Tag Archives: Italian Air Force

Inside a modern (combat) helicopter: the AgustaWestland HH-139A glass cockpit

The following picture, taken at Farnborough International Airshow, gives a hint of what you might expect to find inside a modern (combat) helicopter.

The HH-139A is the military variant of the AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter operating with the Italian Air Force.

The multipurpose chopper, is equipped, among all the other things, with an integrated NVG-compatible glass cockpit featuring 8in×10in active matrix liquid crystal displays with advanced graphics generation capabilites and cursor control devices.

The cockpit features also 4-axis digital Digital AFCS (automatic flight control system) with SAR modes & FMS SAR patterns, weather/search radar, TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) II, FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red), Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS), Digital video recorder, Video downlink, Moving map on flat display, Auto-Deployable ELT (ADELT) and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS).

Image credit: Giovanni Maduli

Of course, you don’t need to be a computer freak to be a HH-139A helicopter pilot. But you’ll feel much more comfortable in such an advanced cockpit if you have some basic System Administrator’s skills.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Los Angeles Fire Department, New Jersey State Police, Maryland State Police Aviation Command, and other major aero medical and search and rescue operators in North America are equipped with AW139 medium twin helicopters for emergency medical, search and rescue, law enforcement and homeland security missions.

Farnborough 2012: A flight with the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 simulator. Including a taste of the Master’s Helmet Mounted Display

Among the most interesting things you might happen to do at Farnborough International Airshow, there’s a ride in a combat plane simulator.

During the Day 2 of FIA12 (#FIA12 or #FARN12 for the Tweeps), I had the opportunity to try the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 simulator, one of the two hosted inside the large Finmeccanica Pavilion.

Although simplified a little bit in terms of consoles and instruments, the Master’s simulator is absolutely realistic in terms of flight model and mission systems thus giving the “pilot” (a journalist in this case…) the opportunity to test the aircraft’s handling capabilities, performances and systems.

The simulator runs the OFP7 software release, the one currently installed on the six Italian Air Force M-346s.

The demo started on Farnborough runway, with the aircraft lined up and ready for take off, after a very detailed briefing by Gabriele Sgarbi, an engineer at Alenia Aermacchi’s Integrated Training System department.

I slammed the throttle to the maximum thrust to begin the take off roll. The aircraft accelerated quickly and I had only to use a bit of rudder to keep the nose aligned with the runway centerline.

At 100 knots I pulled the stick for a steep climb. The aircraft continued to accelerate and I had to be quite fast to retract the landing gear and the flaps. General handling of the jet is quite easy and you can find all the information you need on the three large MFD (Multi-Function Displays) that showed the Flight Director, the ADI and engine parameters.

Obviously, the Head Up Display provides all the required data through the typical HUD symbology.

After a couple of turns I used to get used with the HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) cockpit, at an altitude of 3,000 feet and just above 300 knots, I started a looping that I ended at the same altitude, after pulling 4.5 Gs.

After few more aerobatics, Gabriele suggested me to set the throttle to Idle and keep the nose high to see how the aircraft handles at High AOA (Angle Of Attack). Once again, the M-346 behaved just like the most modern combat planes, reaching 25° AOA and keeping a significant flight controls’ authority.

After flying around Farnborough for a few more minutes I headed back to the airport for a touch and go. I throttled back to Idle and extracted the air brakes using one of the switches on the throttle.

As I reached 250 knots, I extended the landing gear and as the air speed went below 240 I selected the Take Off flaps.

I selected full flaps on the downwind leg, flew the final approach at 130 knots and, with a gentle flare, I touched the runway. As soon as the nose gear went down, I once again throttled to the maximum thrust and took the air again, for the second part of the demo.

Gabriele showed me [at the simulator what can be actually done on the real M-346]: the aircraft can be quickly reconfigured to simulate different payload configurations, both air-to-air and air-to-ground, to be used to train student pilots.

Since all the aircraft can be connected through the use of data link, simulated scenarios can involve both real planes and virtual ones. For instance, an Instructor pilot on the ground can generate simulated aerial and ground threats and targets as his student pilot is flying a sortie.

After playing a bit with virtual AIM-9 and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles I was given the opportunity to give the new Targo HMD a try.

Designed by the VSI, the same firm that produces the JHMCS and F-35’s HMDS Gen. II, the Targo is a lightweight helmet built around the HGU-55P. It has a night module, designed to be fitted to the standard NVG eyepiece kit that works by overlaying the HMD symbology to that of the NVG imagery.

It was my first experience with an HMD and I found it really interesting. The projected symbology was sharp and clearly visible, thus increasing situational awareness of the pilot, improving safety too.

A really interesting and advanced tool for a combat trainer!


Farnborough 2012: new details about the "weaponized" C-27J disclosed

In a media briefing held inside the fuselage of the C-27J CSX62127, Finmeccanica group’s company Alenia Aermacchi has unveiled a few more details about the new gunship version of the Spartan launched by Alenia Aeronautica and ATK at Farnborough International Airshow 2012.

First of all, the “mini-Spectre” is just the first of a series of highly specialized configurations that Alenia Aeronautica plans to base on the C-27J battlefield airlifter: ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance), Border Surveillance, Command and Control. And, of course, Gunship.

In Fire Support configuration, the Spartan, designated MC-27J, is equipped with a side GAU-23 30 mm gun mounted on 2,000 pounds pallet that can be installed in around 4 hours and that was chosen because it is not only a very accurate cannon, but is also used on other U.S. platforms.

The MC-27J is in its first development phase. First tests are scheduled to start next fall with the goal to characterize the weapon system, then actual firing tests will be conducted in an unspecified range in the U.S.: an electro-optical/radar fire control system will be integrated only on a second stage.

The use of the side cannon does not require any major system modification nor imply a change in the general handling of the aircraft that will not get any additional armour other than its standard ballistic protection and passive self-protection suite.

Noteworthy, Alenia Aeronautica is considering the integration of more PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) that could be either side dropped or released from the cargo bay (the type of weapon being considered was not unveiled).

The MC-27J program is not related to the C-27J Praetorian, an Italian Air Force program launched in 2011, that envisages a special version Spartan equipped with Communications Intelligence (COMINT), EO/IR (Electro optical/Infra-red) sensors.

Farnborough 2012: AgustaWestland HH-139A's new combat configuration

One of the firsts of Farnborough International Airshow 2012 was exhibited at the Finmeccanica pavilion, where a brand new Italian Air Force HH-139A (the military designation of the AW139 helicopter) can be seen.

The multipurpose chopper, one of the 10 the Italian Air Force has bought, is equipped with a brand new heavy duty landing gear, secure communications suite, integrated defensive aids suite, hoist, search light, wire cutters, nose mounted FLIR, cargo hook, loudspeaker system and emergency floatation gear and any other oddity required to perform “convetional” search and rescue, as well as Combat SAR missions in place of the ageing AB-212 and HH-3F.

However, it can do a bit more.

It can be equipped with two wing-mounted pods for 70 mm unguided rockets (12+3 in total), as the one used by the HH-139 CSX81798/15-42, an experimental machine in the colors of the 15° Stormo (Wing) based at Cervia.

The C-27J successfully performs air-to-air refueling from a Boeing KC-767A tanker

The following images show the first air-to-air refueling tests conducted by an Alenia Aermacchi C-27J with an Italian Air Force’s Boeing KC-767A tanker.

The testing campaign took place at Pratica di Mare airbase, near Rome, in collaboration with the 14° Stormo (Wing), Alenia Aermacchi, Rolls Royce and Dowty, the latter two responsible respectively for the engines and propellers of the aircraft.

The flight tests were conducted at various altitudes, between 10,000 and 20,000 feet, and speed up to 220 knots, and also included night aerial refueling with the aid of Night Vision Goggles as well as plugs with the refueling basket in turbulence and during emergency descent.

The C-27J during AAR as seen from the KC-767 Air Refueling Station

According to Alenia Aermacchi “the preliminary results highlighted the exceptional flying quality of the C-27J, in both the day and night contacts. The test confirmed the high capability of fuel transfer (up to 2800 litersmin) predicted in the planning phase, allowing for a complete replenishment of the tanks in only 5 minutes. Also confirmed during these test was the superior quality of the C-27J as an aircraft receiver also in conditions of slipstream turbulence generated by the tanker.”

The aircraft used for these tests, piloted by Alenia Aermacchi test aircrew, was modified with the integration of a complex instrumentation dedicated to controlling the engine parameters, propellers, transfer of fuel and flight controls, in order to meet the requirements requested by the military certification.

The objective of these test was to achieve the certification of the in-flight refueling system, that has been adopted on the 12 C-27Js in service with the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade) in Italy and on one of the three examples in service with the Lithuanian Air Force.

Image courtesy: Alenia Aermacchi

Dealing the the KC-767, it proved its flexibility by refueling the Italian cargo plane with the hose and drogue system after it successfully completed buddy refueling tests using the flying boom.