Category Archives: Italian Air Force

Here are the photographs of the first “operational” F-35A outside of the US landing in Italy

On Monday, Italy became the first country to operate the F-35 outside of the U.S. when two aircraft landed at the first F-35 base in Europe. Here are the first photographs.

As reported yesterday, on Dec. 12, the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) received its first two F-35A Lightning II at Amendola airbase, in southeastern Italy, becoming the very first service to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S.

The two aircraft, that were flown to Amendola by two ItAF pilots, will now be involved in the flying activities required to achieve the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the type.

Here are the photographs showing the first two F-35s arriving at Amendola (the first European airbase to receive the JSF) on Monday.

Image credit: Troupe Azzura, ItAF

 

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Italy has become the first country to operate the F-35 outside of the U.S.

Actually, the Italian (not the Israeli) Air Force has been the first service to take delivery of the first operational F-35s outside the United States.

On Dec. 12, whilst several Israeli and international media outlets focused on the delivery of the first F-35I “Adir” to Nevatim airbase (delayed by some 6 hours because of fog) highlighting how Israel had just become “the first country after the US” to get the new plane, far from the spotlight, the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) received its first two F-35A Lightning II, becoming the very first country to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S.

Noteworthy, the delivery flight was carried out by two Italian military pilots (the Israeli planes were flown by Lockheed Martin pilots) who flew their two JSFs (Joint Strike Fighters) to Amendola, where the aircraft landed in the early afternoon on Monday.

Indeed, whereas the arrival of the first Israeli or Dutch F-35s got a significant media coverage (with constant updates, live streaming on social media, etc.), the Italian Air Force has kept a very “low profile” about its achievements with the F-35 so far.

However, Italy has made some significant work on the Lightning II: on Dec. 3, 2015, the ItAF welcomed the first F-35 at the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy. That aircraft was also the first assembled and delivered outside the U.S.

Then, on Feb. 5, 2016 the first Italian Air Force F-35, successfully completed the type’s very first transatlantic crossing landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. To prepare for the 7-hour transoceanic flight the Italian Air Force conducted tanker trials in the U.S. (in July 2015) with its KC-767A, that became the first tanker not operated by the U.S. Air Force to undergo refueling certification trials with an F-35.

Three Italian F-35s are currently deployed at Luke’s multinational F-35 pilot training centre.

And, as explained mentioned, on Dec. 12, the first two aircraft (reportedly AL-5 and AL-6) arrived at their operational base in southeastern Italy.

The first ItAF F-35 during the type’s first transatlantic crossing earlier this year (AM)

The F-35 is for sure the most famous (and controversial) defense program in Italy.

For the moment, Rome’s plan is to procure 90 F-35 to replace the ItAF’s ageing AMX and Tornado and the Italian Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets.

 

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Here’s how the Italian Air Force has restructured to enhance its ability to face modern, terrorist threats

A QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) cell deployed to an airbase in the northwest; fighters flying with live weapons during training flights: this is how the Italian Air Force deals with modern threats and shrinking budgets.

Italian Air Force 4.0: this is how it’s been unofficially dubbed. It’s the outcome of a restructuring phase that will enhance the effectiveness of the Air Power by leveraging joint, inter-agency cooperation and a more efficient use of the currently available assets.

In a long interview with Air Press, the Chief of Staff of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) Lt. Gen. Enzo Vecciarelli, provided many interesting details about the way the service is changing to face the most modern threats in an age of financial crisis, and with a plan to reduce its size (in terms of personnel) by about 25%.

The most interesting changes deal with the Italian Air Force’s primary mission: Air Defense.

After closing several airbases to concentrate its interceptors in just two MOBs (Main Operating Bases), Grosseto and Gioia del Colle, and one DOB (Deployment Operating Base), Trapani, the flying branch has realized that the current set up is strongly unbalanced: most of northern Italy is almost uncovered against the asymmetrical threat posed by ultralight aircraft or drones in the hands of terrorists.

For this reason, beginning on Sept. 1, 2016, a couple of Typhoons have started providing QRA duties from Cameri (in northwestern Italy), once the base of a Stormo (Wing) equipped with the F-104 Starfighter. From there, the Italian F-2000As (that’s how the Eurofighter jet fighters are designated in Italy) will be able to engage “renegade” planes much earlier than they would have done taking off from Grosseto (the airbase on H24 alert to provide air policing for all central and northern Italy and Slovenia.)

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Although air superiority remains the Italian Typhoons primary mission, last year the ItAF has started the Operational Testing and Evaluation in the air-to-ground. A team of experienced pilots are already swing role-qualified but, for the moment, the Italians consider the air-to-surface capabilities useful in some niche scenarios and to support the platform’s export opportunities. (Author)

Even more noteworthy is the fact that, in order to be able to engage any aerial threat in the shortest possible time, nowadays all the fighter aircraft flying training missions, including the attack planes, carry live air-to-air weaponry so that the whole ItAF fleet of tactical assets contribute to the airspace surveillance duties: in spite of a bit of overhead required to service and manage many more aircraft carrying actual missiles, the new procedures enable a more efficient way to manage the fleet in accordance with the “train as you fight, fight as you train” motto.

Actually, even the SAR (Search And Rescue) helicopters, that ensure a round-the-clock operational readiness across the country, have been included in the air policing tasks in order to exploit their SMI (Slow Mover Interceptor) capability.

According to Vecciarelli, the restructing of the Air Defense and a more appropriate distribution on the territory allowed the Aeronautica Militare to quadruple the air defense capabilities at a very low-cost.

Whilst daily training sorties are carried out with two drop tanks, QRA aircraft are usually armed with 1 AIM-9L/M and 1 AIM-120B/C air-to-air missiles, cannon with 150 rounds and a single 1,000 kg centerline drop tank, are ready to launch from the shelters in the northern part of Grosseto airbase to cover the wing’s AOR (Area Of Responsibility): a circle of 450 NM radius centered in Grosseto and covering central and northern Italy, and Slovenia

Whilst daily training sorties are carried out with two drop tanks, QRA aircraft are usually armed with 1 AIM-9L/M and 1 AIM-120B/C air-to-air missiles, cannon with 150 rounds and a single 1,000 kg centerline drop tank, are ready to launch from the shelters in the northern part of Grosseto airbase to cover the wing’s AOR (Area Of Responsibility): a circle of 450 NM radius centered in Grosseto and covering central and northern Italy, and Slovenia. (Author)

Furthermore, the Israel’s IAI will soon deliver the first of two Gulfstream G550 Eitam conformal airborne early warning (CAEW) aircraft (as well as ground support equipment and logistical support services) under the terms of a deal worth 750 million USD that was signed in 2012 as part of “a larger larger Government-to-Government agreement between Israel and Italy that includes aircraft, engines, maintenance, logistics, simulators and training, provided also by other Israeli and international companies.”

Although reinforced by several non-standard air defense assets (including the first multirole F-35s, that are expected to be delivered to Amendola airbase, to be taken on charge by the local-based 32° Stormo in the coming weeks), the Italian Air Defense’s main asset remains the Typhoon.

The Euro-canard has been providing air policing tasks since Dec. 16, 2005, when the 4° Stormo (Wing), first among all the partner nations, undertook the first QRA alert duty with the F-2000A from Grosseto.

Since then, the Italian Air Force has become the first to achieve the NATO Quick Response Force certification, has flown hundred alert scrambles, has supported NATO operations in Iceland, and enforced NFZs (No Fly Zones) during several highly-sensitive events, including the Turin 2006 Winter Games and Davos World Economic Forums, and has also taken part to Operation Unified Protector, flying sweep and escort missions over Libya.

From Jan. 1 to Aug. 27, 2015, as part of the TFA (Task Force Air) based at Šiauliai, Lithuania, four Typhoons of the 4°, 36° and 37° Stormo logged about 900 flying hours, 40 A-Scrambles (Alert Scrambles) and more than 160 T-Scrambles (Training Scrambles) in support of NATO BAP (Baltic Air Patrol) mission.

“Our involvement in the BAP mission is just the latest of several real operations we have taken part in the last years. […] We have the required know-how and a much mature aircraft,” told Col. Enrico Pederzolli, commander of the 4° Stormo, at Grosseto, in an interview to The Aviationist earlier this year.

 

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The last ever operative flight of the legendary F-104 Starfighter, 12 years ago today

On Oct. 31, 2004, the Italian Air Force flew the last operative mission of the iconic F-104, the “missile with a man in it.”

Of the 15 nations that had one of 2,580 Lockheed F-104 Starfighter produced (including prototypes) in their fleet, Italy is the one that more than any other, linked its fortune to this extraordinary interceptor. Employed also in the ground attack (both conventional and strike) and in tactical reconnaissance roles, the “Spillone” (“Hatpin”) marked, for better or worse, the daily life of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), influencing its ambitions, choices and abilities for almost half a century.

Throughout this period of time, seven different versions of the F-104 were employed by the Italian Air Force: the F-104G, RF-104G, TF-104G, F-104S, F-104S/ASA, F-104S/ASA-M and TF-104G-M, equipping ten different Wings and fifteen Squadrons (other than the Reparto Sperimentale Volo) for slightly less than one million flight hours.

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Although its very last flight with the Aeronautica Militare (the last air force to operate the Starfighter) took place few months later (as described in the book “Italian Starfighters” by this Author), the F-104 wrote the final chapter of its extraordinary career within the ItAF on October 30th, 2004, when the aircraft undertook the last QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) shift after being on alert, “ready in five” (ready to take off in 5 minutes from the alarm) for 40 years.

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The 24-hour QRA shift for the 10° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 9° Stormo (Wing) at Grazzanise airbase, ended on Oct. 31 at 08.25 local time, with a Tango Scramble (a Scramble for training purposes) carried out by Maj. Aurelio Covotta, commander of the 10° Gruppo, and by Lt. Rolando Pellegrini, of the 9° Gruppo.

After the two armed aircraft had landed, the homage to this undisputed star of +40 years of history of the ItAF was entrusted to a very special formation whose leader was Gen. Pietro Valente, commander of the “Aquila” Division; number 2 Col. Vittorio Iannotta, commander of the 4° Stormo; number 3, Col. Gianpaolo Miniscalco, commander of the 9° Stormo; number 4, Maj. Giovanni Balestri, commander of the 20° Gruppo; and number 5, Gen. Settimo Caputo, Deputy Chief of Staff of Comando Squadra Aerea, who proudly wore on his flight suit the patch attesting 3500 flying hours on the Starfighter!

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The aircraft (MM6890/4-50, MM6934/9-31, MM6930/9·99, MM6876/9-39, MM6850/4-16) took off in rapid sequence and engaged the sky field some minutes later to perform a series of fly-bys that were greeted with deep emotion and with a hint of sadness by the staff of the 9° Stormo and by those who had gathered along the taxiways of the operational area of the 10° Gruppo. After the last fly-by, the aircraft landed.

All except one: the 9·99 of Col. Miniscalco, that flew some high-speed passes in front of the public before the last pass at transonic speed with a vertical climb that preceded the landing that marked the official end of the longstanding permanence of the F-104 in the front-line units of the Aeronautica Militare.

After Oct. 31, 2004 the Starfighter continued to fly on the Italian skies for little less than a year with the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, mainly as a chase plane for the unit’s Eurofighter Typhoons.

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The Italian Air Force has rolled out a Tornado in brand new, awesome special livery

An eye-catching special colored Tornado IDS for the 60th anniversary of 311° Gruppo.

On Oct. 27, the Italian Air Force officially rolled out a Tornado IDS in a special livery at Pratica di Mare airbase, near Rome, Italy.

The aircraft, serialled CSX 7041, celebrates the 60th anniversary of the 311° Gruppo (Squadron) of the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo), the Italian Air Force Test Wing responsible for the development, testing and validation of all the flying “hardware”: aircraft, sensors, weapons, etc.

The new “special color” was the highlight of a ceremony that also included the flying display of the C-27J Spartan and the Eurofighter Typhoon: the unit is indeed responsible of the aerial displays of all the ItAF aircraft.

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Our contributor Alessandro Borsetti attended the small airshow at Pratica di Mare and took the photographs you can find in this post (top air-to-air image is a courtesy photo by the Italian Air Force).

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Image credit: Alessandro Borsetti (top: Italian Air Force)

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