Tag Archives: ItAF

Frecce Tricolori season's opening and Rome International Airshow

With the mini-airshow that will be held in Rivolto, home of the Frecce Tricolori, on May 1, the airshow season of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) will officially start. Since the annual Giornata Azzurra (held each year at Pratica di Mare airbase) was canceled due to budget cuts, the traditional Frecce Tricolori season’s opening was enriched with the displays of the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo, the Italian Test Wing), that will perform with the AMX, the Tornado, the C-27J and the Eurofighter Typhoon, with a CSAR event involving an RivoltoHH-3F of the 15° Stormo, and with a static display. The May 1 Rivolto Open Day, that can be seen live through the Aeronautica Militare official website, will be only the first date of the Frecce Tricolori airshow calendar 2009. Another interesting show, the most important Italian aviation event of 2009, will be held near Rome on May 31. Despite being organized along the coastline at Ostia, next to Fiumicino, this year’s Ostia Airshow was renamed Rome International Airshow and will see the partecipation not only of the Frecce Tricolori, the RSV aircraft and the HH-3F but will be attended also by the Patrouille de France, by the Dutch F-16 Demo Team, by a Canadair CL-415 of the Protezione Civile (Italian Civil Protection), by a P-180 of the Piaggio Aero RIASIndustries, by the Breitling Devils demo team (with 3 SF-260s), by an ATR-42 of the Guardia di Finanza (Italian Customs Police), by 2 AV-8B+ Harrier of the Marina Militare (Italian Navy), and by a B767 of the Alitalia. The airshow will take place above the surface of the sea, in front of the crowded beaches beginning at 01.00PM LT. Photographers should take into consideration that the aircraft will be constantly back lightned during the air display….

Since the RSV test pilots will present the C-27J, the AMX, the Tornado and the F-2000 at both airshows, in the past weeks, they have been performing practice displays twice a day (a rehearsal in the morning and one in the afternoon). On Apr. 29, Giovanni Maduli went to Pratica di Mare to observe the afternoon rehearsals at Pratica di Mare (the last before the aircraft deployed to Rivolto to perform local practices) and took the following picture of the RSV Tornado departing for the display above the field. The picture shows the aircraft very far from the viewpoint, but, interestingly, it shows the Tornado taking off from RWY 13 (instead of 31) to perform its display (as usual) on the port side of the runway. This was the very first time I’ve heard of an air display (or rehearsal) performed at Pratica di Mare on the left hand side of RWY 13 (that is to say on the right hand side of RWY31).

Boeing KC-767A delay and the compromised Italian air-to-air refueling capabilities

On Apr. 3, 2008, the last of 4 B.707TT of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) equipping the 8th Gruppo of the 14° Stormo based in Pratica di Mare made its last operative flight during the build up phase of the Spring Flag Exercise. The aircraft, serialled MM62151, using c/s I-2151 with 67 people on board carried to Decimomannu 4 pallets of material and equipment. 23.000 FH had been flown in the previous 16 years all around the World in both air-to-air refueling (AAR) missions and transportation. The aircraft, originally purchased from the TAP airlines, is expected to be replaced by the KC-767A, a military version based on the Boeing 767-200ER version, that the ITAF has bought in 4 examples.

The B707 of the 8° Gruppo performing flypast in Pratica di Mare on Jun. 1, 2006.

The delay in the delivery of the new tanker (initially scheduled to be delivered in 2005, then in 2006 and so on until 2009) has reached the 4 years and the ItAF is quite upset, since the air force not only is unable to perform the daily AAR missions needed to keep the air crews proficient with the refueling operations, but compelled the ItAF to be supported by other tankers belonging to foreign air forces even to deploy abroad. The imminent deployment of the AMX fleet to the US for taking part to the Red and Green Flag exercises requires foreign asset’ support. In order to mitigate the risk of loosing the capability, initially, the ItAF extended the operative life of 2 of its B707 for another 2 years (the other B707s were sold to the Omega Air), with the Boeing company paying for the cost of the maintenance of the aircraft. Furthermore, one C-130J of the 46^ Brigata Aerea based in Pisa, was converted by means of a refueling kit into a KC-130J with two refueling pods underneath the wings. The aircraft (the first of 8), serialled MM62176 “46-41” was extensively tested by the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo), the ItAF Test Wing based in Pratica di Mare, to qualify the compatibility of the tanker with the F-2000, with the MB-339CD and also with the French helicopter EC-725 Super Cougar.

The KC-130J on loan to the RSV on May 24, 2008 during Giornata Azzurra 2008 rehearsals

Finally the Italian crews have been flying a B767 CTA provided by Boeing that will allow the 8th Gruppo pilots to acquire a basic training on the new type. The aircraft, a white B767-200 CTA (Commercial Trainer Aircraft) of the Boeing company serialled N606TW landed on Jul. 1, 2008, at Pratica di Mare airport coming from McConnell AFB, Wichita, Kansas. It will be used in the next months for training purposes by the Aeronautica Militare in anticipation of the delivery of the first KC-767 tanker. The CTA that is currently operating with the 14° Stormo is not equipped with any refueling equipment and can’t be employed for AAR training.

The B767-200 CTA taking off from Pratica di Mare on Feb. 13, 2009.

According to an article dated Sept. 8, 2008 (by Tom Kington on DefenceNews):

“Flight testing and FAA certification will be concluded by year (2008) end, at which point the Italian Air Force will start the tender for acceptance process, which takes about three months,” said John Williamson, communications director for Global Mobility Systems at Boeing.

Last November (2007), Boeing officials said they had fixed an airflow problem on the wing and promised first delivery to Italy in the second quarter of 2008. Italian officials were skeptical at the time, and the date has steadily been pushed back.
In July, the head of the Italian Air Force, Gen. Daniele Tei, hinted that delivery could slip into 2009.
This week, a senior Italian defense official confirmed it.
“Boeing is now reaching the specifications and the revised schedule, which is for a delivery early next year,” the official said. “This means the delivery of the last aircraft will now be closer to the first, since the first and second of the four aircraft were the problems.”
Boeing’s Williamson said the second of Italy’s four tankers, which joined the flight testing program at Boeing’s Wichita site in July, would start the tender for acceptance process in January, the third in March and the fourth in August, meaning all four would be handed over to the Italians during 2009.
The fix to the wing pylons tested in 2007 was sound, Williamson said. “We have no issues with the wing air-refueling pod; no changes have been made this year and we do not anticipate making changes.”
Despite that, the delivery date has slipped six months since the fix was first touted in 2007, which Williamson attributed to “design changes and FAA certification factors.”
An internal Boeing memo, seen by Defense News, charts some of the issues that were being tackled in April this year. They include an Italian request to reduce the possibility of smoke from electrical equipment entering the cockpit, flight testing scheduled to continue as late as November, and a recommendation made to the Italians to relax their standards to align with slightly less stringent FAA regulations.
Boeing was also working on obtaining the right temperature settings for passengers.
Italian officials took issue with cockpit noise, which reached 79 decibels at the pilot’s right ear while cruising at 0.8 Mach at 35,000 feet. The Italians had specified that noise be no louder than 75 decibels.
Boeing officials responded that reducing the noise would also reduce the capability of the aircraft, and recommended the Italians change their specs.
The memo also highlights a persistent weight issue, listing the plane’s operating empty weight (OEW) in cargo configuration at 200,804 pounds, 3 tons over the “maximum allowable OEW to meet mission” of 194,340 pounds.
In passenger configuration, the current weight is 220,258 pounds, almost 4 tons over the maximum allowable 212,510 pounds.
“The defects addressed early this year are now being taken care of,” the senior Italian defense official said. “We are pushing Boeing every day and we will pursue all options, but we want to stick to the contract.”
The April memo sheds light on why Boeing delayed the flight testing of its revised wing pod pylon for so long, a decision that slowed the entire program.
Boeing first identified the air flow problem at high speeds on the pylon holding the wing refueling pods in July 2005, before redesigning it for test flights in August 2006.
But the memo says that “boom refueling development and major modification” took precedence in test flights for a whole year, until August 2007, with wing-pod flight testing restarting only in October 2007.
Boeing has admitted that it struggled to keep up the pace of flight testing with just one aircraft to use.
“People remain upset over the fact that Boeing did not invest sufficiently in the program,” the Italian defense official said.

In Sept. 2008, ItAF Air Staff estimated the delivery of all the 4 aircraft by the end of year 2009. Today the picture is changed once again. In an interesting interview with Andrea Nativi of RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa) Gen. Tei said that the aircraft, that were presumed to be “force multipliers” became “illusions multipliers” and that the current roadmap estimates the delivery of the first two aircraft by 2009 and the delivery of the remaining two postponed to 2010. ItAF is extremely upset about the programme and Boeing offered the Aeronautica Militare the availability of an unspecified tanker asset for the US deployment scheduled for summer 2009.

The KC-767 cutaway (www.flightglobal.com)

Air India 101 conspiracy theory

Thanks to Anand, a visitor of my site that manages the WordPress blog http://aviatingindia.wordpress.com/ (dealing with Indian Aviation), I’ve had the opportunity to read an interesting (conspiracy?) story about the Air India flight 101, that crashed in Mont Blanc in 1966. The article provides some interesting details, a theory, according to which, the B-707 was collided with (or was shot down by) a military aircraft belonging to the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF).
Here’s the article that Anand published on the Indian Aviation blog:

Mumbai: On January 24, 1966, Air India flight AI 101 Mumbai-Paris crashed on Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps on the border of France and Italy.
Amongst the 117 passengers killed was noted Nuclear Scientist Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha. Although the world believes the aircraft crashed, Daniel Roche, an aviation enthusiast who has spent five years researching and collecting the remnants of the plane from Mont Blanc, says the plane was hit by an Italian military aircraft or a missile.
Roche, 57, a property consultant in Lyon, France, has collected about three tonne of parts of the two Air India (AI) aircraft that crashed into the glacier of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps (4,810 m or 15,781 feet).
One was the propeller aircraft Malabar Princess, which crashed in 1950, and the other was the Boeing 707 Kanchenjunga. “While the parts of Malabar Princess were found around one spot, those of Kanchenjunga were found scattered around a 25 km range,” he says.
Roche says that while the Malabar Princess is a clear case of a crash, the Kanchenjunga was hit by an Italian military aircraft or a missile. “If Kanchenjunga had crashed in the mountain, there should have been huge fire and explosion as there was 41,000 tonne of fuel in the aircraft, but that was not the case. Just two minutes before the crash, the aircraft was at 6,000 feet above the ground. According to me, it collided with an Italian aircraft and as there is very little oxygen at that height, there was no combustion that could cause an explosion,” he says.
During his excavations in the Mont Blanc glacier, he found the black box of the aircraft, the pilot’s manual, a camera, jewellery, and other belongings of the passengers that had over the last 40 years sunk some 8 km into the glacier and descended down the mountainside.
Talking about his suspicion of the Italian plane, he says, “There were news reports that time about an Italian aircraft that had gone missing the same day. There are chances that it collided into the aircraft.I managed to find a fuel tank of the Italian plane with inscriptions on it,” he says.
“I do not know whether it was a conspiracy or what as Bhabha was going to give India its first nuclear bomb, which the nuclear powers of that time did not want,” he says. “..I feel that it is my duty to tell the truth to the world based on the evidence. If the Indian government wants, I am ready to hand over the documents and the belongings of the passengers to them…” he says.

As soon as I read the article I checked through files the news of any military aircraft crashed on the same day of the Air India flight AI 101. According to the information I’ve gathered, on Jan 24, 1966, the ItaF recorded only an aviation safety event: an F-104G suffered an emergency during take off from Grazzanise airbase (Central Italy, South of Rome, hundred miles to the South of the Air India crash location). The pilot ejected safely and the aircraft was heavily damaged. On Jan 25, 1996, the following day, an F-104G of the 9° Gruppo of the 4^ Aerobrigata crashed near Accumuli (Rieti) to the ENE of Rome. The pilot ejected safely but the aircraft was destroyed. So, the statement “There were news reports that time about an Italian aircraft that had gone missing the same day” is probably true, but it is not related to the Air India crash. It would be interesting to understand which kind of Italian inscriptions were found on a (possible) tank, where / how far it was found (it is possible the tank or part was lost in another event/time/occasion). I don’t think the aircraft was shot down for various reasons. First of all because evidences would be found, second because the investigation report did not mention any possibility the aircraft was destroyed by anything else than the impact with the mountain. Third, if the ItAF was interested in downing the aircraft, why don’t do that far from the boundaries with other two nations? It would have been far easier to shot it down above the Sea, in Souther Italy or above the Adriatic. I suggest reading the final report of the inquiry board that is available in French language with other information at the following address: http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19660124-0. I quickly read it and found that the inquiry board experts visited the crash location more than once and by analysing the wreckage and the remains of the aircraft stated that everything pointed to a crash caused by an impact with the ground (we would call it Controlled Flight Into the Terrain CFIT, today). For Aviation Safety Network: “The commission concluded that the most likely hypothesis was the following: a) The pilot-in-command, who knew on leaving Beirut that one of the VORs was unserviceable, miscalculated his position in relation to Mont Blanc and reported his own estimate of this position to the controller; the radar controller noted the error, determined the position of the aircraft correctly and passed a communication to the aircraft which, he believed, would enable it to correct its position.; b) For want of a sufficiently precise phraseology, the correction was mis-understood by the pilot who, under the mistaken impression that he had passed the ridge leading to the summit and was still at a flight level which afforded sufficient safety clearance over the top of Mont Blanc, continued his descent.”

Anyway, another statement in the above article is worth analysing: “While the parts of Malabar Princess were found around one spot, those of Kanchenjunga were found scattered around a 25 km range”. The aviation enthusiast is referring to another Air India crash that occurred incidentally on the same place (Mont Blanc): on Nov. 3, 1950, the “Malabar Princess”, a Lockheed Constellation, operating on the Mumbai-London route crashed into the mountain while approaching Geneva, one of the intermidiate stop-over. The aircraft hit the Mont Blanc 30 meters from the top.
By the way, there can be hundreds of reasons that can explain why the debris were scattered in one case and in the same spot in the other, the most obvious of which is the different cruising speeds.

Italian F-104 versions explained

Following the requests I received from aircraft enthusiasts and modelers, I’ve decided to prepare a specific post to describe differences and peculiarities of the various F-104 versions that equipped the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) until Jul. 27, 2005 (date of the last flight of a TF-104G-M from Pratica di Mare). In order to prepare this brief analysis, I’ve asked my friend Riccardo Vestuto, one of the most competent Starfighter experts in the world, to help me by providing, among other things, scans of the cockpit layouts taken directly from the aircraft handbooks.

The F-104G (where G stands for Germany, the leading European nation that produced the aircraft under license) was the first version equipping the ItAF in both air defence and fighter bomber roles. Used as a multi-role aircraft despite being concepted as an interceptor, the aircraft, compared to the American C version, featured a strengthened structure, a larger tail surface, upgraded avionics (including the a NASARR F15A-41B radar and the Litton LN-3 Inertial Navigation System), an infra-red sight, and was equipped with a General Electric J79-GE-11A turbojet. Interestingly, the G models had the Lockheed C-2 upward ejection seats.

F-104G cockpit layout:

The F-104S was sensibly different from its predecessor and can be distingued by several identifying features such as:

  • two trapezium-shaped strakes on the lower aft fuselage (with leading edge angled by 45°) to increase directional stability at speed above Mach 2.0
  • the air intake has the same dimensions of those of the G version even if reared by 2,5 cm
  • the air intake access panel assumes a rectangular shape and can be opened capsizing downward during take-off to increase the amount of air entering the engine
  • there are two bulges on both sides of the exhaust cone hosting the antenna of the AIM-7 Sparrow launch system
  • the cockpit layout is changed
  • the Martin Baker IQ 7A ejection seat replaces the C-2
  • the aircraft has 9 external attach points (1 fuselage centerline, 2 at fuselage, 4 wing pylons stations, and 2 at wingtips)
  • the aircraft is equipped with a more powerfull engine (the J79-GE-19) that increased thrust by 900 lbs and with a F-15A NASARR radar upgraded to the R-21G configuration

F-104S cockpit layout:

The F-104S  ASA (Aggiornamento Sistema d’Arma) had the following peculiarities:

  • 2 conical antenna appear on the upper fuselage, just behind the canopy, and below, just aft of the radome (actually, these two antennas equipped also some F-104Gs from the end of the ’70s) next to a blade antenna. The aircraft has also a sensors container aft of the parachute vain. Both are part of the ALQ-70/72 ECM system. Even if the antennas equip all the fleet, they are active only on those aircraft destined to the FB (Fighter Bomber) Squadrons
  • the aircraft carries the AIM-9L air-to-air missile that replaces the B version of the Sidewinder
  • the aircraft can carry the Alenia Aspide in place of the AIM-7 Sparrow.
  • a new Radar version (the FIAR R-21G/M1 Setter) with look-down/shoot-down capability is introduced
  • the cockpit and consoles’ layout are rearranged. A new weapons management panel appears.

F-104S ASA cockpit layout:

The F-104S ASA-M had the following characteristics:

  • the 3 underfuselage pylon disappers and the corresponding cabling is removed
  • the ALQ 70/72 ECM system is removed
  • the avionics is improved: a GPS antenna is located in the third section of the canopy
  • all the aircraft gradually get the new grey colour scheme (FS 36280)
  • the aircraft receives the Have Quick radio for secure communication on the UHF band and a new TACAN
  • the cockpit is rearranged once again to include the new radio panel and the new navigation system
  • the aircraft can carry only air-to-air missiles (AIM-9L, Aspide/Sparrow)

F-104S ASA-M cockpit layout:

The TF 104 G-M was the first and only new version since the TF-104G.

TF-104G cockpit layout (Front & Back seat)

The “M” version of the 20° Gruppo has the same cockpit layout of the ASA-M, gets the same colour scheme (even if the first aircraft of the series MM 54254  “4-36” sports the typical camouflaged livery for a short period of time). Furthermore, the Radar lose the FB and missile functions (the Optical Sight is removed too), can carry only tanks (tip and pylon) as external stores.

TF-104G-M cockpit layout (Front & Back seat)

© David Cenciotti & Riccardo Vestuto

154° Gruppo operations in Bosnia – the Red Devils in Operation Deliberate Force

Giuseppe Scaglione is a former navigator of the 154° Gruppo of the 6° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF). He’s no longer in the military: he’s been working from 8 years as a Software Designer and since the last 3 he’s a SW Architect for one of the largest technology company in the world. He’s also a reader of my articles and sent me the following historical picture he took on Sept. 6, 1995, with a Nikon 801 and a 300mm lens.

The above picture shows the two Tornado IDS of the 154° Gruppo taking off for the first bombing mission in Bosnia during Deliberate Force operation. It was the first war mission of the Aeronautica Militare from an Italian base since WWII. Leading the flight, was Lt.Col. Mario Bellini with Senior Navigator Stefano Micheli as backseater. Wingman was Alessandro Soldati with Alessio Rossi.
As Giuseppe recalled: “my war started at the beginning of September and ended towards November 1995. My Squadron (the 154°) performed bombing missions around Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. If I recall correctly, we were the only unit in the NATO to perform WWII-like balistic attacks. American and British crews used LGB (Laser Guided Bombs). I was coupled to Lt. Baby Cresci and together we flew 3 missions with release of weapons. We were prepared by the Desert Storm’s veterans. One of the first things we did was getting the last updated charts of the target areas, since those we had were obsolete.
Missions went very well. Levelled flight at 15.000 feet, roll upside down and dive bomb at 45. The Tornado reached 8.000 feet almost supersonic and then the pilot dropped the Mark 83 bombs with computer-aided visual release. I used plenty of chaff and flares, as below 10.000 feet there was a certain risk of ground-to-air missiles. Our crews performed very well and we were the only Italian Sqn attending the multi-national campaign.
Deliberate Force began on Aug. 30, 1995, as NATO launched a strike campaign against Bosnian Serb military targets in retaliation to a Bosnian Serb attack on civilians in Sarajevo.
Air strikes were conducted on eleven days, between Aug. 29 August and Sept. 14, 1995. 3515 sorties were flown, 35 of which (1% of the total) were perfomed by the ItAF. 1026 bombs were dropped: precision munitions were 708 and “dumb” munitions numbered 318.
“I will never forget the typical day. Take off at 06.30 as a 4-ships formation, air-to-air refueling, check in with Magic, Feet Dry, Cleared hot on the target, full AB, dive, bombs away, vibrations, adrenaline, pull-up to 5Gs and RTB at FL150 with aircraft of all types and nationalities egressing from all the directions, in-flight report. Then landing and lunch at 12.00 at Ghedi…..”.

The following pictures are a courtesy of Giuseppe Scaglione (pilot with him is Lt. Baby Cresci).