with the aim to simulate the activities of the 102nd Gruppo in the period from the beginning of the ’70s to the end of the ’80s when the squadron operated from Rimini airbase with F-104G and S. Thanks to Mario Motta, who served in the 5th Stormo from 1972 to 1986, pilots trains flying realistic sorties flown by the Starfighters in that period using FS2004, the F-104G aircraft produced by Cloud9 (http://www.fscloud9.com/) and a few effects and add-ons (like Rimini Full scenario, made by Mario Motta himself). The squadron performs a wide variety of training activities, like those tasked to the real 102nd Gruppo, and attends also large scale exercises like the (virtual) Display Determination. Live firing sorties in the Maniago range, formation flying, supersonic runs and, above all, BBQ (ultra low level) missions.
As Mario explains:

the 102nd Gruppo had a certain number of pre-planned strike routes which were identified by the prefix “EQ”, “D” or R: the “EQ” followed by a progressive number were “Equivalent” missions, meaning that they were missions on the Italian territory equivalent to the real attack missions against targets of the former Warsaw Pact; the “D” missions were strike equivalent missions flown at night (there were two of them: the D3, above the Pianura Padana, Central Italy and Adriatic; and the D4 running along the Adriatic coast until Vasto, first southbound, then northbound); the “R” were high level night IFR missions (two available, lasting some 90 minutes and very boring for the pilots that flew all the time IMC) that were flown when weather conditions didn’t allow the execution of BBQ missions. Today, the Virtual 102nd Gruppo doesn’t fly the EQ as the real squadron did, for various reasons: first of all, the original routes and relative planning is lost and I can’t remember all of them; second, we can freely plan on all the foreign territory, since we have the 1:500.000 maps of the Europe from Portugal to the borders of Irak, from Libya to the North Pole.

To have an idea of the activities of the 102nd Virtual, take a look at the following video, made by Davide Pizzo, “Luce 7”, one of the pilots of the squadron. You can find many more on both the squadron’s homepage and Youtube.

Another interesting product is YSFlight (http://www.ysflight.com/), a flight simulator created by Soji Yamakawa. It is neither as complex as FS nor as simple as the GE-embedded simulator. What is really interesting is that it is very small in size (less than 10 MB) and provides some really nice add-ons and options: you can fly dogfights engaging a wide variety of oppositors, you can fly intercept or close air support missions, or you can fly diamond or delta formations with leading a flight of 4 or 6 of your favourite aircraft. Furthermore it is completely free and continuosly updated: aircraft, maps, etc. can be edited, meaning that much new stuff is issued by both the author and the community of pilots/players on a regular basis. Taskforce 58’s YSFlight Hangar (http://www.ysflight.ca/) is a site where you can download many interesting add-ons, comprising some detailed F-104s in many different configurations and colour schemes. I have downloaded the aircraft and maps pack, tried it and found it very interesting. Italian F-104S in the old camouflage livery are nice, with a flight model enough accurate for this kind of product. YSFlight is an enjoyable game: you can play without worrying about CPU, RAM and concurrent applications and you can replay your missions and have plenty of view options available. Just have a look at the following screenshots….

   

   

   

 

Close encounters (snapshots from the Cold War)

As written in a previous post (Typhoon Block 5 and Cold War alert) on Aug. 17, 2007, Russia has begun 20 hours long strategic flights around the globe, like those carried out during the Cold War.

So far, no Russian Tu-95 has been reported in the Mediterranean Sea and no Scramble has taken place from the Italian interceptor’s airbases even if yesterday, FRANCE-PRESSE, reported that Norwegian and British interceptors scrambled on Sept. 6 to intercept 8 Tu-95 Russian bombers detected in international airspace over the Barents Sea.

Sky News said the Russian aircraft did a U-turn when approached by the fighters. According to Putin’s statements, this kind of activities (that on Aug. 17th involved 14 aircraft departing from 7 airbases) is carried out by the Russian Air Force in strict coordination with Russian Navy and, consequently, it is not possible to put aside the idea that some bomber or reconnaissance aircraft will fly along the Italian airspace’s border in the near future. As recalled by Col. Agrusti in the Memories of a fighter pilot article, those flights frequent until the first ’90s.

As a proof, there are many pictures depicting Italian F-104 flying along side Soviet or Libyan aircraft in the Adriatic, Ionian or Tyrrhenian Sea. I was given by the Italian Air Force some of those pictures during the preparation of my article, photos that were published with my text on both Aeronautica & Difesa and Air Forces Monthly. Here you can find some of them. Quality is obviously poor, since the majority of these pictures were taken with hand-held cameras, whose films were first developed then copied many times to be released to the press.

Nonetheless, since they are the official proof of the interceptions and close encounters taking place in the international airspace in the ’80s, I have uploaded the same pictures used for my articles that I was given by the Italian Air Force (that owns copyright for them) in the page “Zombies”.


Another interesting picture is available also on the webpage of the 12th Gruppo, that will receive the Eurofighter on next Oct. 1st 2007 at Gioia del Colle, at the following address: http://www.glistrali.net/zoom.asp?image=/public/gallery/25.jpg.

Grosseto airbase

Grosseto airbase has changed a lot in the last 10 years. As described in my previous posts, today the airport it is the MOB of the ItAF Eurofighters (the Gioia del Colle and its 12th Gruppo/36th Stormo will be delivered their first Typhoon on Oct. 1st 2007). Grosseto is the homebase of two squadrons: the 20th OCU (Operational Convertion Unit) and 9th Gruppo all-weather interceptors. Aircraft of both gruppi are currently recovered in the new hangars located in the Western area of the field, opposite the former 20th Gruppo shelters and aprons. In order to understand how this important base has transformed in the last years, read the report I wrote in Y2K, dealing with Grosseto and the two gruppi equipped at that time with the F/TF-104 Starfighter: Grosseto airbase, home of the 4th Stormo.


 

 

Grosseto 19.08.04 Close up of the cockpit of the last TF-104G-M Special Colour of the 20th Gruppo. This is my very first “panoramic close up” picture of an aircraft.

Grosseto 19.08.04 The last F-104s of the 9th Gruppo on alert during one of the last QRA shifts

Flying with the MB.339CD

In a previous post dealing with the Air-to-Air photography, I explained just a few of my air-to-air pictures are 3/4 frontal (thus taken looking in the circular area behind the airplane, from 4 to 8 o’clock) and depicts the subject from ahead. Here are a couple of them.


 


 

As I explained in the previous post, photographing ahead requires less strength and so is more simple under a physical point of view. The pictures above were taken in October 2000, when I went to Lecce-Galatina airbase to report on the training courses of the 213th and 212th Gruppo of the 61° Stormo. Both were taken a few minutes after departure, while flying at FL110 VMC direct to the “Fox” area, our training airspace located above the sea, off shore Gallipoli. Since it was a demanding mission, with multiple engagements and a +5G simulated dogfight, I was able to take pictures looking towards my 5 and 7 o’clock only during transit to the operative area (the only part of the flight all 4 aircraft flew together). During the engaments, the two formations splitted and flew mainly line abreast thus I just took some pics of the wingman and of the target through the HUD; then, we performed some acrobatic maneuvers and I took some pics of the formation making a formation barrel roll above S. Maria di Leuca and, finally, during RTB, I was too tired (since G forces were severe) to try to take any picture.

If you want to see some of those pictures and read the in-depth description of the flight (in Italian) click here: In volo con l’MB-339CD.

Typhoon Block 5 and Cold War alert

Claudio Carretta left an interesting comment on my post Eurofighter Typhoon activity at Grosseto advising that among the aircraft spotted on Aug. 6, MM7285 “4-16” was the first Eurofighter Typhoon Block 5 delivered to the Italian Air Force.

I consequently checked again the pictures and finally noticed the searching head of the IRST sensor, located on the left of the nose, just in front of the cockpit. I had a glance on that area of the aircraft for a few seconds during base turn and since the aircraft was still distant, I didn’t notice the “distinctive sign” the first time I saw the images (in order to make them well visible, I had to crop sensibly the pictures below).

On the same day (Aug. 6), RAF took the first two Block 5 Typhoons on charge. The aicraft were delivered to the XI Sqn at Coningsby, a unit that on Aug. 17 launched its first genuine scramble since assuming Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties on Jun. 29, 2007, to intercept a Russian “Bear” over the North Atlantic Ocean.

The “close encouter” with the strategic bomber took place on the same day President Vladimir Putin said that Russia has resumed the long-range flights of its strategic bombers that were suspended in 1992. According to him, those tours of duty will be conducted regularly and on strategic scale and, as a consequence, Russian Tu-95s, Tu-160s and Tu-22s are expected to fly across the globe the same routes routinely flown during the Cold War.

The number of interceptions is already increasing:  on Aug. 8 two Tu-95 undertook a 13 hours round trip from Blagoveshchensk base to “visit” Guam, in the Pacific Ocean, for the first time since the end of the Cold War; and in May and July, British Tornado F3s and Norwegian F-16s were scrambled to intercept and escort Russian Bears flying in the international airspace next to the countries’ airspaces.

4th Stormo Eurofighters took over air defense of the Italian airspace (along with F-16s of the 5th and 37th Stormo) since Dec. 16, 2005.

The first real interception took place on Mar. 13, 2007, when two Eurofighters (already in flight) were vectored by the Air Defense radar to identify and shadow a Tunisian A-320 flying in Southern Italy that had lost radio contact with the civilian ATC.

So far, they have never been scrambled to intercept any Russian bomber, something that was frequent during the Cold War, when ItAF F-104s were often scrambled to intercept the long-range bombers as described in the article Memories of a fighter pilot.