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.
After publishing a post about the Thunderbirds condensation clouds induced by high-G maneuvers and high-AOAs (Angle Of Attack) during and a post about the rehearsals, below you can find some more pictures about the Jesolo Air Extreme 2011 airshow, taken on Jun. 12, 2011.
Yesterday I’ve published some pictures of the Thunderbirds performing a demo flight at Jesolo on Jun. 10 to explain the origin of condensation clouds generated by maneuvering aircraft. Here’s a gallery of the most interesting pictures taken during Jun. 10 and 11 rehearsals of Jesolo Air Extreme 2011.
Even though to the eyes of a spectator a Frecce Tricolori or Thunderbirds display overhead an airfield does not change much from the one which takes place over the coast line of a beach resort, the way display teams or solos fly may differ significantly depending on the environment in which the aerobatic display is executed. The different topographic features of the place where the air show takes place, and the surrounding landscape may, in fact, require the adoption of specific solutions in order to maintain standard distances and to correctly evaluate the separation from the terrain under peculiar light conditions. Familiarisation with the landscape and evaluating the display arena are the purposes of the preparation flight which precedes every display of a display team. In the case of displays flown over land, the terrain usually offers a multitude of fixed references which assist in the perception of speed, travelled airspace and altitude, such as crop lines, fields, roads, railways, and water courses.
Over the water, as at Jesolo, it is necessary to utilise buoys or boats which, besides delineating the display area in respect to a crowd line which is frequently extremely extended, allow the accurate determination of the display line, i.e. the line on the ground that is at least 3 Km long (1,5 Km to the left and right of display crowd centre), which must be perfectly visible from the air and placed at a distance of 230 metres in front of the public. This line constitutes the reference for the pilots for the safe execution of all the manoeuvres.
Although usually free of significant obstacles, displays flown over water can hide several traps as I’ve explained here. In those flown over the sea, the sunlight reflected on the surface may reduce into sun visibility, a phenomenon which also occurs when snow glare is encountered when flying over the mountains.
During rehearsals display teams can fly a modified display to get familiar with the display area and its references. For instance, the diamond formation of the Thunderbirds did not perform the high bomb burst on Jun. 10 while solos repeated some opposing passes while, on Jun. 11, the Frecce Tricolori’s solo did not perform the famous “crazy flight”.
An airshow was held in Frosinone on May 28, 2010, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the ItAF helicopter school. For more information about the 72° Stormo, read the article I wrote for the June 2006 issue of Air Forces Monthly here. The airshow, that was attended by a few interesting visitors from the Armed Forces and Air Corps whose crews are trained at the Frosinone school, was also the season premiere for the Frecce Tricolori display team (as the usual May 1 display at Rivolto was not open to the public this year, since the team will celebrate there the 50th Anniversary on Sept. 11 and 12, 2010). A mini-special colour on the NH-500E MM81311/”72-48″ was also exhibited. Giovanni Maduli took the following interesting pictures.
The following pictures were taken during “Con la Diana sul Petto” event, on Apr. 16, at Cervia airbase. Even if the mini-airshow was not organised to celebrate the disbandment of the 23° Gruppo that, on May 23, 2010, undertook its last QRA duty, perhaps it was the last opportunity to see the “Veltri” (from “Veltro”, the Squadron’s radio callsign) at work. By September, both the 23° Gr and its parent unit, the 5° Stormo, will be placed “in quadro” (disbanded). The most efficient F-16s will move to Trapani, where the 18° Gruppo will be the last Italian Squadron to fly the Viper until mid 2012. The 15° Stormo of Pratica di Mare should relocate to Cervia, where the 83° Gruppo SAR, currently based in Rimini, should also move.