The 21° Gruppo is one of the most famous squadrons of the Italian Air Force: formerly belonging to the 53° Stormo at Cameri, it has been a member the NATO Tiger Association since 1968. The squadron moved to Gioia del Colle on Mar. 1, 1999, and operated within the 36° Stormo until Mar. 1, 2001, when it was disbanded. The squadron was officially reactivated on Mar. 23, 2006 within the 9° Stormo at Grazzanise, with the aim to create a deployable flying unit able to perform a large variety of combat duties:
MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation) and CASEVAC (CASualties EVACuation)
Personnel Recovery: CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue), NEO (Non-combatant Evacuation Operations) and HRO (Humanitarian Relief Operations)
Special Operations insertion/extraction
Short range transportation
Most of the above mentioned missions were flown during the several Tours of Duty in Afghanistan that have seen the 21° Gruppo’s AB.212s (UH-1N in the US designation; UH-212ICO according to the Italian Mission Design Series) operating in support of the ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force) multinational force.
Since 2005, the Squadron is equipped with the AB.212ICO (Implementazione Capacità Operative – Operational Campabilities Implementation) a retrofitted version of the previous AMI-SAR model that will be employed until 2014-2015, when it is expected to be replaced by the new AW-101 CSAR helicopter. The AB.212ICO is equipped withECDS-1 Flares dispensers for self-protection from IR-guided missiles and two MG 42/59 caliber 7.62 mm NATO machine guns on both sides of the fuselage. It wears an armored cockpit and fuselage to protect the 2 pilots and 2 gunners from small arms; noteworthy, the rudder area, vulnerable to bullets shot from the ground because of the observation windows, has been shielded with 3 inches of kevlar. The helicopter cruise speed is 90 – 100 KIAS.
The 9° Stormo, currently commanded by Col. Marino Francavilla, a pilot with 2,400 flying hours and a huge combat experience with helicopters in Somalia, Kosovo and Iraq, belongs to the 1^ Brigata Aerea Operazioni Speciali (1st Special Operations Air Brigade). Also belonging to the 9° Stormo since 2009 is the Air Riflemen Group, whose duty is to provide force protection, NBC defense, EOR (Explosive Ordneance Recognition) and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Deactivation), both at home and on deployment, within PSO (Peace Support Operations). The unit is currently deployed to Herat, where it ensures the protection of the local Forward Support Base.
The Air Riflemen Group is made of around 100 soldiers equipped with the standard assault rifle Beretta SCP 70/90 cal. 5.56mm, that will soon be replaced by the Beteretta ARX160, along with other firearms (sniper rifles, combat shotguns, guns). The unit has also some VTLM Lynx vehicles, with mounted Browning cal. 12.7 mm or Minimi cal. 5.56 machine guns.
Much of the training activities take place at Grazzanise airbase, where the Air Riflemen operate with the 21° Gruppo and where we were invited to attend an Afghanistan-type operation involving both the rotary wing and the special forces of the 9° Stormo on Oct. 3, 2011: MEDEVAC needed to rescue a Rifleman wounded while securing a bridge located inside an insurgent-controlled area.
Giovanni Maduli took the following images.
I wish to thank Col. Marino Francavilla, Capt. Cristoforo Russo, and the ItAF PIO for giving us the opportunity to visit Grazzanise airbase during the SOF event.
The first Italian aircraft to be deployed in Afghanistan has been a Bell UH-1N Twin Huey helicopter in a version built under license by Agusta and designated AB-212. Both the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) and the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) have been called to support ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force) multinational force with the AB.212, that can fulfil a wide variety of tasks, from MEDEVAC, to reconnaissance, to personnel transportation, to special forces ops.
The 21° Gruppo of the Italian Air Force has conducted several Tour of Duty in Afghanistan. Since 2005, it is equipped with the AB.212ICO (Implementazione Capacità Operative – Operational Campabilities Implementation) a retrofitted version of the previous AMI-SAR model that was upgraded in anticipation to the deployment to Kabul and surrounding areas, where the high-altitude environment is not suitable with the other CSAR helicopter in ItAF inventory, the old fashioned HH-3F that suffered a tragic incident in 2008. The AB.212ICO is equipped with two manually activated Flares dispensers for self-protection and can carry two MG 42/59 caliber 7.62 mm NATO machine guns on both sides of the fuselage. It wears an armored cockpit and fuselage to protect the 2 pilots and 2 gunners from small arms; noteworthy, the rudder area, vulnerable to bullets shot from the ground because of the observation windows, has been shielded with 3 inches of kevlar.
The new outfit has cost the aircraft half of its original endurance, currently limited to 1 hour and 40 minutes, and the increased weight, in Afghanistan, at an average height of 7.000 feet AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level), with ground temperature often above 40° Celsius, makes the AB.212 unable to recover a survivor from the ground with the hoist.
To board people, the Twin Huey has to land. A minor problem as the following pictures taken by Capt. Giacomo Andreotti at 9,100 feet, on top a mountain in central Italy, during a routine mission of the 21° Gruppo a proud member of the NATO Tiger Association, based at Grazzanise.
High-altitude can be tricky for rotary wings: first, because of the loss of engine power; second for the loss of rotor lift caused by the thin air. That’s why helicopters suitable for high altitudes need plenty of excess power that can be spent to overcome the reduced lift and engine performance.
The AB.212 will be employed until 2014-2015 when it is expected to be replaced with a CSAR version of the AW-101.
As happend in 2008 and 2009, Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo) in Rome will host an exhibition with equipment belonging to the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force), Marina Militare (Italian Navy) and Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard), Esercito Italiano (Italian Army), Guardia di Finanza (Custom Police) and Carabinieri (Military Police) as part of the celebrations for the traditional Italian Armed Forces Day (Nov. 4th). On Oct. 28, the first helicopters landed in the Circus Maximus and Giovanni Maduli was there to take the following pictures of the arrivals.
Since a lot of visitors of this website are interested in Italian Air Force Heraldry, I’ve decided to publish images of the new patches produced by the various operative units of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) and to provide some information about them.
The following 3 patches, come from Trapani. From left to right: the new “diamond” of the 18° Gr and two new 10° Gruppo patches (cloud and X)
From left: the patch made by the X Gruppo for the Spring Flag 2008, an exercise in which the squadron was part of the Red Air; a patch made within the Cervia based 5° Stormo for passengers of the F-16B; a new F-16ADF roundel
From left: the patch made for the Italian crews of the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control (NAEW&C) Force; a patch made for the Italian JSF (Joint Strike Fighter); a patch, most probably theatre-made, worn by crews operating in Afghanistan (I’ve seen that patch worn by the AB.212ICO pilots of the 21° Gruppo, even if it could be used also by others).
According to a brief news published by the ecodicaserta.it website, on Jul 17, an AB.212 of the 9° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare, performed an emergency landing near Mondragone after experiencing an engine fire. The aircraft, belonging to the 21° Gruppo, landed in a field and the crew escaped safely. No damages to the helicopter have been reported.
Even if it is not clear if the aircraft was an AB212AMI-SAR or one of the 5 AB.212ICO (Implementazione Capacità Operative) of the squadron, as 3 of them are currently deployed in Afghanistan to support the Italian contingent within the Kabul AOR (Area Of Responsibility) performing recce, transportation, MEDEVAC and CASEVAC missions, it is possible that the chopper involved is the AB.212ICO MM81375 “Special Colour” that was not deployed to Kabul. The helicopter, wearing tiger markings, took part to the last Tiger Meet in Landivisiau at the end of June and was recently spotted near Pratica di Mare.
Here are some pictures of the AB212 operated by the 21° Gruppo.
The Aviationist patch
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