Tag Archives: 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico

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.

Who are the best aerobatic team?

As I have already explained in my previous post about the airshow held in Rivolto on Sept. 11 and 12, 2010, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori, in the last weeks I was interviewed many times by both newspapers and TVs.

What I’ve noticed is that the majority of the journalist that interviewed me about my book (the official ItAF book for the Frecce’s 50th Anniversary), asked me the same question: “are the Frecce the best aerobatic team?”

It is extremely difficult to answer impartially to this question. Patriotism is something that can influence the pick, so what I answered each time I was asked this question is something that can’t be denied: the Frecce Tricolori can claim a certain number of records that have never been matched by any other aerobatic team in the world.

First of all its size: the Italian aerobatic team is the only one to fly with 10 aircraft.

Another singularity which makes the PAN unique is the fact that the whole display is executed in sight of the public. Separations, transformations and rejoins are always performed in front of the spectators, a circumstance which requires absolute preciseness in all phases of the display.

By the way: another record accomplished by the Frecce Tricolori is the fact that they separate into two formations (one flight of 5 and another of 4 aircraft) which then fly an opposition pass and subsequently rejoin in less than two minutes. Rejoin time is a factor that can influence deeply a flying display. For instance, many noticed that, after taking off from Rivolto, the Red Arrows were out of sight of the public for many (too many…) minutes before rejoining and performing the entry passage. I don’t know what exactly happened (maybe they experienced some kind of failure) but the “dead time” from take off to the first manouevre (“Big Battle to Short Diamond loop and twist”) . Will get back to the Red Arrows display later.

One more peculiarity of the PAN is the Downward Bomb Burst, a manoeuvre which has been part of the Pattuglia’s tradition since its creation, having been part of the Italian Air Force heritage for 80 years now. It is a manoeuvre in which the aircraft, starting from a high altitude and in formation, dive towards the ground and then separate into 9 individual elements which depart in different directions, finally returning for an opposition pass, at three different levels, over the same point. This is a very spectacular and complex manoeuvre, which no one else is capable of reproducing, especially due to the difficulty in opposition passing and rejoining in the very short time frames required for a display.

The other record of the Frecce Tricolori is tied to the Solo’s Lomçovak. This is a display which is typically executed by propeller aircraft, and foresees a “standing roll” followed by a vertical spin, reverse and subsequent aircraft pitch down. Such a manoeuvre is usually “outside the flight envelope” for most jet aircraft, but the PAN’s Solo pilot can execute it in complete safety, thanks to the outstanding handling capabilities of the MB 339.

That said, in my opinion the Frecce display is the most difficult and technical. Each manouevre is followed by another one, in a flying programme that is extremely “fluid” and “continuos” with no dead spaces (as you can always watch the 9 ship formation, or the solo’s display).

Red Arrows and Patrouille de France displays are impressive too: they have lots of different formations and manouevres, some of which are extremely spectacular (like  wingmen fly from one side of the formation to the other one). But formation is not as tight as the Italian “diamond”, manouevres (often) involve a lower number of aircraft (as the Reds’ Gypo Break or the Heart that the Frecce perform with two sections 5+4) and rejoining time is not as strict as for the Italian team and you can clearly notice the remaining aircraft flying nearby trying to rejoin with other “isolated” elements. Their display is like a series of beautiful manouevres that doesn’t look like a single choreography.

On the other hand, the Frecce display is (more or less) the same from decades. A new manouevre appears in the programme every 7 – 8 years. This make their display technical and interesting (especially for the competent observer) but monolithic, while the Reds or Bleus ones, are (maybe) slightly less difficult, but (maybe) slightly more “aggressive” and breathtaking.

The Swiss Patrouille Suisse (flying with the powerful F-5), the Spanish Patrulla Aguila and the Croatian Krila Oluje Team (whose display would be more impressive with the use of smokes) are quickly improving. Anyway, this is just my opinion, as the answer to the “who are the best aerobatic display team” question is still an open debate.






Frecce Tricolori’s 50th Anniversary airshow

I recently visited Rivolto airbase, in NE Italy, during the rehearsals (Sept. 10) and the airshow (Sept. 11 and 12) that was held at the Frecce Tricolori homebase to celebrate the 50th Anniversary (actually the 50th airshow season) of the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (Italian Aerobatic Team). The airshow, that represented the 10° Raduno Piloti Pattuglie Acrobatiche (Aerobatic Team Pilot Reunion), was attended by about 450.000 people and by 600 media representatives. The flying programme saw the display of some of the most important aerobatic teams: the Red Arrows, the Patrouille de France, the Patrulla Aguila, the Patrouille Suisse and the Jordanian Falcons. The airshow was attended also for the first time by the Croatian Krila Oluje Team and by the Polish Team Iskry. Some solos displayed too: along with the MB.339CD, the Tornado, the C-27J, the AMX and the F-2000 of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, also the Alenia Aermacchi M.346 “Master” that will be delivered to the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) during the next year. Interestingly, the F-2000 had the 4° Stormo badge on the right hand side of the tail and the RSV one on the other one.

The flying display was broadcasted live on the Internet and on TV by the RAI (Italian State TV). After being inteview Live from Rainews24:

I had the honour to be invited to talk about the official ItAF book for the 50th Anniversary of the Frecce (read here: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/frecce-tricolori/) during the Azzurro Tricolore live television show broadcasted by Rai Uno (Channel 1):

On the same subject I was also interviewed by Carlo Gallucci for the TG5:

Here are some interesting pictures I took during the three days spent in Rivolto.








Getting ready for the Frecce's 50th Anniversary airshow

The following images I took at sunset of Sept. 10 (just a few hours ago) show the MB.339s of the Frecce Tricolori lined up at Rivolto airbase for the night preceeding the 50th Anniversary airshow (10° Raduno Piloti Pattuglie Acrobatiche, Aerobatic Team Pilot Reunion).