Category Archives: Italian Air Force

Two Libyan Mirages defect to Malta

Two Libyan Air Force Mirage F.1s, armed with rocket pods, landed in the afternoon of Feb. 21, 2011, in Malta. The two aircraft were piloted by two senior officers who claimed to have defected after being ordered to bomb civilians who were protesting in Benghazi. According to the information collected from many sources, the two aircraft had taken off from Okba Ben Nafi airbase near Tripoli and landed at Benghazi, where they were refueled and armed. After taking off from Benghazi, the two Colones, were ordered to fire at protestors (multiple aircraft strikes against protestors caused 250 deads) hence they decided to defect, descended low level (someone reported they escaped at 50 ft above sea level) and headed towards Malta. Approaching Malta, they made contact with Maltese ATC using radio callsign Mirage 1 and 2 (serial 502 and 508), declared fuel emergency and landed, seeking asylum from the Maltese authorities. Upon landing, they were surrounded by local police forces. The two fighters arrived shortly after two civilian Pumas that had already landed at Malta International Airport. The choppers (F-GHOY and F-GYSH), belonging to Heli Union and usually stationed at Tripoli International Airport, carried 7 French passengers evacuated from Libya, of whom, only one was carrying a passport. The most interesting pictures of the arriving “visitors” that I’ve found so far are those available at the following address here. Don’t you think the Mirages (especially 502) are cleaner than one would expect?

Malta is currently the temporary base of an Austrian AF C-130 used for shuttle flights from Luqa to Tripoli aimed at evacuating civilians. Italian citizens will be evacuated from Feb. 22, with special Alitalia flights.

As a consequence of the defection of the two Libyan Mirages, Gioia del Colle, home of the F-2000s of the 36° Stormo, and Trapani, where the F-16s of the 37° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) are based, were put in a heightned alert status. According to rumours, Italian Air Force is about to move helicopters to the most southern bases (Lampedusa? Pantelleria? To do what? Maybe Search And Rescue or surveillance of the waters surrounding the islands where refugees are arriving by sea).
Around 21.30LT Benghazi airspace was closed; consequently, all the south bound air traffic was compelled to change the preplanned route. The following screenshot taken from Flightradar24 shows the Kenya Airways flight KQ107 changing its route to avoid entering the Libyan airspace enroute to Nairobi.

Even if rumours in the past days claimed Colonel Gaddaffi had left for Venezuela, his current location is unknown. None of the aircraft usually used by the Libyan President (mainly A340 with registration 5A-ONE, but also Falcon 900 or Beech 200) were spotted/monitored leaving Libya in the last two days.

Italy-Russia ties

The visit of the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Italy on Feb. 16 – 17, 2011, provided the opportunity to discuss the cooperation of the two nations various fields. Among the other topics (energy in particular) the Russian delegation has asked Italy’ support to promote its SuperJet SSJ100 to new customers and to Alitalia, the Italian flag company, that was among the possible customers, until in December it announced the purchase of 20 Embraer (15 ERJ-175 and 5 ERJ-190) to replace and strenght its fleet of E-170 and CRJ-900 regional jets (the latter, inherited from Air One). Sukhoi Superjet 100 @ AeroIndia 2010The SuperJet is the first major passenger aircraft produced in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its the first of a new family of regional jets. It is produced by the Sukhoi Civil Aircraft, of which Italy’s Finmeccanica owns 25%. It rolled out on Sept. 26, 2007 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur where it performed its maiden flight on May 19, 2008. In 2007, Alenia Aeronautica, a Finmeccanica company, and Sukhoi Holding formed SuperJet International, a joint venture (51% – Alenia Aeronautica, and 49% – Sukhoi Holding) based in Venice, responsible for marketing, sales and delivery in Europe, America, Africa, Japan and Oceania as well as for worldwide logistic support for the Superjet 100. On Jan. 28, 2011 it was granted the Type Certification by the IAC AR, the Russian certification authority, and it’s due to get the European certification by the year-end. Even if SuperJet hopes Alitalia hasn’t lost interest in the SSJ100, that cost less than the Embraer E-series and BoSukhoi Superjet 100 @ AeroIndia 2010mbardier CRJs, the regional contest seems to be gone: according to what Alitalia CEO Rocco Sabelli said, at the end of the press conference in which Alitalia announced its return to China by means of a code sharing agreement with China Eastern airlines (4xwk FCO-PEK with AZ A330 and 4xwk FCO-PVG with MU A340), the Italian flag company has already made some initial payments and it is currently building the package of leasing. The first aircraft should be delivered by the next summer and the first five by the end of 2011, with the remaining 15 in 2012. Sukhoi Superjet 100 @ AeroIndia 2010Most probably, the main cause for turning down Sukhoi’s proposal to opt for the Brasilian planes (costing, yearly, some 200K – 300K Euro more than the Russian ones – money that should be recovered “elsewhere” within the order) was the fact that the SSJ100, at the time Alitalia made its decision, had yet to pass certification with Russian and European civil aviation authorities while its competitor was almost ready for delivery (even if it must be underlined that SuperJet affirmed that the certification schedule fitted perfectly with the Alitalia requirement to receive the first aircraft within summer 2011). Whatever the Alitalia future plane may be, the SSJ100, that attended the Aero India 2011 at Bangalore, India (where the above pictures were taken by Katsuhiko Tokunaga) will be an important challenger for both Embraer E-Jet and Bombardier CRJ that could lose a large slice of their once exclusive market as SuperJet makes inroads into the Western world of “regionals”. That’s why Italy (airlines and industry) is looking at this aircraft with interest.

Another important topic that was discussed by the Russian delegation in Italy, was the agreement on the transit of military personnel, ammunition and equipment destined to the Italian contingent operating in Afghanistan through the Russian airspace. So far, as explained in the article “Italian shuttle flights to Kabul” troops and supplies to Herat and Kabul, has transited through Middle East. The heavier material is carried by ships that reach Pakistan and then proceed to destination by means of ground transportation, while military vehicles, helicopters and ammunitions are carried by the C-130Js of the 46^ Brigata Aerea of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), based in Pisa, or on board the Antonov AN-124 leased by the Ministry of Defence (whose cost is on average 500K Euro per flight, according to the Sole 24 ore, the main independent Italian economic newspaper). Military destined to the Afghan theatre use civil charter flights that carry them to Al Bateen, in Abu Dhabi, where they can board on one of the shuttle flights of the local Task Force Air of the ItAF which connect the intermediate base in the United Arab Emirates with the final destination in Afghanistan. With the new agreement, supplies and troops will be able to reach Herat with no stop flights from Italy, saving the cost for keeping the C-130s at Abu Dhabi (26 milion Euro were the out-of-the pocket expenses in 2010, according to the Sole 24 ore).

Picture below courtesy of the ItAF

Time to tighten the fuel cap? Typhoon fuel leak

The following picture was taken by Giovanni Maduli on Feb. 10, 2011. It shows a Eurofighter Typhoon of the local based 4° Stormo leaking some fuel from the tail tank (for those who might think the aircraft is dumping fuel, the answer is no, since the F-2000 is not equipped with fuel dumpers).

A multi-role Italian Eurofighter Typhoon?

When the following pictures (courtesy of zetamimmo) appeared on the Italian Vipers forum someone thought that, finally, the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), had begun thinking to the Eurofighter Typhoon as a multi-role aircraft, something contrasting the previous vision, according to which, the F-2000 should be only used as an air superiority fighter.

However, the pictures, taken at Decimomannu airbase in February, depicts a TF-2000A that, although wearing the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (RSV – Test Unit Wing of the ItAF), it’s currently flown by both Alenia Aeronautica and RSV to conduct testing activities. For example, during my visit to Decimomannu for the F-15E deployment the aircraft serialled MM X-614/IPA 2 was involved in supersonic runs (see pictures at the end of this article), while it carried GBUs to test the aircraft’s autopilot during flights in heavy configurations.
The last part of my article titled “Italian Typhoon”, published in the April 2010 issue of Air Forces Monthly ended with the following words, which explain the past (and current!) vision of the Italian Air Force about the role of the F-2000:

Under Tranche 3A, by 2013, Italy will receive 21 Typhoons bringing the total to 95 (comprising 27 Trance 1 and 47 Tranche 2 examples). The aircraft will be used in the air superiority role, as Italy, due to the cost associated with the envisaged upgrades required by the integration of the air-to-ground weapons, has always been skeptical about a multi-role Eurofighter. At the end of 2008, answering some questions about the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), Gen. Vincenzo Camporini, former ItAF Chief of Staff, current Defence Chief of Staff, affirmed that: “There’s no competition or conflict between the JSF and the Eurofighter. The Eurofighter was designed for the Air Defence, a role that the aircraft is perfectly able to fulfil, but it can’t perform the attack role in an economically sustainable manner”. That vision hasn’t changed with the Tranche 3 contract signed in July 2009. In a recent interview, Gen. Giuseppe Bernardis, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, said that Italy did not completely rule out the use of Eurofighters for air-to-ground missions, since both T2 and T3 aircraft will have the ability to carry Paveway and JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) that are already used by the Tornado and the AMX, and will be carried in the future by the F-35s (that Italy plans to acquire in 109 examples: 69 conventional take-off and landing F-35As and 40 short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs). Hence, the air-to-ground mission is viewed as secondary for the Typhoon; provided their ability to use the ordnance in inventory for other aircraft, the Eurofighter will be possibly be used as “back up” attack platforms until 2040.

F-16 MLU vs Eurofighter Typhoon

Last year I published the pictures taken at Decimomannu airbase during Starex exercise, of the kill markings on two MB.339CDs clearly showing the silhouettes of three (2+1) F-2000 Typhoons (virtually) shot down during training engagements that took place inside the ACMI range.
This time I suggest you having a look at the following video, appeared on Youtube, showing a dogfight during exercise Winter Hide 2011 in Grosseto involving at least one F-16 MLU of the RDAF (Royal Danish Air Force) and one F-2000 of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), ending with what seems to be the virtual downing of the Italian Typhoon by means of gun.

Although interesting, the video, that generated a lot of comments on both Twitter and various forums, doesn’t prove the F-16 is better than the Typhoon in an air-to-air scenario, for the same reasons I already explained in the above mentioned post about the presumed F-2000 kills by the MB.339CDs: unless we actually know the RoE (Rules of Engagement) that were used for that Winter Hide 2011 mission, we can’t truly understand what led the F-16 in such a position to be able to get a shot at the Typhoon.
By the way: did you notice that the first 1 vs 1, in the first part of the video, terminates at an altitude below 3.000 feet (according to the Radar Altimeter)?