Tag Archives: F-16

F-16 immelmann after takeoff

On the ItalianVipers forum there was an interesting discussion following a video found on Youtube showing a flight of 3 F-16s of the 23rd Gruppo, performing an Immelmann after take-off from Cervia. I suggest you reading the discussion here:  http://www.italianvipers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2304

This is the video:

We found out that this kind of take off is not standard and it is made only on open days, airshows and for special guests even if it can also be considered as a sort of noise abatement procedure since it enables the 23rd Gruppo Vipers to avoid overflying a nearby village.

I was interested in this procedure so I asked Dan Canin, a Block 60 pilot at Lockheed Martin to give me more details concerning this kind of departure. This is what he wrote:


As for the Immelmann after takeoff —The F-16 can do an Immelmann in AB from any speed over about 250 kts (slower if light, faster if heavy). From an AB takeoff we can usually get to 400+ by the end of a 10kft runway, so doing an Immelmann within the confines of the runway is not really a difficult thing. I’m afraid I don’t know the exact minimum speed to start the maneuver as a function of gross weight. As for configuration, the flaps in the F-16 are actually “flaperons”, serving dual purpose as high-lift devices during takeoff and landing (gear-down) by drooping, while at the same time providing roll control. There’s no flap switch in the cockpit — the flaperons come up with the gear. At LM we don’t typically do this sort of takeoff climb. For one thing, it’s not required for noise abatement because we have clear climbout corridors on both ends of our runway and nobody’s asked us to do anything other than a normal rate climbout. For another thing, our airport underlies the DFW “Class B” airspace, which has a floor of 4000 ft msl…so we need to ask for and get clearance for an “unrestricted climb” if we want to blast through that airspace on takeoff. Having said that, on some of our test profiles it’s sensible to do a full AB Immmelmann climb after takeoff. Specifically, our functional checkflight procedures following an engine change recommend doing a maximum AB climb to “high key” (~8kft), directly overhead the field, immediately after takeoff. This maneuver puts us as quickly as possible in a position to execute a flameout approach back to the runway if there’s a problem with the new engine. I did this this past Saturday on an airplane that had just undergone an engine change. The airplane weighed 27,000 lbs at takeoff, and when I started the pull to the vertical at the end of the runway I had almost 450 KIAS. (GREAT AIRPLANE!!!) As for whether this could be done in mil power — sure, but you’d have to accelerate a lot longer to get to much higher speed before pulling up, so you’d probably be several miles off the end of the runway when you did it. 

Panoramic photography – part 3

Grazzanise 07.04.04 The famous 9-99 rests in front of a shelter in the 10th Gruppo area of the Grazzanise airport. Two AMX of the 32nd Stormo are visible on the background (see the other panoramic photo of the 2 aircraft in my previous post)

Rome 02.07.04 View of the Foro Romano from the Palatino

Grazzanise 07.12.04 37St F-16s parked in the 609 Sq. apron at Grazzanise

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 23.05.07 Sydney skyline from a boat cruising in the bay. Original pic is 12584 x 1884 pixels (13,7 MB)

Military ATCC during Allied Force

In Y2000 I interviewed two controllers working at the Rome Military ATCC during Operation Allied Force. I was interested to give an angle which people seem to forget about controlling the airspace.
Here’s the report I wrote after talking with them:

Gen (aux) Battifoglia is no longer the CinC of the Rome SCCAM (Servizio Coordinamento e Controllo Aeronautica Militare, Military ATCC), but on March 24th 1999, when the first NATO bombs hit Serbia, he was wearing his earphones listening and watching the aircraft heading to the Balkans that were filling of tracks and transponder codes his radar screen. Today he has left active duty and he is working as a high rank officer within the committee that is studying the causes of the famous Ustica crash but he was glad to talk about his strong commitment in the Allied Force because “It was the most interesting and formative experience of a 40 years life spent within the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (ItAF)”.

On Day 1 of the War Battifoglia was in his office at Ciampino Center with his Deputy Chief Lt Col Claudio Luccioli when they received a classified message stating that the attack was about to begin. “We were very interested to know in advance about the beginning of the strikes” Gen Battifoglia told me. “Our area of responsibility was the greatest among the Military Control Centers (located in Milan, Brindisi and Padova) as Rome FIR (Flight Information Region), that our radars continuously controlled, represents the 60% of the whole Italian airspace, spreading from Elba Island to the South of Sicily. We already had hundreds of aircraft hosted in the airbases we managed (Grosseto, Grazzanise, Pratica di Mare, Trapani, Cagliari-Elmas, Sigonella and Decimomannu) and we were aware that many Italian and foreign missions were shortly taking off from there. Our main concern was to let them accomplishing their tasks without overflying towns and to provide deconfliction with civilian and general air traffic”.

The GAT traffics were in fact a worrying for the Italian controllers: the main airports on the Adriatic coast had been closed to commercial aircraft two hours before the “rock and roll” codeword (meaning “clear to fire”) was given to the pilots and use of all the eastern airways had been temporary denied to let operative flights flying with as less restrictions as possible.

“I spent some hours working at Brindisi Radar on the Southern Adriatic coast during the war: it was impossible to let civil aircraft flying through that area as the radar screen was fully studded with tracks of allied aircraft”. That was a wise decision. However it meant that the obsolete airspace configuration needed a new design. “

We were about to face big trouble as we did not have only the fighters based in our area but had also all civil traffic shifted from the Adriatic area on our side to keep Brindisi and Padova zones free. Incidentally, the war broke out while we were moving to the new operative building and this represented a further complication”. Airway scheme of the eastern flank was temporary suspended: B-23, G-23, W-95 and W-98 routes were abolished and flights to Africa and Middle East transiting the Italian airspace were only permitted to use A-14 and A-1, two parallel airways crossing Rome ATCC responsibility area from NW to SE with Fiumicino intercontinental hub lying in the middle. “We had to boost our capabilities to manage the mixed traffic and successfully achieve our mutated tasks:

1) to control flights (both operative and supporting ones) involved in Allied Force operation;

2) to manage daily Italian Air Force training missions that were going ahead following the pre-planned schedule;

3) to provide permeability of the military areas to the largely increased civilian traffic trying to keep it smooth and fluent and avoiding delays

First of all, there was the need to increase the capacity of the Center without decreasing safety measures; the creation of new dedicated corridors was considered the most effective solution. “Lt Col Luccioli had already drawn a corridor for the Danish and Norwegian F-16s (based at Grazzanise since 1998), a special route that skirted the Naples CTR and the Rome-Fiumicino STAR (Standard Arrival Route) and led the fighters inside a Restricted Area from where they could head directly to the Adriatic without affecting civilian movements, so I immediately thought of a similar corridor for the Fairford based B-1Bs and B-52s that came fully loaded with bombs from North.

Initially the heavy bombers followed an 8-hour long route above Spain and central Med and entered the theater of operations circumnavigating Southern Italy but soon they began requesting a more straight ride to the target area to have aircraft available for another mission in a shorter time. We overcame the initial difficulties by clearing them above unpopulated regions inside military restricted areas and creating new reporting points (dubbed with funny names like “Backstreet”) and the Buffs and Bones crews began appreciating these big cuts. We reserved for them and for the AAR operations of the RAF Tornados cruising levels inside our upper airspace so that they could overfly military training areas usually engaged by the Italian Starfighters above the ceiling authorized to the training flights. Fortunately tankers and support assets used airways to reach the operative area as they transited to the refueling orbits as GAT traffic and we were able to put them in the right sequencing between civilian aircraft”.

The war went into Phase III and many more allied aircraft were deployed to Italian airbases, especially those on the Western side of the peninsula that weren’t already overcrowded. This created new troubles: “After the first month of war the increase in raid pressure and more aircraft being based in our region almost led to the collapse of our or airspace especially since we discovered that Milosevic could intercept our ATOs and FPLs (flight plans)” Battifoglia explained.

“There was a strong feeling among the NATO that the repetitive use of some routes and the exact knowledge of the TOTs (Time On Target) could have been the causes of the loss of the F-117 and the 31FW F-16. We were compelled to do something planners would never do: we put FPLs out of the Allied Force. As a consequence, in the mid of the war we lost the capability of coordinating levels and routes and estimating times above navaids. We were unable to react strategically to the traffic requests anymore and to handle it in advance so we started to think in a more tactical way that is to say we almost knew of a formation as soon as the leader called us on frequency for the initial contact or when the control tower at departure aerodrome called on the phone to tell us the aircraft had requested the start up clearance.

At that time French pilots were operating Mirages out of Solenzara in Corse, US “KC”s coming from both Moron, Istres, UK and Germany had increased their crossings throughout the Tyrrenian Sea, Mirage 2000s had been re-located from Istrana to Grosseto to make room for additional Mirage 2000N, NAS Sigonella already hosted the whole allied maritime patrol assets plus a U-2S detachment; 18 ANG and Reserve A-10s were based in Trapani while B-2s operated daily from Whiteman almost in complete radio silence…… The only positive aspect of the orbat (order of battle) distribution was that the RAF Tornados, being detached to Solenzara, didn’t need any air-to-air refueling above Central Italy before reaching the Adriatic and this kept some British tankers away of our zones”.

Prior management of the waves of missions was however just a dream: “We only received classified bulletins from the CAOC (Combined Air Operation Center, for the Americans “K-OK”) which we used to get a preview of the traffic we could expect” Luccioli told us, “we had to draw further corridors for the newcomers and foresaw wide altitude reserve windows for the flights: for example the Warthogs were a problem for us as their performances are not comparable to those of the fast F-16s that we could manage quite easily. The A-10s are very slow with poor climb speed especially when loaded with tons of bombs or Mavericks, when they departed from Trapani, take off and landings at the nearby Palermo Punta Raisi airport were subject to delay”. A special corridor to let them going direct to Brindisi immediately after take off was soon created and kept free 24 hours a day at certain levels.

Something similar was done for the Italian B-707: two kind of route were created, dubbing them “North” and “South” according to the direction the tanker assumed after the take-off. When the tower told the ATCC that a tanker was about to depart following North or South route the military controllers already knew its reporting points and were able to calculate estimates that were provided to the civilian ATC. Coordination with civilian controllores was paramount in that period to prevent risk of collisions. “Our motto was –try to positively comply with pilots’ request otherwise they probably will do it the same” Lt Col Luccioli told me.

During “Live ops”, relationship with the pilots was sometimes difficult as controllers always needed to know as much information about the flight as possible while pilots tried to hide most of the flight details, especially since the stealth downing and the overall war lessons learned until then, had stressed the importance of COMSEC (Communication Security) matters. “Pilots were aware that someone could hear them on UHF frequencies” Battifoglia explained “and we didn’t operate secured radios: this could be hazardous for their safety but on the other side we had the strong need to have maximum knowledge about their planning in order to separate all of our traffic”. Since all missions started to use randomly assigned callsigns, often changing them twice during the same flight, controllers experienced more troubles to positively identify a flight rather than another during the RTB (Return To Base) phase.

“We needed to know the type of aircraft because this detail permitted us to know if the flight could go faster or climb higher (B-52 differs a lot from the B-1 from the controller’s perspective) and it could have been very useful especially if the missions were approaching the borders with the French airspace. However, pilots were unwilling to answer to our questions, they often didn’t reply at all. On one day two A-10s just taken off told us they wanted to make a 180 turn and land asap. I cleared them to do so and to proceed direct to the field but as I asked them –Sir, have you got trouble, why are you aborting this flight? (just to know if they needed special assistance on the ground) – they simply ignored my query” Luccioli remembered.

Fortunately the war ended without near-misses or major emergencies although some shivers went down the back of Rome Military personnel. “It happened mostly towards the end of the Allied Force” Lt Col Luccioli recalled “when pilots were probably more tired. We experienced a few cases in which pilots didn’t comply with our instructions, almost always when the mission was RTB (Returning to Base) and pilot concentration had decreased. Fortunately we had become able to understand from the crew’s voice if they were tired or not and, especially if they were coming back on the morning after CAPping 6 hours above the Balkans, we tried to give them as clear instructions as possible and to use standard phraseology in a perfect english. The “controller’s judgement” was our solution to this kind of problems as we understood that pilots involved in the Allied Force had to be helped as they were subject to great tensions and stress as we were”.

When the war ended Italian controllers were happy to guide all pilots flying at that time back to their homebases with all their bombs unreleased. “We were proud to have successfully accomplished to our commitments in such an effective and reliable way. Neither midairs nor near-misses occurred and we were ready to manage the additional aircraft that would have been based to Decimomannu should the war had continued”. After such an experience Gen Battifoglia left active duty while Lt Col Luccioli left the Rome Military ATCC for new assignment within the Brigata Spazio Aereo (Airspace Brigate). They have already reached the apex of their career “in front of the screen”.

Hydrazine emergency

Italian version available here

Hydrazine is a colorless liquid (for more info click here) that feeds the electrical systems and the EPU (Emergency Power Unit) in case of engine failure. Should a flame-out occur, hydraulic and electrical systems are fed by the electrical current generated by the EPU, activated by the engine or by a system propelled by hydrazine. Hydrazine is highly toxic and highly inflammable, and can be dangerous for the health of whom is accidentally exposed to it. Each squadron equipped with F-16s must be able to manage engine emergencies requiring the EPU using methodologies that do not leave space to improvisation. Even the 5th Stormo based in Cervia, Italy, has defined a procedure that foresees the management of the eventual loss of liquid, the escape of the crew from the aircraft and the subsequent decontamination. Let’s see how this procedure works.
Let’s imagine the following scenario: an aircraft has just declared an emergency after experiencing an engine flame-out, failure that provokes the activation of the hydrazine-propelled EPU. As soon as the aicraft lands, it is taxied towards one of the selected decontamination zones, located next to the northern threshold of the 12/30 runway in Cervia. In order to prevent the dispersion of eventual vapors of hydrazine, the pilot moves the aircraft against the wind and waits for the arrival of the first firefighting team. This first team is composed by an On-Scene Commander (OSC) and two firefighters. The OSC moves in front of the aircraft, in a position from which he can direct and manage the operations of the entire team, and communicate with the pilot using a language made only of gestures. After receiving the go-ahead signal from the OSC, the firefighter operator positioned on his right side, following a path purposely traced to prevent whichever risk posed by the aircraft intake, approaches the left wing of the F-16 and, passing under the fuel tank, inserts the spins to the undercarriage and gun. After completing the operation, the OSC signals the pilot to switch the engine off, operation that allow the fireman to approach the cockpit and release the ladder used by the crew to abandon the aircraft. Before leaving the F-16, the crew has to wear the mask to prevent toxic vapor inhalation. As soon as the crew is distant and safe, the fireman on the left of the OSC, wearing a particular protecting cover (Level B), approaches the aircraft next to the hydrazine tank (located at the connection between the fuselage and the leading edge of the right wing). This operator has to check eventual leaks that can be revealed by stains on the ground caused from liquid spillage. As soon as the first assessment has been completed, the first team is replaced by a “response team hydrazine” composed by 2 Italian and 1 American operator, equipped with special oversals (Level A, since probabilities of contact with the liquid are higher), that reclaims the loss along the track followed by the aicraft from the runway to the parking area.

In volo con il JSF (cockpit demonstrator)

Oggi ho avuto la possibilità di fare un viaggio nel futuro (anche se a breve raggio, diciamo una quindicina d’anni) prendendo parte ad una sessione di orientamento con il JSF cockpit demonstator. 6398.jpgSotto la supervisione di un pilota della Lockheed Martin (di F-16 per la precisione) ho volato virtualmente con l’F-35, un caccia di 5th Generation, estremamente avanzato, che realizza la cosiddetta “sensor fusion” e fornisce al pilota una situational awareness a dir poco sbalorditiva, pur garantendo una buona semplicità di condotta. La prima impressione che ho avuto a bordo del simulatore, per l’occasione ospite del Comando della Squadra Aerea di Centocelle, è stata quella di giocare con un famoso simulatore di volo della Digital Image Design, “Super EF-2000”. SEF2000 è un gioco per PC che uscì nel 1997 e con il quale mi divertii parecchio nel biennio 1998-99. La grafica per quei tempi era eccellente, la complessità degli scenari buona, l’unico neo era rappresentato dall’essere troppo “facile”. Si trattava in buona sostanza di un gioco e non di un simulatore di volo vero e proprio tipo Flight Simulator o Falcon 4.0. sef2000.gifIl modello di volo era realistico ma l’aereo era troppo facile da pilotare anche per un non addetto ai lavori e le informazioni erano in formato “user friendly”, piuttosto difformi da quelle realmente fornite da velivoli di 3^ generazione tipo F-16 o F-18. Ebbene, ho trovato quella stessa semplicità, quella stessa simbologia interpretabile “at a glance” proprio nel JSF. Il velivolo non dispone di un HUD ma ha un solo grande touch screen che può essere configurato a piacimento toccando il display con le dita (tipo palmare). Le informazioni normalmente presentate al pilota nel visore a testa alta sono “proiettate” direttamente nel casco capace, attraverso i sensori del velivolo, di vedere in tutte le direzioni, attraverso qualsiasi superficie. Il pilota ha quindi l’impressione di volare nel vuoto e può tenere ben in vista il velivolo avversario senza essere ostacolato dal pavimento della cabina o dalla coda del proprio aereo. Quindi, durante un ipotetico combattimento in volo il pilota è in grado di seguire il velivolo nemico osservandolo oltre i montanti e le superfici del proprio caccia, come se fosse sospeso nel vuoto. Per il resto, come detto, la simbologia è abbastanza chiara: i triangoli rossi rappresentano gli avversari, i bianchi gli “unknown” e i verdi sono friendly. Il JSF è in grado di condividere tutte le proprie informazioni via rete con gli altri elementi della formazione o con velivoli AWACS e Rivet Joint. L’accesso ai menu avviene tramite un cursore mosso attraverso un piccolissimo joystick posizionato sulla manetta. Insomma tutto abbastanza intuitivo per chi, come me, è abituato a lavorare al computer; un’esperienza abbastanza “shockante” per quei piloti che invece sono abituati agli strumenti analogici stile-F-104. E’ tuttavia abbastanza chiaro che con il JSF si debba pensare non tanto alla condotta del velivolo quanto alla gestione delle informazioni e della missione. Attraverso il DAS, il pilota è in grado di visualizzare tutte le emissioni elettroniche sui 360° del velivolo. Se vuole, può conoscere addirittura le frequenze di ricerca e tracking dei radar di terra.

Particolarmente interessante è stato testare le doti di volo in hovering del velivolo, disponibile anche nella versione STOVL che interessa la Marina italiana e l’Aeronautica. 6536.jpgIl pilota, mediante un apposito switch comanda la transizione dal volo convenzionale a quello stile-Harrier per intenderci. Il velivolo orienta autonomamente le nozzle e riduce la velocità fino a raggiungere la IAS precedentemente impostata attraverso un apposito pulsante della manetta (anch’essa gestita in modalità automatica). Passati in modalità “vertical”, il velivolo è semplicissimo da pilotare, anche in virtù di una telecamera puntata verso il basso che permette di visualizzare il terreno sorvolato e decidere letteralmente dove andare a poggiare le ruote. 5902.jpgMuovendo avanti o indietro la barra di comando si sale o si scende: con un paio di tentativi si riesce anche a mantenere la velocità verticale desiderata. Con la pedaliera si punta il muso dove si vuole e anche un neofita può atterrare senza grossi problemi e con una certa precisione. L’unica difficoltà che ho incontrato è stato distinguere tra tutti gli switch presenti sulla manetta quello che spinto verso l’alto con il mignolo, mi permetteva di selezionare la velocità dell’automanetta. Per il resto il velivolo è un vero e proprio sogno, facile da pilotare e in grado di fornire al pilota tutte le informazioni che desidera, nel layout che preferisce.