Tag Archives: Italian Air Force

The last ever operative flight of the legendary F-104 Starfighter, 12 years ago today

On Oct. 31, 2004, the Italian Air Force flew the last operative mission of the iconic F-104, the “missile with a man in it.”

Of the 15 nations that had one of 2,580 Lockheed F-104 Starfighter produced (including prototypes) in their fleet, Italy is the one that more than any other, linked its fortune to this extraordinary interceptor. Employed also in the ground attack (both conventional and strike) and in tactical reconnaissance roles, the “Spillone” (“Hatpin”) marked, for better or worse, the daily life of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), influencing its ambitions, choices and abilities for almost half a century.

Throughout this period of time, seven different versions of the F-104 were employed by the Italian Air Force: the F-104G, RF-104G, TF-104G, F-104S, F-104S/ASA, F-104S/ASA-M and TF-104G-M, equipping ten different Wings and fifteen Squadrons (other than the Reparto Sperimentale Volo) for slightly less than one million flight hours.

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Although its very last flight with the Aeronautica Militare (the last air force to operate the Starfighter) took place few months later (as described in the book “Italian Starfighters” by this Author), the F-104 wrote the final chapter of its extraordinary career within the ItAF on October 30th, 2004, when the aircraft undertook the last QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) shift after being on alert, “ready in five” (ready to take off in 5 minutes from the alarm) for 40 years.

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The 24-hour QRA shift for the 10° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 9° Stormo (Wing) at Grazzanise airbase, ended on Oct. 31 at 08.25 local time, with a Tango Scramble (a Scramble for training purposes) carried out by Maj. Aurelio Covotta, commander of the 10° Gruppo, and by Lt. Rolando Pellegrini, of the 9° Gruppo.

After the two armed aircraft had landed, the homage to this undisputed star of +40 years of history of the ItAF was entrusted to a very special formation whose leader was Gen. Pietro Valente, commander of the “Aquila” Division; number 2 Col. Vittorio Iannotta, commander of the 4° Stormo; number 3, Col. Gianpaolo Miniscalco, commander of the 9° Stormo; number 4, Maj. Giovanni Balestri, commander of the 20° Gruppo; and number 5, Gen. Settimo Caputo, Deputy Chief of Staff of Comando Squadra Aerea, who proudly wore on his flight suit the patch attesting 3500 flying hours on the Starfighter!

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The aircraft (MM6890/4-50, MM6934/9-31, MM6930/9·99, MM6876/9-39, MM6850/4-16) took off in rapid sequence and engaged the sky field some minutes later to perform a series of fly-bys that were greeted with deep emotion and with a hint of sadness by the staff of the 9° Stormo and by those who had gathered along the taxiways of the operational area of the 10° Gruppo. After the last fly-by, the aircraft landed.

All except one: the 9·99 of Col. Miniscalco, that flew some high-speed passes in front of the public before the last pass at transonic speed with a vertical climb that preceded the landing that marked the official end of the longstanding permanence of the F-104 in the front-line units of the Aeronautica Militare.

After Oct. 31, 2004 the Starfighter continued to fly on the Italian skies for little less than a year with the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, mainly as a chase plane for the unit’s Eurofighter Typhoons.

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The Italian Air Force has rolled out a Tornado in brand new, awesome special livery

An eye-catching special colored Tornado IDS for the 60th anniversary of 311° Gruppo.

On Oct. 27, the Italian Air Force officially rolled out a Tornado IDS in a special livery at Pratica di Mare airbase, near Rome, Italy.

The aircraft, serialled CSX 7041, celebrates the 60th anniversary of the 311° Gruppo (Squadron) of the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo), the Italian Air Force Test Wing responsible for the development, testing and validation of all the flying “hardware”: aircraft, sensors, weapons, etc.

The new “special color” was the highlight of a ceremony that also included the flying display of the C-27J Spartan and the Eurofighter Typhoon: the unit is indeed responsible of the aerial displays of all the ItAF aircraft.

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Our contributor Alessandro Borsetti attended the small airshow at Pratica di Mare and took the photographs you can find in this post (top air-to-air image is a courtesy photo by the Italian Air Force).

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Image credit: Alessandro Borsetti (top: Italian Air Force)

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Italian Typhoons deploy to the Canary Islands to perform Dissimilar Air Combat Training with the Spanish Hornets

Four Italian F-2000s have deployed to Gando: 1,800 miles from their homebase without logistic support. A first for Italian Air Force tactical aircraft.

From Oct. 18 to 21, four Eurofighter Typhoon jets, belonging to the 18° Gruppo (Squadron), 37° Stormo (Wing) of the Italian Air Force, from Trapani airbase, have deployed to Gando Air Base, in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, to undertake cooperative activity with the Spanish Air Force within the framework of EAG (European Air Group).

The F-2000As (as the aircraft are designated in accordance with the Italian Mission Design Series) were supported along the 1,800-nautical mile journey to Gando by a KC-767A tanker with the 14° Stormo from Pratica di Mare that refueled the Typhoons during the 4.5 hours of flight: it was the first time ItAF tactical jets deployed so far from home without accompanying technical support.

Once in the Canaries, the Italian aircraft undertook DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) with the Spanish Air Force F/A-18 Hornets in anticipation of a possible participation in DACT 2017 exercise in Gando next year.

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Image credit: Italian Air Force

Italian Tornado jets help police forces finding a marijuana plantation during anti-drug mission

Italian Tornado combat planes took part in an anti-drug mission aimed at finding a marijuana plantation not far from their homebase.

About 250 kg of cannabis were seized in northern Italy after a plantation was discovered at Quinzano, near Brescia.

Interestingly, the operation was supported by the Italian Air Force Tornado IDS aircraft of the 6° Stormo (Wing) based at Ghedi, near Brescia. The ItAF jets were in fact tasked with reconnaissance runs aimed at discovering the farm and gathering imagery that was then used by the Carabinieri (Military Police) to arrest two people involved with the plantation.

It is not the first time Italian attack planes are requested by other national agencies to perform reconnaissance missions: for instance, in the aftermath of the 6.0 earthquake that hit central Italy on Aug. 24 causing about 300 deaths, ItAF Tornados supported the relief operations collecting imagery used to map the damages to Amatrice and the nearby villages.

Reccelite imagery of Amatrice in the aftermath of the earthquake. Source: ItAF

Reccelite imagery of Amatrice in the aftermath of the earthquake. Source: ItAF

The Tornados have already been involved in sort-of anti-drug missions abroad: from November 2008 to December 2009, the Italian jets were deployed to Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, from where they supported ISAF with reconnaissance missions: many of these were tasked with the aim of discovering opium poppy farms and depots across a country that produces more than 90% of heroin worldwide.

In “recce” role at home and in theater, the Italian aircraft carry a Rafael Reccelite reconnaissance pod: the Reccelite is a Day/Night electro-optical pod able to provide real-time imagery collection. It is made of a stabilized turret, solid-state on board recorder that provides image collections in all directions, from high, medium and low altitudes.

The Reccelite reconnaissance pod is used to broadcast live video imagery via datalink to ground stations and to ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) tactical receivers in a range of about 100 miles.

The Tornados have used the pod in combat not only in Afghanistan, but also in Libya and more recently in Kuwait, where the aircraft were deployed to support, with ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions, the air war against ISIS.

By the way, the pod can also be carried by the AMX ACOL, the light tactical jet that has performed close air support/air interdiction and ISR missions in support of ISAF from 2009 to 2014, and have recently replaced the Tornados in Kuwait.

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Training missions in reconnaissance role see the aircraft overflying a series of targets taking photographs that are then analysed by image interpreters: during the above mentioned mission, one of the targets was a real one, a suspected cannabis farm.

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Cool air-to-air footage brings you up close and personal with the new dual-role M-346FT

An awesome new clip shows the new multi-role variant of the M-346 trainer.

Unveiled for the first time at Farnborough International Air Show in July 2016, the M-346FT (Fighter Trainer) is the new multi-role version of the M-346 Master, one of the world’s most advanced jet trainers.

The aircraft, whose characteristic is to pass very easily from the trainer aircraft configuration to an operational one thus “combining the operational and training requirements of the Air Forces all over the world, assuring top performances and remarkably lower costs” integrates a wide range of systems and sensors for tactical support and air defense: including a tactical data link, a self-defense system, reconnaissance and targeting sensors and a large array of weapons.

The M-346 Master platform couples impressive performance with cutting edge human-machine interface and features a full digital cockpit, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) commands, carefree handling, VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), a Helmet Mounted Display as well as the ability to simulate the flight characteristics of other aircraft and to replicate a wide variety of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft.

Indeed, with the advanced jet trainer version, 68 examples of which have been ordered and about 50 already in service with the Air Forces of Italy (18 jets, performing training as well as aggressors tasks), Singapore (12), Israel (30) and Poland (8), pilots can learn to use the radar, drop LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) on moving ground targets designated through an Advanced Targeting Pod (TGP), and shoot radar-guided missiles against enemy aircraft, even if the plane is not carrying with any of these systems: the on-board computer generates the required HUD and radar symbology and offers a different weapons load out in accordance with the training goals of the mission.

Along with the ability of simulating some external payload, the M-346FT will carry electronic countermeasures and will employ several “real” air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, including air-to-air missiles (IRIS-T and AIM-9), a 12.7 mm gun pod, GBU-12 and GBU-49 laser-guided bombs, JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) and also the Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb and a reconnaissance pod (the RecceLite, based on the footage below).

Based on the M-346 is also the T-100, an advanced variant of the Master offered by Raytheon Company, with principal partners Finmeccanica (now Leonardo) and Honeywell Aerospace, as the next-generation training plane for the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Pilot Training competition worth 350 jet trainers to replace the Air Education and Training Command’s T-38 Talons.

H/T to Simone Raso the videomaker who shot the footage

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