Tag Archives: Italian Air Force

The Italian F-35A Stealth Jets Declared Operational In The Air-To-Air Role

The Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II have successfully achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in the air-to-air role.

The first Italian F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), based at Amendola air base, in southeastern Italy, have achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability), the Italian Air Force has announced.

Since Mar. 1, 2018, the first five stealth aircraft assigned to the Aeronautica Militare have been supporting the SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) with a Standard Conventional Load (SCL) that includes the AIM-120C5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missile. This means that, if needed, the 5th generation aircraft can undertake regular QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) shifts or be diverted from a different mission to intercept and identify unknown aircraft.

An armed F-35 sits inside the shelter at Amendola Air Base. AIM-120s are housed inside the weapon bays (hence not visible). Image credit: ItAF.

Whilts the F-35 is a multirole aircraft (hence an air-to-air capability should not be too surprising) all the Italian Air Force combat planes (including Tornado and AMX fighter bombers as well as the T-346 advanced jet trainers) are required to be fully capable in the air-to-air role to support Italy’s Air Defense.

Scramble in progress!

The IOC in the air-to-air role comes after a long period of training that has seen the F-35s perform T-Scrambles (Training Scrambles) as well as joint drills with Typhoons, G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) and T-346 jets. Last year, the Italian Lightnings took part in their first national large scale drills during Vega 2017 multinational joint exercise.

ItAF F-35 about to taxi from the shelter.

In December 2016, the Italian Air Force became the very first service to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S. The IOC in the air-to-ground role of the Italian JSF has not been declared yet.

 

Here Are The Photos Of The First Italian Typhoons Alert Scramble In The Baltics This Year

The Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons intercepted a Russian An-26 transport aircraft over the Baltics. And here are some photos.

On Feb. 1, 2018, two Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon F-2000A jets executed their first Alert Scramble to respond to a Russian Federation Air Force aircraft that flew over the Baltic Sea with the transponder turned off.

The two aircraft were actually not launched but “diverted” from a training flight when the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem, Germany, detected an unidentified track crossing the Baltic airspace over international waters.

The two ItAF Typhoons, belonging to the Task Force Air 36° Stormo, identified the “zombie” as a Russian Federation Air Force An-26 transport aircraft. According to NATO, the two Italian aircraft flew alongside the transiting Russian plane and broadcast their transponder signal allowing civilian air traffic controllers to keep other air traffic clear of the area.

The Russian An-26 intercepted by the Italian F-2000As over the Baltics.

The Italian Air Force Typhoons have been deployed to Ämari Air Base, Estonia, augmenting NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission since early January 2018. Together with the Royal Danish Air Force lead detachment at Siaullai, Lithuania, their task is to provide 24/7 fighter capabilities that can be launched by the CAOC at Uedem, Germany, in response to unidentified air tracks in the Baltic Region.

The Italian detachment logged 100 flying hours during training flights over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania beneficial for both Italian pilots and Baltic military air traffic controllers to further improve skills and interoperability, on Jan. 25, 2018.

One of the two Typhoons shadows the intercepted Curl.

This is the second ItAF rotation in support of NATO BAP mission. From Jan. 1 to Aug. 27, 2015, as part of the TFA (Task Force Air) based at Šiauliai, Lithuania, four Typhoons of the 4°, 36° and 37° Stormo (the three Wings that fly the Euro-canard) logged about 900 flying hours, launching for 40 A-Scrambles (Alert Scrambles) and more than 160 T-Scrambles (Training Scrambles) during the first rotation as lead detachment of NATO BAP. Noteworthy, no photograph of intercepted Russian aircraft was released during and after the 2015 detachment, even though the Italians had some really interesting close encounters with some pretty interesting aircraft, including some Tu-160 Blackjack and Su-27 Flanker jets. However, unlike what happened three years ago, this time the Italian MoD has promptly shared some shots of the An-26 intercepted by the Typhoons, including those that you can find in this post.

Escort duty for this Italian Air Force Typhoon, at safe distance from the An-26 intercepted over the Baltics.

Image credit: Italy MoD

 

 

 

Backseat Experience: How You Should Prepare To Fly In A Combat Jet As A Passenger

I’m often asked what flying in a military jet looks like and how I do prepare for such missions. Here are some tips that might be useful to get the most out of your fast jet ride.

May 25, 2017

“Raven 08, Deci Tower, cleared for take-off, wind calm”.

I’m in the backseat of a Tornado IDS belonging to the 154° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 6° Stormo (Wing) from Ghedi, currently deployed to Decimomannu airbase, Italy, for the yearly training activity in the Sardinian firing ranges. The words of the controller, that I can hear quite clearly before the noise will spread through the cockpit making all the subsequent communications barely readable, have a double meaning to me: first, they give the “go ahead” to the most exciting part of my flight in a Tornado (the very first one on this kind of aircraft); second, they mark the end of the long and delicate stage of the jet flight preparation; a preparation that determines either the success or failure of the sortie from the journalistic point of view.

A NAV during a quick briefing in the backseat of the Tornado IDS RET8.

A flight in a jet usually lasts between 45 and 110 minutes (longer if it includes aerial refueling, but it’s not the case): in my case, fully exploiting the (short) time available to “observe” a mission from the inside and collect all the photos and video material for both aviation magazines, this blog and its connected social networks, is paramount. A flight in a combat aircraft represents an almost unique opportunity and it is important to make the most out of it. If something in the backseat goes wrong, if a camera body fails or a lens proves to be unsuitable for the photo session, there will hardly be a second chance. In about 20 years I’ve had this opportunity quite a few times, hence here are a few suggestions based on my little (if compared to others) experience in a combat aircraft. If you are going to fly in fast jet for the first time, because you were invited or simply because you’ve paid for a ride, maybe the following few tips will help you maximize your experience.

In the backseat of the Tornado IDS of the 154th Gruppo returning to Decimomannu after flying over Capo Frasca range.

Even though the thrill of flying in a jet fighter is always the same, learning from the past mistakes as well as the experience gained over the years, have been pivotal to perfecting the preparation of the mission so as to minimize the risk that something unexpected can jeopardize the reportage’s success. For example, during one of my first jet flights, to have a back-up in case of problems with the main camera, I decided to put a compact camera in one of the pockets of the flight suit, the one located more or less over the right’s lower leg. Fortunately I did not need it. In fact, I hadn’t taken into account that the anti-G suit, dressed over the normal flight suit, would have made the “emergency” camera inaccessible during the flight! Since then, I only use the pockets of the anti-G pants for all those small accessories I might need in the cockpit.

“Double selfie” with two accompanying Typhoons heading to the “merge”.

With regard to the flight gear, in addition to my mask, I always try to use my own helmet, which is also easily recognizable by the bright yellow-green checkerboard on the cover (check the top photograph). However, this is not always possible: for instance, in the case of the Eurofighter, the aircrews have to use the specific flight equipment designed for the Typhoon flight line which differs from that used on any other Italian Air Force aircraft and includes, among the other things, a Gentex ACS (Aircrew Combat System) helmet and an EFA / ACS mask. For my flight in the Tornado, I had to use to an HGU-55G helmet, with the characteristic 154th squadron’s “red devil” symbol painted on the cover, that I was lent by the unit.

Shooting some photographs of the first Italian T-346 near Lecce Galatina airbase in 2015. I was the first journalist to fly in an ItAF T-346 Master.

Back to the preparation of the mission, once the flight gear’s check and fitting have been completed, I think the most important thing is the inspection of the rear cockpit of the aircraft: it is essential to know how to “move” in the backseat, where to attach the GoPro so that it is both stable and reachable (to modify some settings or move it), evaluate the size of any storage compartment to see if it can be used to accommodate a camera body or lens. In fact, digital cameras have greatly simplified life in a jet: when I was still using color slide films I needed to change the rolls several times during the flight. This forced me to continuously estimate the number of photographs I could take so that I didn’t run out of shots during a maneuver: in order to replace the finished roll with a new one, it was necessary to remove the gloves, be more or less stable (that is, in level flight) and have the time to safely remove and store the used roll before inserting a new one; an operation that would take just a few seconds in other conditions but, performed in a very narrow space, strapped into the ejection seat, wearing the heavy helmet, the mask, the Secumar, etc., was, especially at the beginning, quite challenging. With the advent of digital photography, this problem has been solved.

The view from the backseat of a Tornado IDS during a low level transition to the range.

Returning to the preparation of the flight, once understood how to move (or not move) in the rear cockpit, it is important to discuss with the crews that will take part in the mission and determine which phases of the missions will be suitable for some aerial shots. Although I have had the opportunity to arrange “pure” air-to-air photo sessions, I usually prefer to take part in missions that bring me in the aircraft’s operational environment: I am a journalist and I find it much more interesting for my readers (and for myself) to see and recount the mission from a privileged point of view, focusing on both the tactical aspects of the flight and the technical details of the employed weapon systems. This means that the time available for photography is normally reduced to about ten minutes: during the transition to the operating zone or during the RTB (Return To Base) phase.

A scan of a slide taken in 2003, from an MB339A of a three-ship F-104S/ASA-M near Grazzanise airbase, home of the world’s last operative Starfighters.

Obviously, a sortie with well-defined operational goals leaves little room for aerobatics or formations flying in favor of light: if you are part of a 3-ship that is acting as “Red Air” in a 4 vs 3 supersonic training mission, as in my flight in the Eurofighter, the aircraft will fly towards the operational area in fighting wing, with a significant spacing from one another, and the time for close formation will be reduced to a few minutes. However, as I have already explained, I prefer a few clicks from a realistic operational situation rather than taking part in a sortie that is particularly cool from a photographic point of view, but “poor” from the operational one. Generally, “how to arrange the aircraft” and “when to take photographs” are topics discussed with the aircrews during the briefing and reviewed, if necessary, during the flight, asking the pilot in the front seat to assume a specific attitude so as to obtain a particular shot.

Pulling some 5g in a supersonic turn from FL460 during an aerial engagement experienced from the backseat of the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Dealing with the photographic equipment, in addition to the GoPro and camera, I bring with me what I need inside a large removable pocket that comes with velcro to be attached to the anti-G at the thigh: here is where I put spare batteries or extra lenses, like fisheye and zoom for the iPhone, used to take short videos or photos that complement the work of the DSLR camera. As for the camera, I strongly recommend removing any type of strap to prevent it from coming into contact with the stick, throttle or, worse, with the ejection seat handle. From 1999 to today I have carried several camera bodies with me, but the lens I prefer in the backseat is almost always the Canon 28-135 USM, an extremely reliable, versatile and lightweight lens, more than adequate for my needs. If you do not have hundreds of flights under your belt, photographing air-to-air from the cockpit of a military aircraft is not an easy task: properly framing the other jets during some maneuvers requires some physical effort (the camera is subject to the same accelerations as aircraft meaning that in a 5 g turn the camera weighs five times its weight on the ground …) and gives very nauseous feelings too. Luckily, I have never needed it, but I always bring a bag for nausea in the anti-G pocket; I also drink a lot of water and limit carbohydrates, alcohol or spicy foods ahead of flying. Anyway, pro photographers, with hundred if not thousand flight hours in fast jets, such as Katsuhiko “Katsu” Tokunaga, Jamie Hunter or Frank Crebas (to name but few) may provide much more expert advice about air-to-air photography and related tips and tricks.

Scan from a slide: taken from the backseat of a TF-104 during the low level nav segment of a Starfighter sortie on Nov. 27, 2000.

The opportunity to fly in a high-performance aircraft every now and then has given me some exciting and long-lasting memories: the formation aerobatics with the TF-104, the BBQ (Ultra-low level flying) with AMX, the LIFT (Lead In Fighter Trainer) sortie with the T-346A or the supersonic BVR (Beyond Visual Range) interception flown as Aggressor with the Eurofighter. True adventures that I have tried to describe not only with my stories published on both The Aviationist website, the world’s most important media outlets and the books I’ve written or contributed to, but also by means of the shots you can find in this article.

Flying in formation with the Italian Air Force’s last F-104 in special color scheme on Sept. 19, 2003, the day the aircraft rolled-out in the new livery.

Neos’ Brand New Boeing 787 Escorted By The Frecce Tricolori Display Team Over Dolomites Mountains During Inaugural Flight

Neos first Boeing B787-9 flew in formation with four MB339PAN of the Frecce Tricolori display team during  a special flight ahead of the first revenue flight.

On Dec. 19, 2017, the Italian leisure airline Neos promoted its new Boeing B787-9 (registration EI-NEO) with a special event held at Verona Villafranca Airport (LIPX), in northeastern Italy. Organized with the participation of State and airport authorities, the ceremony included a special flight to give all the guest passengers the opportunity to experience the characteristics of the brand new Dreamliner.

The flight took off at 11:35UTC and after overflying Bologna and Venice it headed north to Dolomites where the Dreamliner was joined by four MB.339PAN (AT-339A) aircraft belonging to Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori display team.

Three aircraft out the 10-ship Frecce Tricolori display team forms up on the right wing of the B787. The fourth aircraft (the camera ship) can’t be seen in this frame (Image: Simone Bovi).

With the stunning scenery as a background, the unusual formation remained together in the air for about 50 minutes before descending to Verona airport, where a low fly-by over the runway was performed ahead of the final landing.

Three MB339s of the Frecce Tricolori flying alongside the B787 over the breath-taking Dolomites (Aeronautica Militare).

Two more Dreamliners will be delivered to Neos in 2018, to complement and then replace the three B-767ER (Extended Range) currently in service on leisure routes.

Top image credit: Leonardo/Aeronautica Militare

The Italian BR-1150 Atlantic Has Completed Its Last Flight Ending An Impressive 45-year Career

The Italian Air Force bid farewell to the Breguet Atlantic. And Here Are Some Of The Most Significant Moments Of Its 45-year Career.

On Nov. 22, 2017, the Italian Air Force retired its last BR-1150 Atlantic with a final flight from Sigonella to Pratica di Mare.

The aircraft MM40118/41-03, the Atlantic in special color scheme that had been unveiled during a ceremony held at Sigonella on Sept. 21, will now be transported and then exhibited in the ItAF Museum in Vigna di Valle. The first of 18 MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) with ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) capabilities Atlantic aircraft, the BR-1150 MM40108 was taken on charge by the Aeronautica Militare at Toulouse, France, on Jun. 27, 1972. On the very same day, after a stopever in Nimes, France, the aircraft landed at Sigonella, for the very fist time at 16.25LT. The retirement has come after 45 years and almost 260,000 flying hours (actually 258K) logged by a fleet made of 18 aircraft.

The first Atlantic, MM400108/41-70, about to land for the first time at Sigonella at the end of its delivery flight on Jun. 27, 1972. (all images: ItAF)

The Atlantic flies in formation with the Grumman S-2F Tracker, the aircraft it replaced, close to the Etna, in 1972.

Throughout its career, the Atlantic flown by mixed Air Force/Navy crew of 13 people in missions lasting up to 12 hours (actually the record of the Italian BR-1150 is 19 hours and 20 minutes!), carried out thousand Maritime Patrol, ASW and ASuW (Anti-Surface Warfare – limited to the reconnaissance and surveillance part since the aircraft was not equipped with ASuW weapons) sorties as well as Maritime SAR (Search And Rescue) operations taking part also in hundreds exercises: from Dawn Patrol back in 1973 to the recent Dynamic Manta, the BR-1150 have played a role in the Display Determination, Dog Fish, Vento Caldo, Daily Double, Mare Aperto, Tridente, Deterrent Force, Passex, Storm Two, Fleetex, Sharp Guard, Destined Glory, Tapoon and many more ones. The aircraft has flown to the North Pole in 1997, landed at all the major European airports, including Iceland, and reached India, Morocco, Canada, Egypt, Lebanon, UAE and the U.S.

The aircraft was flown by a mixed Air Force/Navy crew of 13 people.

A formation of BR-1150 aircraft in 1994.

In 1997, the Italian Atlantic reached the North Pole.

Two units operated the type within the Italian Air Force (each being assigned 9 aircraft): the 41° Stormo (Wing), with its 88° Gruppo (Squadron) at Sigonella, and the 30° Stormo with its 86° Gruppo at Cagliari Elmas. The latter was disbanded on Aug. 1, 2002 with all the Breguet Atlantic aircraft (“P-1150A” in accordance with the current Italian Ministry of Defense Mission Design Series) taken on charge by the 41th Wing.

Although to a far lesser extent than the French Atlantique 2 (ATL2), that have been upgraded to extend their operative life beyond 2030 adding further capabilities, the Italian Atlantic fleet has undertaken a limited operational update between 1987 and 1997, as part of the ALCO (Aggiornamento Limitato Componente Operativa) programme, that has included, among the others and in different times, new INS (Intertial Navigation System), IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system, along with new Iguane radar and ESM (Electronic Support Measures) sensors to perform electronic reconnaissance/surveillance systems as well as AIS (Automatic Identification System).

Approaching a warship during a sortie from Sigonella in 2009.

An ItAF P-1150A during a maritime surveillance mission in 2010.

The Atlantic will be partially replaced by the P-72, a multirole Maritime Patrol, Electronic Surveillance and C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) aircraft that shares many sensors and equipments which were developed for the ATR 72ASW developed by Leonardo for the Turkish Navy. However, the Italian P-72A fleet, that will be made of four aircraft, the first of those delivered to the 41° Stormo on Nov. 25, 2016, lacks an ASW (Anti-Sub Warfare) capability and this is the reason why it is considered a “gap filler” until the budget to procure a Long Range MPA with ASW capabilities will become available.

The Atlantic and the P-72 flew alongside during the very last flight of the Atlantic, from Sigonella to Pratica di Mare on Nov. 22, 2017.

Anyway, the P-72A, that has already debuted in real operations conducting intelligence gathering and electronic surveillance missions during the G7 meeting in Taormina, in May 2017, can undertake a variety of roles ranging from maritime patrol for the search and identification of surface vessels, SAR (search and rescue) missions, the prevention of narcotics trafficking, piracy, smuggling, territorial water security and monitoring and intervention in the event of environmental catastrophes. The P-72A is equipped with a communication suite that enables the aircraft to transmit or receive information in real-time to/from command and control centres either on the ground, in the air or at-sea, to ensure coordinated and effective operations. The aircraft is also equipped with a self-protection system. The aircraft is said to be able to fly missions lasting six and a half hours at ranges up to 200 nautical miles from its starting location.

The last Atlantic at Sigonella on Nov. 21, the sunset before its last flight.

The very last take off from Sigonella on Nov. 22, 2017. The end of an era.

The aircrew of the last flight.

 

During 45 years and about 260,000 FH, the Italian Atlantic fleet suffered no losses.

The author wishes to thank 1°M. Carmelo Savoca of the 41° Stormo for providing information about the aircraft as well as the stunning official images you can find in this post.