Tag Archives: P-180

Italian Coast Guard base Catania Fontanarossa unveiled

On Aug. 31, 2012, the 2° Nucleo Aereo (Flight Group) of the Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard), based at the Catania-Fontanarossa airport (next to the famous trans-Mediterranean international hub), changed his Commanding Officer.

With a simple ceremony, Commander Andrea Vitali handed the command over to the new C.O., Capt. Rosario Capodicasa, who will have to manage the transformation of the unit.

In fact, the ITCG 2° Nucleo Aereo, which is seriously involved in the rescue duties within the Italian MRCC AOR (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre Area Of Responsibility), is also changing its equipment: it is dismissing the oldest assets, like the 30,000 hours-flown (since 1988) Piaggio P-166 DL-3 SEM “Orca” (Sorveglianza Ecologica Marittima, Maritime Ecologic Surveillance), and working hard with the new Piaggio P-180 CP planes and AW-139 CP “Nemo” helo (assigned to the 2^ Sezione Aerea).

During the ceremony, which took place inside the unit’s main hangar, visitors and media were given the opportunity to see all the flight lines of the ITCG aviation. Indeed, the 2° Nucleo is the only one which flies all the Corps assets: the ATR-42 MP “Manta” (where “MP” stands for “Multi Purpose” and not for “Maritime Patrol”, as someone could guess), the P-166 DL-3 SEM “Orca”, P-180 CP, AB-412 CP “Koala” and AW-139 CP “Nemo” (with the helos operating within the 2^ Sezione Aerea).

All these assets are assigned to Search And Rescue duties, using the planes for long-range / endurance search missions, and the choppers for short-range / high-readiness rescue missions.

The ATR-42 MP, a twin turboprop 22-mt long patroller, is a multi-sensor platform, capable to fly in bad weather conditions and make a 6-hours reconnaissance. It is equipped with a weather radar, one main research radar, two SLARs (Side-Looking Airborne Radar), along both sides of the tail, one EO/IR Tower (Electro-Optical / Infra-Red) and a powerful search light pod, both mounted under the right side of the fuselage.

The seven people-crew is divided into 5 roles: one Mission commander, two pilots, two systems operators (radars / tower), one TACCO (Tactical Coordinator) and two observers. They work together adding up all systems’ contributions, using radars to discover the targets, the tower to zoom on them and the observers to give a visual confirmation. It often flies at low altitudes over the sea (about 500 ft) and adopts some search schemes fitted for specific kinds of emergency, consisting of a series of straight routes on the areas where probability to find targets is higher.

When targets are finally observed, the TACCO can coordinate a rescue intervention involving also civilian merchant ships in the area or launching inflatable life raft and first aid equipments. The ATR-42 MP is fitted also for anti-pollution (radar surveillance) missions, which is the main mission for P-166 DL-3 SEM, equipped with the hyperspectral high resolution CASI-1500 (Compact Airborne Spectrographic Imager) surveillance system, capable of 1,500 pixels 3D imaging (with a maximum resolution of 25 cm), and for the newest full digital (flies with only 3 crew members) P-180 CP with an EO/IR tower.

The Rescue mission is assigned to choppers, because of their hovering and vertical extraction capabilities. In fact, there is always a flight-ready helo on the parking area of the unit and a pre-alerted crew (formed by two pilots, one system operator, one winch operator and one rescuer) waiting in the crew room, while two other helos/crews are available to be ready-in-30 minutes, for any time-extended mission.

The ITCG helos are capable of complex rescue missions, like the “Concordia” and “Gelso-M” operations, during those several dozen survivors have been saved. The helos were also recently equipped with NVGs (Night Vision Goggles) and the crews are going to be qualified for night missions, while the AW-139 CP search light has been provided with an IR filter, allowing the simultaneous NVG / light visual search.

Obviously, with more than 7,000 km of coasts and the huge SAR area within the Mediterranean Sea under its control, the Italian Coast Guard is one of the main European organizations responsible for the safeguard of the “human life at sea”.

Italy's Government Aviation

I wrote the below article for the August 2009 issue of Air Forces Monthly. As the Italian Civil Protection often makes the news as happened during the relief effort after the April 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, or, more recently, on Jan. 25, 2010, when its chief, Guido Bertolaso, described the international earthquake relief effort in Haiti as ”pathetic” and blamed the lack of central coordination among the various relief agencies operating in the island, I thought it could be interesting, especially for the foreign readers, to have an in-depth look at the Italian Civil Protection service (with a particular focus on their air component) that is frequently considered a model to follow.

Italy’s Government Aviation – a winning network

MANY COUNTRIES maintain a streamlined approach regarding the use of air power, but Italy proudly proves itself an exception to the rule. While national air arms around the world work rigidly within their own remits, Italy’s four armed forces and various paramilitary organisations regularly combine their efforts in favour of the general public, under the banner of the Protezione Civile (Civil Protection). The blurred responsibilities of these agencies, along with varying capabilities, do not seem to hinder competent and professional air operations, but they can sometimes make the operational structure difficult to understand. Italy’s Protezione Civile is a ‘National Service’ established by Article One of Parliamentary Act No 225 of February, 1992, which commits functions to various agencies and State organisations to protect the nation from threats and dangers posed by conditions of natural, environmental or human risk. Its aim is to safeguard human life, goods and historical and environmental heritage, in cases of natural catastrophe and other disastrous events. Italian law assigns management and coordination to the Dipartimento Protezione Civile (DPC, Civil Protection Department), an agency under the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, and operational duties to all other central and peripheral organisations of the State. Among them are the Armed Forces, Police Forces, the Corpo Nazionale Vigili del Fuoco (CNVF, Fire-fighters National Corps) and the Corpo Forestale dello Stato (CFS, Italian Forestry Service).

Dipartimento Protezione Civile

The DPC consists of nine general offices and 43 units. One of these offices (the 8th) is responsible for the Air Component of the Protezione Civile, and manages all activities of assigned assets by means of a Centro Operativo Aereo Unificato- Unified Operative Air Centre (COAU). This Rome-based command hub is where officers and non-commissioned personnel of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force), supported by staff from the Corpo Forestale dello Stato (Italian Forestry Service) and Corpo Nazionale Vigili del Fuoco (Fire-fighters National Corps), coordinate roundthe-clock tasking of all available assets for civil protection work, whether they be from the armed forces or paramilitary agencies. From the six risk factors across Italian territory – earthquake, volcano, flood, landslide/slip and coastal erosion, industrial activity and forest fire – the last-mentioned takes highest priority. Italy’s forest heritage is among the most important in Europe, but thousands of hectares are burnt by fires each summer, caused by human negligence or by the so-called ‘building speculation’, where land and property is purposely set alight for criminal or fraudulent purposes. With all these problems, fire-fighting around the peninsula is the most common task for the Protezione Civile. To achieve this mission, the department employs a dedicated fleet of 17 Bombardier CL-415s, based in Ciampino, Lamezia Terme and Genoa, but the aircraft are deployable to other airports, and operated and maintained under an outsourcing contract by the company SOREM. Four Erickson S-64E helicopters are also available, and operated by European concern Air-Crane (based in Siena Ampugnano) under a ‘wet lease’ contract (includes the provision of helicopters, maintenance and crews). Other aircraft are occasionally leased to boost numbers for a single season if necessary, for experimental purposes or for multiple firefighting campaigns. For example, since 2006 the Department has leased Avialsa’s Air Tractor AT-802F FireBoss, an asset that during the summer of 2008 was temporarily deployed to Falconara, Foggia and Grottaglie, as a precautionary measure. The DPC is equipped with six helicopters: Five Agusta Westland A-109s perform surveillance, antipollution monitoring and MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation) tasks, while one AW139 is used for reconnaissance and transport missions, and four Piaggio P.180s, which are mainly used for short- and medium-range VIP transport. These four aircraft are operated by the Compagnia Aeronautica Italiana, based in Rome Ciampino. In reality, the ‘virtual’ fleet of aircraft, which can serve the department for civil protection purposes, is much wider. Should the need arise, the Protezione Civile can request any other institution to support emergency operations, with mission-specific aircraft. A good example is the emergency caused by the earthquake that hit the Abruzzo region on April 6, 2009. It killed 300 people, destroyed many buildings and left thousands homeless, but to help with post-quake damage assessment a Piaggio P.166DL3 APH twin-prop, of the Pratica di Mare-based 14° Stormo, Aeronautica Militare, was fitted with Leica RC-20 and RC-30 cameras for gathering photographic evidence. Also, every year the department’s fire-fighting fleet is strengthened by aircraft and helicopters belonging to the Armed Forces or to a public service agency, or even by French assets of the Sécurité Civile under a mutualsupport agreement.

Corpo Nazionale Vigili del Fuoco

The entire State organisation is capable of co-operating in times of natural calamity. Although fire-fighting is the main mission of the Corpo Nazionale Vigili del Fuoco (CNVF, Firefighters National Corps), the fleet of this agency can fulfil  many different tasks depending on the needs of the Ministry of the Interior, from search and rescue (SAR) to support of nuclear, biological, chemical, and radioactivity (NBCR) sorties to survey emissions in a particular area. The air component of the Vigili del Fuoco is controlled from a main operating base, Ciampino, home of the Centro Aviazione, and eleven flying units (Arezzo, Bari, Bologna, Catania, Genova, Pescara, Salerno, Sassari, Torino, Varese-Malpensa, Venezia), and it is equipped with 40 aircraft: 15 AB-206s, 22 AB-412s, three A-109 Powers, and a single P.180 Avanti for liaison purposes.

Polizia di Stato

Also depending on the Ministry of the Interior is the Polizia di Stato (PS, or State Police), responsible for public order and internal security. The PS is one of five Corpi Armati dello Stato (Armed Corps) auxiliary forces. They conduct law enforcement, policing, border control or security duties that do not involve the Ministry of Defence, but the PS is a paramilitary organization with similar training and equipment to the military. There is a duplication of roles between the Polizia and the Carabinieri (Military Police). The latter, as an armed force, not only holds responsibilities for public order and internal security, it also plays a role in the defence of the nation and participates in military operations, in Italy and abroad. The Air Division of the Polizia comprises 11 Reparti Volo (flying units) based in Pratica di Mare, Malpensa, Bologna, Palermo, Reggio Calabria, Naples, Abbasanta, Florence, Bari, Venice and Pescara. They are equipped with 29 AB-206s, eleven A-109s, 23 AB-212s, 18 P.68s and a P.180 Avanti.

Guardia di Finanza

Another Armed Corps is the Guardia di Finanza (GdF, or Customs Police), an agency backed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, whose mission is prevention, suppression and the reporting of tax evasion, fighting financial crimes and smuggling, and investigating conflict and misdemeanours against legal and financial regulations. It also contributes to the maintenance of public order and security. The Aeronaval Service of the GdF counts on 109 aircraft that equip both the High Seas component and a Regional component. The High Seas is for long-range reconnaissance, which includes one Aeromaritime Exploration Group (based in Pratica di Mare) and five Aeronaval Groups (with aircraft based in Cagliari, Catania, Pisa and Grottaglie). The Regional component is made of eleven Sezioni Aeree (Air Branches), at Bari, Napoli, Bolzano, Genoa, Palermo, Pratica di Mare, Venegono Superiore, Lamezia Terme, Pescara, Rimini and Venice, which perform economic-financial police tasks within territorial waters. The GdF fleet comprises NH-500MD, A-109GdF, AB-412, P.166DL3 SEM, P.180 and ATR-42MP used for patrol, 24hr surveillance, reconnaissance and SAR.

Corpo Forestale dello Stato

Also an Armed Corps, the Corpo Forestale dello Stato (CFS, Italian for Forestry Service) operates under the authority of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. This agency acts as a police and ranger force, responsible for protecting Italy’s natural and environmental resources and eco-systems. Its duties include the prevention of environmental violations and wildfires, safeguarding animal species, ensuring antipoaching and habitat protection, and providing SAR in mountainous areas. The CFS has a fleet of helicopters, managed by the Centro Operativo Aeromobili (COA – Italian for Aircraft Operative Centre) and coordinated along with other national assets involved in fire-fighting activities, by the COAU of the DPC. The COA is headquartered at Rome-Urbe airport and is equipped with 11 NH-500s, 14 AB-412s, four Erickson S-64Fs and three AW-109Ns used for fire-fighting, early spotting of wildfires, and coordination of other aircraft or with ground-based firefighters. The Service also owns a P.180 fitted with a forward looking infra-red (FLIR)/TV camera system for ground surveillance in anti-pollution monitoring and geological/wildlife control, which can easily be configured as an air ambulance by means of a medical kit, and can ferry specialized teams or VIPs to various helicopter stations. In summer, the aircraft are strategically deployed in areas where wildfire risk is higher: between June 20 and September 30, two S-64Fs are usually located at Lucca and Albenga, while the rest of the fleet resides at Cecina, Roma-Urbe, Pescara, Foggia and Lamezia Terme airports.

Guardia Costiera

The Guardia Costiera (GC or Coast Guard) is a branch of the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) with tasks connected to civilian use of the sea. The GC has not a single hierarchical dependence since it reports to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, and to other ministries according to the missions undertaken. Its main activities are SAR, safe navigation enforcement, marine environment protection (with functional dependence on the Ministry for the Environment), control of fisheries (answering to the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies) and maritime policing. The Coast Guard’s air component centres around three Nuclei Aerei (fixed-wing units), which are based in Sarzana, Catania and Pescara, and two Sezione di volo Elicotteri (rotary-wing units), in Sarzana and Catania. The service uses nine AB-412CPs, six P.166DL3 SEMs and two ATR-42MPs, for SAR, surveillance, reconnaissance, remote-sensing, maritime patrol and MEDEVAC duties.

The sheer number of agencies, with their acrossthe-board remits, might cause one to expect discord or competition between them, but it is clear that this is far from the case. Juggling many different types of aircraft and equipment can also bring its own problems, but the controlling officers and operational crews have seemingly reached an understanding to ensure clear communication, goal-orientated planning and a unified agenda when it counts. ‘Teamwork’ is obviously the mantra for the agencies and personnel involved, and Italy’s aviation framework provides a salutary lesson for other governments.

Frecce Tricolori season's first display – Rivolto May 1, 2009

On May 1, 2009, the traditional Frecce Tricolori’ season’s opening, held each year at Rivolto, became a sort of mini-airshow enriched by the presence of the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo) displays. In fact, since the annual Giornata Azzurra (held each year at Pratica di Mare airbase) was canceled due to budget cuts, the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) decided to bring up an open day including also the 311° Gruppo Volo’s displays of the AMX, the Tornado, the C-27J and the Eurofighter Typhoon, a CSAR event involving an HH-3F of the 15° Stormo and an AB.212ICO of the 9° Stormo, and a static display.

Here’s the list of visiting aircraft:
P-180 (14° Stormo) MM62202
Falcon 900EX MM62244
C-130J-30 46-58 MM62192
B767CTA N606TW
A-319CJ MM62209

Four military aircraft were in static display:
F-2000A 4-15 MM7293
AMX (ACOL) 51-55 MM7168: on the left side of the rudder had a sticker applied by the 3 RMV with the text “3° RMV I.P. XII/2002” and UNI EN ISO 9002 certification logo
F-16ADF MM7251 23° Gruppo Special Colour
Tornado ECR 50-01 MM7021: with Link 16 badge

C-27J RS-50 N.C. 119 CSX 62219
HH-3F 15-29 MM81341 + AB-212ICO “ISAF” MM81161
AMX RS-14 MM7172: had Buscaglia text on the upper side of both wings, 132° Gruppo logo on the air intakes and RSV badge on the tail
Tornado RS-01 MM7014
F-2000A 4-13 MM7280: with 311° Gruppo Volo badge next to the display pilot’s name
10 MB-339 Frecce Tricolori: the only aricraft wearing an MM was “Pony 8” with MM54551

Matteo Marianeschi attended the Rivolto show, provided a detailed report and took the following pictures.

Frecce Tricolori season's opening and Rome International Airshow

With the mini-airshow that will be held in Rivolto, home of the Frecce Tricolori, on May 1, the airshow season of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) will officially start. Since the annual Giornata Azzurra (held each year at Pratica di Mare airbase) was canceled due to budget cuts, the traditional Frecce Tricolori season’s opening was enriched with the displays of the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo, the Italian Test Wing), that will perform with the AMX, the Tornado, the C-27J and the Eurofighter Typhoon, with a CSAR event involving an RivoltoHH-3F of the 15° Stormo, and with a static display. The May 1 Rivolto Open Day, that can be seen live through the Aeronautica Militare official website, will be only the first date of the Frecce Tricolori airshow calendar 2009. Another interesting show, the most important Italian aviation event of 2009, will be held near Rome on May 31. Despite being organized along the coastline at Ostia, next to Fiumicino, this year’s Ostia Airshow was renamed Rome International Airshow and will see the partecipation not only of the Frecce Tricolori, the RSV aircraft and the HH-3F but will be attended also by the Patrouille de France, by the Dutch F-16 Demo Team, by a Canadair CL-415 of the Protezione Civile (Italian Civil Protection), by a P-180 of the Piaggio Aero RIASIndustries, by the Breitling Devils demo team (with 3 SF-260s), by an ATR-42 of the Guardia di Finanza (Italian Customs Police), by 2 AV-8B+ Harrier of the Marina Militare (Italian Navy), and by a B767 of the Alitalia. The airshow will take place above the surface of the sea, in front of the crowded beaches beginning at 01.00PM LT. Photographers should take into consideration that the aircraft will be constantly back lightned during the air display….

Since the RSV test pilots will present the C-27J, the AMX, the Tornado and the F-2000 at both airshows, in the past weeks, they have been performing practice displays twice a day (a rehearsal in the morning and one in the afternoon). On Apr. 29, Giovanni Maduli went to Pratica di Mare to observe the afternoon rehearsals at Pratica di Mare (the last before the aircraft deployed to Rivolto to perform local practices) and took the following picture of the RSV Tornado departing for the display above the field. The picture shows the aircraft very far from the viewpoint, but, interestingly, it shows the Tornado taking off from RWY 13 (instead of 31) to perform its display (as usual) on the port side of the runway. This was the very first time I’ve heard of an air display (or rehearsal) performed at Pratica di Mare on the left hand side of RWY 13 (that is to say on the right hand side of RWY31).

Flight checks at Pratica di Mare

On Sept. 30, Giovanni Maduli went to Pratica di Mare to spot some of the aircraft operating on the largest Italian airbase. He then sent me the following pictures. Interestingly he noted the Cessna 650 Citation IV “I-BLUB” involved in a series of approaches to the runway 31 in a typical navaids calibration mission. The civilian aircraft, owned by Vitrociset company, carries special equipment needed for radio calibration of the navigational aids, a mission that the Citation performs both in Italy and abroad (for example, the aircraft operated from Malta, Brussels and Damascus in the past). The aircraft often operate with the Italian Air Force and the other Armed Forces: it was used as a simulated target for the Eurofighter QRA for a video of the Troupe Azzurra and it also performed some sorties with the Garibaldi aircraft carrier to calibrate the ship’ systems.

What is interesting is that the aircraft was probably performing radio calibration in the homebase of the 71° Gruppo, the Squadron belonging to the locally-based 14° Stormo, that performs that same kind of mission within the Aeronautica Militare. The Sqn, once the only one within the ItAF specialized in Electronic Warfare missions with the PD.808GE (see also: “71° Gruppo: the Electronic Warfare “made in Italy”) is currently a multi-purpose unit, performing a wide variety of missions: not only radio calibration, but also transportation, MEDEVAC and aerophot0grammetry. It is equipped with both P.180s, P166DL3 and MB.339CD.

Dealing with the radio calibration, although the employment of an jet as the 339CD with a small RCS (Radar Cross Section) enables the execution of controls on the accuracy of the GCAs and other radars, aircraft currently operating with the 71° Gruppo are not equipped to control some critical systems like the ILS (Instrumental Landing System), the TACAN and the DME. For this reason, such tasks are performed by the Vitrociset Cessna 650 Citation IV until the 14° Stormo receives in 2010 the first of 4 P180 upgraded with the Flight Inspection System. It was in fact announced at Farnborough on Jul 14, that Piaggio Aero Industries will modernize 4 P.180 that will integrate the integrate the UNIFIS 3000 flight Inspection system. Piaggio Aero and the Italian Air Force have chosen the UNIFIS 3000 by NSM (Norwegian Special Mission) system that will provide functionality to calibrate all civil and military Communication, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) systems, including MLS and GPS based navigation.

The positioning system is a hybrid solution that uses advanced image processing from a camera system, integrated with Inertial Reference Unit (IRU) and GPS. This gives the operator, that will operate in the unobstructed space within the P.180’s stand up cabin area behind the cockpit, the possibility to calibrate the navaids with high accuracy and without the need or any ground support equipment.

Even if the Italian Air force is the inaugural customer for the P.180 Flight Inspection, other Agencies have expressed interest for the new version of the “Avanti” aircraft.

To read my report on the 71° Gruppo published by Air Forces Monthly in the January 2008 issue, click here: “71° Gruppo: Master of many tasks”.

The following pictures were taken during the flight and visits, one in April 2006 and the other in September 2007, at the 71° Gruppo for the reports I wrote for RID and AFM.