Tag Archives: ItAF

State flights at Rome – Ciampino airport for the beatification of John Paul II

On May 1, 2011, I had the opportunity along with Giovanni Maduli to visit Ciampino airport that was the hub for the vast majority of State flights bringing to Rome authorities attending the beatification ceremony of John Paul II in Vatican City. The aircraft, military planes wearing national liveries and civilian registered ones used by the delegations, were parked in both the military apron in the “northern” part of the airport and, mainly, in the “southern” one, the civil one usually used for the General Aviation.
Among the most interesting visitors worth a mention the Mexican AF B737, the FAF A330, the Mexican Gulfstream G-V XA-CPQ, the Dassault 900EX VP-BEF used by the Angolan delegation, the Polish E-170, the Brazilian VC-99B and the Slovakia Government Tu-154M.

Italy celebrates 150th Anniversary of its unification

On Mar. 17, 2011, Italy celebrated the 150th Anniversary of its unification as a single state. One of the most important events planned around the country to commemorate the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy under Victor Emmanuel on Mar. 17, 1861 saw President Giorgio Napolitano and major Italian authorities paying homage to the tomb of the Milite Ignoto (Unknown Soldier) at the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) on Piazza Venezia, Rome while the Frecce Tricolori of the Aeronautica Militare streamed green, white and red smoke in the colours of Italy’s flag overhead. Giovanni Maduli took the following pictures of the ceremony.

Libyan Tu-22 Blinders: are they still operative? Satellite pictures raise question

In the previous post (Why Libyan Air Force aircraft pose a risk to Italy) I explained the reasons why Libyan fighters must be closely watched by the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF). I also suggested reading another article, titled Memories of a fighter pilot, the story of the period in which the main fears of the Italian Air Defence came from the Libyan Migs and the Tupolev wearing the red star, which flew through the Otranto Channel (Southern Adriatic Sea in front of Albania) causing the frequent Alert Scrambles of F-104s in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service, specially those belonging to the 12° Gruppo of the 36° Stormo, based in Gioia del Colle. During those years, the ItAF pilots collected many photographic evidences of the “close encounters” (like those I published in the Zombie page) some of which involved interesting Libyan planes. For example, the following ones were taken by the 12° Gruppo on Sept. 20, 1983 (and later released by the 5° Reparto of the Italian Air Force Staff) and show some Tu-22B Blinders flying next to the Italian airspace off Otranto. The Libyan Blinders (whose exact number is not clear with data reporting from 7 to 18 planes) were supersonic bombers based at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base (currently Mitiga, prior to June 1970, known as Wheelus Air Base and used by the USAF) that were used in combat against Tanzania in 1979 and Chad in the ’80s, during the Chadian-Libyan conflict. Libyan Tu-22 pictures are extremely rare. One of the most famous, taken by a USN fighter over the Med shows a desert scheme, similar to that of the Iraqi Blinders, with the former Royal Libyan Air Force insigna (later replaced by the green roundel), that is sensibly different from those in this post which show another kind of camouflage.

Dealing with roundel, rebels have begun applying new insigna to their aircraft as the following screenshots from a BBC reportage show.

All Libyan AF Tu-22 should be retired from use now (mainly for lack of spare parts). There are no reports of active Blinders from many decades. However a quick look at Google Earth unveiled a certain number of Tu-22s (7) that, from satellite, seems to be parked and apparently serviceable at a large base near Hun, in Central Libya. The timestamp on the satellite image is July 20, 2010 and the airbase 7 months ago seemed to be full of aircraft presumed to be retired from some time, like Mig-25s and G.222s.  For instance, another Tu-22 can be identified by means of Google Earth at Benina, but it is clearly an almost abandoned example wrecked next to the airport’s fence. The question is: are any of those aircraft still operative or are they retired examples aimed at deceiving satellites hiding the actual status of the LAF?  Hmmm… I think the right answer is the second one…..

Below, the images of the airbase near Hun, Central Libya.

Some Mig-25s at the same airfield.

Below, a satellite view of the wrecked Tu-22 at Mitiga.

Why Libyan Air Force aircraft pose a risk to Italy

When I wrote the article about the two Mirage F1s of the Libyan Air Force (Al Quwwatal Jawwiya al Jamahiriya al Arabia al Libyya) that landed in Malta seeking asylum, I explained that as a consequence of the defection of the two fighters (whose role should be the air defence, even if they were armed with rockets), the two most southern air defence units of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), the 36° Stormo, based at Gioia del Colle and equipped with the F-2000, and the 37° Stormo, based at Trapani and equipped with the last F-16s, were put in a heightned alert status. Many readers did not understand the reasons behind this decision, since the LAF is far from being effective like it was in the 1970s or 1980s (I suggest you reading the article Memories of a fighter pilot in which an F-104 pilot recalls the interception of Russian and Libyan planes in the Cold War era) and, considering the current situation, an air attack to Italy is quite unlikely. However, what led the ItAF to put both bases in a costant QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) status on a H24 basis instead of alternating the alert shifts between the two Stormi, is not the risk of a LAF strike on targets located on the islands of Lampedusa or Pantelleria, but the risk of more aircraft defecting to Malta or Italy. These aircraft pose a serious risk to the civil and military planes flying above the Mediterranean sea since they fly at high speed and at low level to be undetected by the Libyan radars, without a proper knowledge of the possible conflicts with the traffic around them that is in contact with ATC (Air Traffic Control) units on frequencies most of times unknown to them. Hence, especially in the vicinity of their chosen destination (Malta, Lampedusa, Pantelleria or, at greater distance, Trapani, Sigonella and Catania), they can come dangerously close to other airplanes; a risk that is growing as the air bridge that is currently in progress to evacuate nationals from Tripoli, is concentrating lots of C-130s, C-17s, B747s, B777s, B737s A320s, 330s and 340s, belonging to many air forces, airlines, cargo and private companies, between the Maltese and the Libyan airspaces. For this reason any defecting aircraft has to be detected and intercepted as soon as possible. Therefore, even if the ItAF is not flying CAPs (Combat Air Patrol) in the area to protect or escort the flights to or from Libya (in spite of the rumours of a cell of F-2000s deployed to Sigonella flying surveillance orbits near Malta), AWACS (both NATO and RAF E-3s) have been reported in the area quite regularly for the last few days.  Should suspicious planes be detected by the E-3 or by the air defence radars, the nearest QRA would be scrambled to intercept it.
Those interested in monitoring the air traffic in the area of Malta can listen to the radio comms of the local ACC, APP and TWR using LiveATC service: http://www.liveatc.net/search/?icao=lmml and watch the traffic using ADS-B and transmitting the Mode S, by means of Flightradar24: http://www.flightradar24.com/

An armed F-16 ADF of the 37° Stormo over southern Sicily (courtesy of the ItAF)

Introducing the Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767A

On Jan. 27, 2011, the first of four Boeing KC-767A tanker of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) was delivered to the 14° Stormo, based in Pratica di Mare. The aircraft, serialled MM62229 “14-04”, has already started air-to-air refueling training operations with the ItAF Eurofighter Typhoons and, along with the other 3 ordered examples, will be the pillar of the Italian projectable forces with a flexible configuration allowing both air-to-air refueling missions, strategic transport of passengers and/or cargo and MEDEVAC (Medical Evacution). The Italian version of the KC-767 incorporates two probe-and-drogue and one boom refueling stations which provide the capability of refueling all existing types of aircraft. The following pictures were taken by Giovanni Maduli, on Feb. 22, 2011.