Tag Archives: Italian Air Force

The end of an era

TodayH5396/10: Formation flying will take place
Q) EGTT/QWVLW/IV/M/W/000/030/5250N00010W040
5239N 00033E (MARHAM AD) 1318 HR
5221N 00006W (WYTON AD) 1322 HR
5237N 00029W (WITTERING AD) 1326 HR
5239N 00029W (STAMFORD) 1327 HR
5302N 00029W (CRANWELL AD) 1401 HR
5310N 00031W (WADDINGTON AD) 1402 HR
5318N 00033W (SCAMPTON AD) 1404 HR
5306N 00010W (CONINGSBY AD) 1411 HR
5244N 00039W (COTTESMORE AD) 1415 HR
5240N 00044W (OAKHAM) 1416 HR
5244N 00039W (COTTESMORE AD) 1420 HR
LOWER: Surface, UPPER: 3,000 Feet AMSL
FROM: 14 Dec 2010 12:55 GMT TO: 15 Dec 2010 14:40 GMT
SCHEDULE: 1255-1440

The above NOTAM has a particular historical value. It provides the route flown during the rehearsal and final flight of the last Harrier GR9s belonging to the Joint Force Harrier. In fact, on Dec. 15, 2010, Cottesmore airbase launched a 16 ship formation that overflew various RAF stations and local towns, which have been associated with the Harrier over the last four decades to bid farewell to the famous STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft. Beginning today, the STOVL concept is history for UK’s RAF and RN that were due to continue operating the Harrier until at least 2018, when the Joint Force was to have transitioned to Lockheed Martin’s F-35B. However, the iconic jump jet was decommissioned after 41 years of service as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to ensure the survival of a reduced number of Tornado GR.4s, a decision that, along with that of shifting to the carrier variant F-35C, was criticised by many because will leave UK without aircraft for its aircraft carriers, hence without maritime strike force, for at least a decade. The last flight on Dec. 15, was preceded by another historical flight on Nov. 24, 2010, when the HMS Ark Royal, the United Kingdom’s Flagship, facilitated the last ever launch of a Harrier GR9 from her deck at 09.00LT while sailing approximately 40 nautical miles off the coast of Newcastle. HMS Ark Royal is being decommissioned too under the SDSR with a considerable loss in British capabilities to project power and strike globally with an extremely versatile and flexible asset.

This is an excerpt from the RAF news release:

Harrier pilot Lieutenant Commander James Blackmore, the last pilot to ever launch a Harrier from the decks of HMS Ark Royal, said:
“This is a truly memorable day. We accept the decision to decommission both the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal; however, of course the final launch will be emotional. I have flown over 90 sorties off the Ship and combat sorties in Afghanistan, and the aircraft’s capability still astounds me. Landing an aircraft on a runway which is not in the same location as where you launched from gives exceptional flexibility.
I remember witnessing a Harrier in the hover when I was just 8 years old, since then I had wanted to do nothing else. I have flown Harriers for over 10 years, the training is complex and challenging but the added challenge and excitement of hovering a Harrier off the port side of HMS Ark Royal before landing vertically is an experience I will miss immensely.
I feel honoured and proud to be the last pilot to ever launch a Harrier jet from HMS Ark Royal.”
Deliberately keen to highlight the very Joint nature of Joint Force Harrier the last jet to recover in HMS Ark Royal was an 800 NAS jet piloted by a Royal Air Force officer, today the last jet to launch was a 1(Fighter) Squadron RAF jet piloted by a Royal Naval officer. Departing the Ship in one wave of four aircraft, the launch was led by Capt Mike Carty RM followed by: Lt Matt Fooks-Bale RN and Flt Lt Em Rickards before Lt Cdr James Blackmore’s historic final launch.
After the launch, the 4 aircraft conducted a 2 ship fly past, each squadron flying low past the port side of the Ship before conducting a final fighter exercise controlled by 849 NAS’ Seaking Mk7 helicopter, prior to returning to RAF Cottesmore.

Both the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal are due to leave the Service next year.
Reflecting on the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal, Captain Jerry Kyd, HMS Ark Royal’s Commanding Officer said:
“As the last Harriers lift off the deck of HMS Ark Royal for the final time it is with a real sense of pride that we remember the fantastic contribution they, and the carriers, have made to UK Defence around the world. The tremendous reception we received in Newcastle last weekend, where Ark Royal was built, reflects the very deep fondness for this iconic warship and her air group. Although we now look back on the significant achievements of the Harrier with immense pride and a tinge of sadness at our loss, we can now look forward to an exciting new chapter of Naval aviation as we continue the training for and procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship will enter service from 2015 and together with their helicopters and the Joint Strike Fighter, they will be a very powerful strategic asset able to project serious power anywhere in the world, delivering 21st Century Carrier Strike capability. Add to this the new Type 45 Destroyers, the forthcoming Type 26 frigate, the Astute class submarines and the Royal Marine Brigade, the United Kingdom will have a balanced Naval Service that remains in the premier league, working for Britain to deter potential threats, defend our global interests and, if necessary, defeat our enemies.”

The fate of the (+50) early retired Harriers is still unknown. Being perfectly airworthy and far from being too obsolete to serve in some air force, they might be cocooned or preserved until the time to be sold comes. Maybe some air forces could be interested in the aircraft, especially if we consider the uncertain future of the F-35B. Even if I think there are little chance that the B version of the F-35 will be canceled, those services that had planned to get their STOVL variant of the Lightning II as a Harrier replacement will look at the GR9s retired today with some interest.

Smile and say "cheese": postcards from the "Black Cats"

After publishing the video taken by an Italian AMX over Afghanistan I’ve received, through the Italian Air Force Press Office the following pictures taken by the Task Group “Black Cats”, deployed to Herat. The TG has recently reached the 2.000 flying hours milestone, flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions in support of the ground forces and local population. As Maj. Michele Grassi, commander of the “Black Cats” recently affirmed: “The 2.000 hours we have achieved allowed us to process and interpret more than 17.000 photographs and to perform an accurate analysis of about 1,300 targets in support of ground security forces. Reconnaissance sorties have also been useful to check the status of bridges, roads and schools, rebuilt even in areas outside the Italian area of responsability”. Manned and Unmmanned aircraft (like Predator UAVs) provide a privileged and complementary perspective of the area of operations: the Predator, in fact, can remain airborne for more than 20 hours and, with its sensors, it can seamlessly control a specific purpose for long time slots; the AMXs move faster and achieve their goals in a shorter time, even at great distances, ensuring the immediacy of the action.

Italian Air Force secret involvement in Vietnam war?

In the last week I had the opportunity to discuss about his researches with Mr. Diego Verdegiglio who is currently writing a book about the Italian involvement in the Vietnam war. During his studies on the topic he has heard of an unofficial (covert) employment, between 1963 and 1975, of some Italian Élite corps and of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) in Vietnam, as a consequence of a secret agreement between the Italian secret service and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). Something similar had been asked weeks earlier by another reader, who had sent me an email to know my opinion about the possibility that Italian pilots had flown as backseaters inside the RF-4C Phantoms in recce missions about North Vietnam (NVN) to evalutate the weapons system because of the possible Italian interest in that type of aircraft and that others were sent as observers and advisors in the USAF squadrons equipped with the F-104C. I replied to both that I think that, although intriguing, the involvement of Italian pilots as Wizzos (WSOs, Weapons Systems Officers) on board US aircraft was nothing more than an urban legend: in those years, the ItAF had no WSOs (that arrived at the beginning of the ’80s with the Tornado, with the name of “navigatori”, Italian for navigators). Where and when these flying crews had gained their qualification and combat readiness to be employed in a fierce air war? What about the possibility that, being shot down in a Phantom over NVN (quite probable looking at the number of aircraft downed during the war) , the Italian pilot was killed or taken by the enemy? The secret would be unveiled with a violent reaction by the Italian public opinion.
However, Mr. Verdegiglio sent me the scan of an article written by Umberto Postiglioni and Nico Sgarlato and published in 1988 by RID, the most important and authoritative Italian Defence magazine, according to which, an inquiry, made in 1969, after a letter received by a journalist disclosed the involvement of Italian pilots in SE Asia, had discovered that 5 Italian F-104 pilots, possibly belonging to the Rimini based 5° Stormo, were deployed in Vietnam, under a fake US identity, as either advisors for the 435th TFS flying the F-104, or as backseaters on the RF-4 to evaluate the aircraft with a view to a possible provision of this type of aircraft to the ItAF. Even if I still believe that the partecipation of the ItAF crews to the Vietnam war is an urban legend, I thought it could be interesting to write this post and to hear from readers from all around the world that have might have some detail about this story.

AMX over Afghanistan on board video

A video, showing the images recorded by a Recce Lite pod of an AMX and transmitted to a ground unit equipped with a Remote Optical Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) via data-link during a reconnaissance and surveillance mission in Afghanistan was made available by the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) on Dec. 2, 2010, one year since the 4 “Ghibli” of the Task Group “Black Cats” deployed to Herat, Afghanistan. In the video, the Italian pilot informs a French military of a possible threat posed by two insurgents with “weapons in their hands” hidden in a canal, possibly preparing an ambush for the convoy.

The Italian AMXs, that arrived in theatre on Nov. 5, 2009, have already flown 1.800 flying hours during 700 ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) day and night sorties above the Afghan territory. The early detection of hidden insurgents preparing an attack to the ground forces is one of the most important tasks performed by the AMXs (that are equipped only with a Recce Lite pod and their 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan gun) that, on the other hand, as any other bomber operating in theatre, are almost unuseful when performing the so called “show of force”, a noisy “dry” low level flyby aimed at getting the insurgents scared; the insurgents hide until the fighters are far enough and get back to their activities extremely quickly….attack helicopters, ground forces and HUMINT are much more effective to flush out the terrorists from their coves.

The following pictures show the Italian AMX ACOLs departing for a training sortie during Ex. Vega 2010.

Exercise Vega 2010 @ Decimomannu airbase – part 4

Below, more pictures about Vega 2010 exercise taken by Giovanni Maduli in Decimomannu.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3