Category Archives: ItAF Museum

The first M-346 "Master" and its future in the Frecce Tricolori display team

On Dec. 21, 2010, the first  Alenia Aermacchi M-346 advanced trainer from the first batch of six aircraft for the Italian Air Force rolled out at Alenia’s factory at Venegono Superiore, during a ceremony attended by both company executives and representatives of the Aeronautical Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) and local authorities. Another M-346 was inside the hangar but did not roll out. Within a few months the first two T-346A (as the M-346 is designated by the ItAF) will be taken on charge by the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (Experimental Flying Wing) at Pratica di Mare airbase, where they will undergo operational evaluation testing. During 2011 the ItAF is due to receive the other four aircraft, becoming the first air force equipped with the most advanced trainer available today to train military pilots destined to fly the latest 4th and 5th generation fighters. Along with the Aeronautica Militare, also the Republic of Singapore Air Force has ordered 12 M-346.  Even though the “Master” will be delivered to the 61° Stormo (currently flying the MB.339A for the basic training and the MB.339CD for the advanced one), that is the ItAF training Wing, many have fantasized of the aircraft wearing the Frecce Tricolori livery. The aircraft with which the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico (Aerobatic Training Squadron) “Frecce Tricolori” is currently equipped is the PAN version of the Alenia Aermacchi MB339A. The aircraft, that unlike the A model, fly with no tip tanks, differ from the standard model by the presence of the coloured smokes generation system: this device is controlled by two buttons, one on the stick, for white smoke, and one on the throttle, for coloured smoke. This type of aircraft equips the display team since 1982. Hence it is quite obsolete and, sooner or later, the Aeronautica will be compelled to replace it. However, a certain experience on the type must be gained from the operative squadrons before the aircraft can be used by the Frecce and, above all, the M-346 must be purchased in enough quantity to decide to divert 10 – 12 examples from the 61° to the team. Consequently, the only “new” aircraft that we will see at Rivolto airbase, home of the Frecce Tricolori, in the near future is the ItAF MB.339s with grey livery, on loan from the 61° Stormo, used for the training of the “Al Fursan”, the UAE air force display team. In fact, since 2009, eight fighter pilots from the UAE have been training with the Frecce pilots, with the aim to achieve the team’s operational status in 2011 with a similar version of the aircraft, known as MB.339 NAT (National Aerobatic Team). The Al Fursan team is expected to fly displays with seven aircraft, including one solo. The advanced course being held by the Italian pilots to the UAE colleagues should be completed in January, when the Al Fursan will continue its training at home. In the meanwhile, Alenia Aermacchi has been completing the upgrade of the UAE Air Force six legacy MB-339As and four A explamples, formerly belonging to the ItAF, that will carry the team’s black and gold colour scheme. The following picture was taken by Simone Bovi at Venegono in late November 2010.

The IMAM Ro.37bis found in Afghanistan

The IMAM Ro.37 Lince (Italian for “Lynx”) was a two-seat Italian reconnaissance and close air support biplane, purchased as part of the programme launched by the Regia Aeronautica (Royal Italian Air Force) in the early 1930s to reinforce its fleet of aircraft and to replace the Ro.1, designed by Galasso and produced by Industrie Aeronautiche Romeo, later renamed Industrie Mecchaniche Aeronautiche Meridionali (IMAM). The “Lince” entered into service in 1935 and its first deployment was in Spain in 1936 with the Air Legion. During the Second World War it was the standard armed reconnaissance aircraft used by the Auxiliary Air Arm of the Army, remaining in active service up until June 1943. The “Lince” was also exported and sold to Afghanistan, Austria, Ecuador, Hungary, Spain and Uruguay. The aircraft was produced until 1939 with a total of 569 (237 + 332bis) produced.

Of the 16 Ro.37bis sold to Afghanistan in 1938, 6 relics were recovered by an Italian / US team to the North East of Kabul and one of them is exhibited at Vigna di Valle Museum waiting to be completely restored.
Tom Martin, LTC (Ret) of the US Army, recently sent me the following interesting pictures of the recovery of the Ro.37 with the following explaination:

I was the garrison commander at the Kabul Military Training Center and “neighbor” to the Italian garrison at Camp Invicta. Their garrison commander, LTC Mauro D’ Ubaldi, and I became friends through mutual security needs and engineer projects. He approached me and asked if I would help his team come onto our site and remove from the boneyard the flight of planes where this plane came from (another photo shows how it was in the boneyard and a detail of a data plate).
We also recovered wings and there were scraps of material with paint on some of the parts which showed the material and colors.

New images from the ItAF Museum

On Jun. 18, 2009, the Skema was opened again after 2 years of works. I visited the pavilion, that is now fully air conditioned to provide the most suitable temperature for the preserved aircraft, on May 23, 2010. The Skema has now a 1000 sq.m. structure where the G.91PAN, the G.91R, the G.91T and the G.91Y are exhibited. A nice addition within the Skema is also a Nike Hercules that was added to the collection on Oct. 29, 2009.

The Nike Hercules of the Italian Air Force Museum

A recent visit to the Italian Air Force Museum in Vigna di Valle provided the opportunity to take some close up pictures of the MIM-14 Nike Hercules missile that was added to the huge collection of the Museum on Oct. 29, 2009. The Hercules was a solid fuel propelled two-stage SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile), that were employed by the 1^ Aerobrigata of the Aeronautica Militare from 1959 to 2006 (last one was launched in the Sardinian range of Capo San Lorenzo on Nov. 24, 2006). The missile was phased out since it could not fulfil its original role any longer:
1) it was designed to hit target flying at high altitutes while the modern war scenarios have moved to low level the attack profiles
2) the guidance system could track only one target at one time
3) even if it could be moved, the weapons system had not the “tactical mobility” required to survive in a battlefield in a modern war scenario.
Last but not least, today the greatest threat its posed by balistic and tactical missiles and not by strategic bombers.
During its career, the Nike Hercules equipped 12 Gruppi (Intercettori Teleguidati, Teleguided Interceptors) whose duty was to protect the North East of Italy (Lombardia, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions) from a Warsaw Pact attack, by means of 96 launching pads and some 600 – 700 missiles. The exact location of the units equipped with the MIM-14 can be found at the following website, where much more details about the history of the Hercules within the ItAF can be found: The Italian Nike Hercules could be equipped with nuclear warheads since the missile was aimed at destroying Soviet nuclear bombers and a conventional weapon could be not powerful enough to destroy the atomic bombs they carried. Even if the missile could be used in a nuclear surface-to-surface role, the ItAF did not acquire that capability.

Bf-109 relic

Andrea Lusini, a non-commissioned officer belonging to the 37° Stormo, sent me the following interesting pictures of the remains of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 (a chunk of fuselage, from the seat to the tail), taken at Trapani Birgi airport. The aircraft was found on Aug. 29, 2003, by a fishing boat 3NM from S. Vito Lo Capo, near Trapani, and was donated to the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF)  after spending about 5 years in a car park. Barely visible on the wreckage, a red “11”  and the straight-armed Balkenkreuz (the stylized version of the Iron Cross). According to researches made by Andrea, the aircraft should be a 109G-4 W.Nr 19586 11 red II./JG27 piloted by Uffz Herbert Lotter (MIA) that ditched in front of Capo S.Vito Siculo on Jun. 18, 1943. The current status of the aircraft is unknown, even if some think that the relic is currently stored in the depot of the Museo Storico dell’Aeronautica Militare (ItAF Museum) at Vigna di Valle.