Tag Archives: AB.212

311° Gruppo / Reparto Sperimentale Volo – Pratica di Mare – 11.03.09

On Mar. 11, 2009, I visited the flight line of the 311° Gruppo of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, the Test unit of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force, ItAF), inside Pratica di Mare, the largest italian military airport. Accompayned by Maj. Igor Bruni, one the RSV pilots (and the MB339CD display pilot in the past two years), I spent a few hours on the “PB” apron of the Sperimentale where I was able to observe the daily flying activity. The flight line had many aircraft parked or being prepared for sorties: MB.339A, MB.339CD, C-27J, C-130J, NH.500E, Tornado IDS, AMX-T ACOL, Tornado ECR, AB-212 . More or less the majority of the aircraft types in service with the ItAF were in the flight line of the squadron. Recovered inside a hangar was also an interesting aircraft I was not allowed to photograph but that is far from being a secret addition to the RSV fleet: read here. A few missions were flown during my stay. In the early morning, the MB.339A CSX 54453/RS-30 departed to perform a flight inside the R-62 area. In the front seat a former 23° Gruppo pilot recently assigned to the 311° Gruppo was performing a sort of “orientation flight” with Maj. Giacomo “Jack” Iannelli on the back seat. Later, the MB.339CD MM55091/RS-32 also departed for a local sortie, followed by the C-27J CSX 62219/46-87. Before noon, both MB.339 (1 CD + 1 A) took off to perform a training mission together. Interestingly, the two aircraft departed and joined up using an airborne pick up With Igorprocedure. As I already explained in a previous post, when aircraft of dissimilar type depart from the same base and need to rejoin as soon as possible, they can perform a particular procedure named “airborne pickup”. Typical scenarios are the rejoin after takeoff of a tanker with the receivers flying as a single flight or of a prototype with a chase aircraft during a test flight. Airborne pickup starts with aircraft departing from the same airbase. Let’s explain it in a typical scenario: a mission composed by two aircraft, a leader (for ex. an AMX) and a chase (an MB.339). The two aircraft taxi together but the chase lines up and takes off first (after receiving clearance to perform the procedure). Immediately after departure, the MB.339, makes a 180 turn back towards the tarmac and enters the downwind leg for the runway in use. “30 seconds!” is the radio call of the chase pilot to time his approach to the runway to the leader’s take-off. While the MB.339 is in the second base turn to head back to the runway, the AMX eases its brakes to start the take-off roll. If everything goes on as planned, the MB.339 should be flying in formation with the leader as soon as the AMX has completed the departure and before it starts the next turn inbound the first waypoint. I was on the backseat of the MB.339 when Capt. Maurizio performed this kind of procedure to rejoin with the AMX of the 311th Gruppo flown by Capt. Locatelli at the beginning of an air-to-air photo session with the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo). The procedure was perfectly executed and we were on the right wing of the AMX in time, just before it started a left turn inbound the sea but, obviously, things can be more difficult if aircraft involved have much different take-off performances. Just think about rejoining an MB.339 with an F-104 taking off with full afterburner in clean configuration. Perfect calculations and quick corrections (if needed), are paramount to succeed in this procedure, performed visually even if flying under IFR rules. During the morning spent in Pratica I had also the opportunity to watch the training activity performed by a single HH-3F of the 85° Gruppo SAR that made a series of visual patterns and landings into the helipad located behind the RSV area.

2008: a bad year for Italian military helicopters

Most probably, 2008 will be remembered as one of the worst years in the history of the Italian military helicopter aviation. At least 5 accidents occurred to aircraft belonging to both the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), the Esercito Italiano (Italian Army, ItAy) and the Marina Militare (Italian Navy, ItNy). On Mar 13, an NH-500E of the 72° Stormo crashed in a field near Arnara, some 10 chilometers from Frosinone airbase, during the execution of a simulated crash landing. The two pilots on board (an Instructor Pilot and a Student) escaped the helicopter before it was completely destroyed by the fire. At around 12.00LT on Mar 13, I was on board Samba 01+1, a flight of 2 NH-500E that were performing a training sortie within the Frosinone ATZ to take some air-to-air pictures for a report that will be published on RID next month. We heard on the Tower frequency about the emergency: a Rescue helicopter was already approaching the crash landing site and reported fire on the ground and smoke.

On May 7 at 22.15LT, an HH-3F of the 15° Stormo ditched in the Tyrrehenian sea 5 NM W of Pratica di Mare during a night SAR training mission. The aircraft belonged to the 85 Gruppo SAR and the 5 people on board escaped the aircraft with injuries: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2008/05/08/an-italian-hh-3f-pelican-ditches-in-the-tyrrhenian-sea/
On Jun 1, an NH90 of the Army crashed into the Bracciano lake during Ali sul Lago airshow (attended also by the Frecce Tricolori), causing the death of 1 of the crew members. I was there, took pictures of the helicopter impacting the surface of the water and wrote a detailed report on the mishap: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/nh90-crash-pictures/.

One month later, on Jul 1, an AB212ASW of the Italian Navy crash landed during a training sortie in the countryside near Grottaglie airbase, causing 1 dead and 2 injured ones.

On Oct 23, an HH-3F of the ItAF belonging to the 84° CSAR (Centro SAR, SAR Center) based in Brindisi, flying to Florennes with another aircraft of the same time to attend the TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) crashed between Isle-en-Barrois and Vaubecourt, near Strasbourg, France, causing the death of 8 POB (People On Board). The accident was caused by the sudden rupture of one the main rotor blades, an event that caused the loss of the tail rotor and the quick impact of the aircraft with the terrain (for more info on this accident, read the following articles: An Italian HH-3F crashes in France killing 8 POB; “Mammaiut”: all the ItAF HH-3Fs grounded; HH-3F crash caused by the fracture of a main rotor’s blade; Three HH-3F cleared to fly).

On Dec 16, an A129 “Mangusta” of the 7° Reggimento “Vega”, hit a the military jeep during the simulation of a typical in-theatre check point operation in Rimini airport, causing the death of one of the occupants of vehicle. Two Mangusta were taking part to the exercise: the first one had to halt the 5 vehicles coloumn, while the second had to overfly it with a 360° turn. The second vehicle of the coloumn was hit by the blade of the second A129 as this one performed a tight turn above to visually check it. The helicopter’s blade was seriously damaged and the pilot struggled to keep the aircraft flying but he was able to perform an emergency landing nearby. Even if an investigation is still in progress the accident was probably caused by a pilot’s error who misjudged the distance from the jeep or because of a wind gust (strong winds and bad weather were reported on Rimini airport on Dec 16).

Link 16 on board the Italian Tornado F.3?

I’ve just finished reading a couple of interesting articles published on the latest issue of Rivista Aeronautica (06/08). They deal with the Trial Imperial Hammer 2008 (TIH 08), a complex exercise that was held in Decimomannu last September and whose aim was to improve the Time Sensitive Targeting and Dynamic Retasking capabilities during counter-terrorism operations. The TIH 08 proposed an asymmetric warfare scenario with UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicles) operations, GPS Jamming missions, SIGINT/ESM sorties, Improvised Electronic Device activities. Some specialized assets attended the exercise: G.222VS of the 14° Stormo, B.707 of the Spanish Air Force, French C-160G Gabriel and Mirage F1CR, a C-130 Senior Scout of the Delaware ANG, a C-160 of the Turkish Air Force, a Br.1150 of the German Navy, Luftwaffe Tornado ECR and IDS, two EH-101 in ESM configuration, and Italian Tornado ECR and IDS. AMX, HH-3F and AB.212ICO of the Aeronautica Militare (ItAF) attended the CSAR missions. Supporting the exercise also a NATO E-3 AWACS and an E-3F of the French Air Force. All the information gathered by the various assets were collected by the JFFC (Joint Forces Fusion Center) that acted as a sensor fusion unit. The JFFC was a sort of “middleware” that received and distributed all the information received from the various assets linked by means of the Tactical Data Link (TDL): Link 16, Link 11 and IDM (Improved Data Modem). Noteworthy, the Link 16 data link was implemented also on the Italian Tornado IDS and ECR – this latter equipped also with an MSR (Multi-Ship Ranging) a Link 16-based capability for integrating and fusing information coming from different ELS (Emitter Locator System) in order to geolocalize electromagnetic threats discovered by different platforms. In a typical net-centric architecture, during the TIH 08, the Italian Tornados sent the information gathered by their MSR to the JFFC that could update the picture by delivering the information via Link 16/Link 11/IDM to all the other assets involved in the exercise and to the AWACS. The same information could be sent to a Tornado IDS that could be used to attack a target detected by a Tornado ECR. That said is it clear that the Link 16 – which required the installation of a MIDS/LVT (Multifunctional Information Distribution System / Low Volume Terminal) on the Tornados – is extremely important to establish a flexible, authenticated, encrypted e communication channel between different platforms for information exchange. Considering that the first Tornado ECR with MIDS and MSR was taken on charge by the Reparto Sperimentale on Jul 17, I didn’t remember that the Link 16 capability was not achieved by the ItAF for the first time by the Tornado fleet, in 2008, until Riccardo Vestuto, an F-104 and aviation expert, requested me some Tornado F.3 cockpit pictures. After I sent him those images I shot during my visit to Gioia del Colle in 2004 for an article that was published by Rivista Aeronautica he made me notice that in WSO (Weapon System Officer) cockpit there’s a third CRT above the standard two ones, that is not present on all the examples leased from the Royal Air Force and could have been installed after the delivery (that took place on Jul 5, 1995) as a retrofit.
Since some RAF Tornado F.3 are JTIDS/Link 16 capable it is possible that the third CRT on my pictures was the JTIDS (Joint Tactical Information Display System) or MIDS terminal installed only on a few examples in service with the 12° Gruppo of the 36° Stormo based in Gioia del Colle (that is the last Squadron to have been equipped with the ADV variant of the Tornado). When in 2004 I interviewed Maj. Luca Spuntoni, Cdr of the 12° Gruppo (to read the article in Italian click here: Il 36° Stormo), he explained that the Tornado F.3 was the first aircraft to introduce the JTIDS in Italy but I don’t know if the panel in the pictures is the one used by the WSO to manage the system in the ADV. If anybody has more information, please let me know.

Three HH-3F cleared to fly

The Italian Air Force (ItAF) has ordered the return to their homebases of the 3 HH-3Fs of the 15th Stormo, that were on a deployment airport when all the “Pelikans” of the Aeronautica Militare were grounded following the Oct. 23 crash that caused the loss of 8 military. Actually, the return will be authorized only after all the blades of the main rotor will be replaced and the subsequent checks will be successfully completed. The first aircraft to head back will be the helicopter of the 83° Centro SAR, based in Rimini, that was flying along with the example that crashed in France on Oct. 23, and that is currently under maintenance at Florennes airbase, in Belgium. Following it will be the time of the HH-3F on the ground at Vicenza and of the one currently grounded at Biserta, in Tunisia, where it was deployed for an exercise with the Tunisian Air Force.
After moving all the 3 helicopters back to their bases, the entire fleet will receive the new blades and will be cleared back to flying activity. Currently a partial SAR (Search And Rescue) service is provided by the AB.212AMI-SARs and ICOs.

HH-3F crash caused by the fracture of a main rotor's blade

On Nov. 12, a first report about the HH-3F crash that costed the life of 8 POB (read also An Italian HH-3F crashes in France killing 8 POB & “Mammaiut”: all the ItAF HH-3Fs grounded) was published by the Aeronautica Militare on its official website. According to the first evidences collected by the investigation team, and as I had supposed after analysing the crash in the aftermath, the helicopter, belonging to the 84° Centro SAR based in Brindisi, crashed because of the break of one the main rotor blades, an event that caused the loss of the tail rotor and the quick impact of the aircraft with the terrain. The one occurred on Oct. 23 represents the first and only loss of an HH-3F in 30 years of service of the helicopter within the ItAF caused by a technical problem. During 170.000 flight hours flown by the aircraft from 1977, 5 “Pelikan” were lost because of human or environmental factors. The following picture (source: Aeronautica Militare www.aeronautica.difesa.it) shows a remain of the HH-3F that crashed in France.
pala1Even if the cause of the crash was identified, for the moment the ItAF fleet of HH-3F and SH-3D remains grounded. It could be a long grounding, since it is absolutely not easy to change the blades of a helicopter. As I was explained when I visited the 72° Stormo last year for an article that will be published in the next issue of RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa), the NH.500E fleet was compelled to change the blades, since the vendor no longer produced the old gas model. The new honeycomb ones are almost identical to the previous even if they are extremely different under an aerodynamical point of view. They are more perfoming and efficient but induce stronger solicitation to the airframes and for this reason they are introduced into service gradually after a long evaluation phase. Previously, each helicopter had its own bouquet of blades (3 + 2 spares), today, because of the lack of components, each aircraft shares its blades with the rest of the fleet. Each NH.500E is equipped with blades coming from 3 different aircraft but since each blade deforms in a specific way according to the peculiar shape of the airframe and of the rotor it is mounted on, the “sharing” cause tracking problem and requires many calibration and testing flights.
Consequently, in my opinion, even if the HH-3F program is due to end in 2012, there’s a possibility that the aircraft will not be released for flight for a very long time. Unfortunately, a replacement for the “Pelikan” is not available yet, and won’t be for some years to come (unless, for some reason Sikorsky is compelled by some contractual clause to provide a replacement).
At the moment, the SAR (Search And Rescue) service is provided by the AB.212 of the ItAF that were deployed as follows:
1 AB-212 of the 15° Stormo at Pratica di Mare
1 AB-212 of the 9° Stormo from Grazzanise deployed to Brindisi
1 AB-212 from Decimomannu deployed to Trapani
1 AB-212 at Decimomannu
1 AB-212 from Decimomannu deployed to Istrana
The stop doesn’t affect the SH-3D of the Italian Navy that are equipped with different blades.