Tag Archives: Yearly summary

The Aviationist’s Top 5 stories of 2012

Here below you will find the Top 5 blog posts of year 2012.

Actually, these are not the five articles that got most pageviews: in fact, among the most read ones, I’ve picked those that might be used to characterize the year and ordered them chronologically so as to give readers the opportunity to virtually review the year that is coming to an end based on what was posted by The Aviationist.

Unfortunately a lot of topics that were covered in 2012 don’t appear in this selection including Syria uprising, Israel offensive in Gaza, Korean peninsula crisis, Turkish Air Force Phantom shot down in Syria, nEUROn, Iranian UAVs, X-47B and other U.S. drones. Use the search feature or select the proper category/tag to read all what was written throughout the year.

1) Exclusive: What nobody else will tell you about the U.S. F-22 stealth fighters deployed near Iran

Posted on Apr. 30

The news that multiple F-22 stealth fighters were deployed “near Iran” has already been reported by the most important media outlets all around the world.

However, nobody has been able to provide some important details that could be useful to better understand the scope of this overseas deployment: when did the Raptors deploy? How many aircraft were deployed? Where?

And, above all, are those plane capable to perform strike missions in addition to the standard air-to-air sorties?

Thanks to the information provided by several sources, The Aviationist is able to fill the gaps, provide a more accurate view of the deployment and debunk some myths that fueled the media hype.

The six F-22 Raptors currently at Al Dhafra, UAE, belong to the 49th Fighter Wing, based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. They flew as “Mazda 91” to Moron, Spain, on Apr. 17 and departed again for their final destination on Apr. 20.

Since they spent some 4 days in Spain, during their stay, the stealthy planes were photographed by several local spotters that were able to provide the exact list of all the examples involved in the deployment:

#04-4078, #04-4081, #05-4093, #05-4094, #05-4098, #05-4099.

If they were not willing to let the world know of such deployment they would not make a stopover in Spain, during daylight.

They are all Block 3.0 (or Block 30) examples meaning that neither of them has received the latest upgrade (Block 3.1) that has brought the capability to find and engage ground targets using the Synthetic Aperture Radar mapping and eight GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) to the troubled stealthy fighter.

Therefore they are hardly involved in any build-up process in the region, since their role in case of war on Iran would be limited to the air-to-air arena: mainly fighter sweep (missions with the aim to seek out and destroy enemy aircraft prior to the arrival of the strike package), HVAA (High Value Air Asset) escort and DCA (Defensive Counter Air).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Considered the limited effectiveness of the Iranian Air Force, it is much more likely that the F-22s involved in any kind of attack on Iran would be those of the 3rd Fighter Wing, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Alaska, that was the first U.S. Air Force unit to receive the Block 3.1 planes and has already started training in the air-to-surface role.

Furthermore, the deployment is among those scheduled several month in advance and this is not the first time the F-22 deploys in the United Arab Emirates. In November 2009, some 1st Fighter Wing’s Raptors from Langley AFB, flew to Al Dhafra, to train with the French Air Force Rafales and the RAF Typhoons during exercise ATLC 2009. The episode is quite famous because in late December of the same year the French Ministry of Defense released the captures taken by the Rafale’s OSF (Optronique Secteur Frontal) showing an F-22 in aerial combat. In fact, although the U.S. Air Force pilots told that their plane was undefeated during the exercise, the French were killed once in six 1 vs 1 WVR (Within Visual Range) engagements versus the F-22 (the other 5 ended with a “draw”) and one Raptor was claimed as killed by a UAE Mirage 2000 during a mock engagement.

Here’s the famous capture released at the time and published for the first time by Air & Cosmos magazine.

Image credit: French MoD via Air & Cosmos

2) The mysterious U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle detachment in Djibouti. Are they conducting covert air strikes in Yemen?

Posted on May 11

Although their presence over there is not a secret (since it was announced about 10 years ago and you can see some by simply pointing Google Earth on Djibouti International Airport, as done in this interesting OSGEOINT analysis) what’s still unclear is what eight U.S. F-15Es are currently doing in the Horn of Africa.

They are reportedly serving in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, as an Expeditionary Squadron of the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group, based at Al Dhafra, in the United Arab Emirates, and responsible for the “war on terror” in the region, but what’s their actual mission remains a (sort-of) mystery.

Little information can be found on official sources: among the press releases of the Task Force you will only find a news about the change of command that took place on May 6. It confirms what we already know: previous detachment was provided by the U.S. Air Force in Europe’s 48th Fighter Wing through the 492nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, from RAF Lakenheath in the UK, and the new one, the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, is provided by the 4th FW from Seymour Jonhnson AFB, NC.

By the way, the Strike Eagles recently spotted at Moron airbase, Spain, were on their ferry flight to Camp Lemonnier and not to Afghanistan (as initially believed).

Image credit: Air Force

Even if the American military presence across the world is usually very well advertised, the U.S. keep a low profile on the operations launched by the Air Force’s Strike Eagles from Eastern Africa.

The reason for such prudence maybe that, along with the Reaper drones, even the F-15Es are conducting air strikes in Yemen (and Somalia).

Indeed, counter terrorism operations with attacks aimed at Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including drone strikes but also naval bombardments, cruise missiles and air strikes, have increased a lot in the last years: the most recent air strikes brought the 2012 total to more than 15, about as many in the previous 10 years combined.

Some of the air strikes in Yemen were reportedly launched with the support of warplanes believed to be Yemeni Air Force ones. But there are also chances that U.S. conventional planes have been involved in air-to-surface operations officially or unofficially credited to the Yemeni government.

As happened on Mar. 11, 2012, when local residents reported that planes bombarded the town and a senior Yemeni official confirmed the U.S. inolvement by saying that “The U.S. did not inform us on the attacks. We only knew about this after the U.S. attacked” to the CNN; or on Mar. 18, when an air strike was claimed by the Yemeni government, even if the local Air Force was unable to launch an aerial bombardment as most of its personnel was on strike.

Air strikes with conventional planes are considered less respectful of the local nation’s sovereignity than drones’ attacks and this could be the reason for keeping the eventual F-15E involvement in the area a bit confidential.

Robots can silently fly for several hours and use their few missiles/bombs when needed. That’s why drones are the weapon of choice to fight Qaeda in Yemen.

However, when you need to quickly reach a distant target and hit it with a considerable payload, you might find a Strike Eagle a better platform to undertake the task.

H/T to Guido Olimpio for providing some of the links you can find in the article.

3) Farnborough 2012: “Yesterday we had Raptor salad for lunch” Typhoon pilot said after dogfighting with the F-22 at Red Flag Alaska

Posted on Jul. 13

Although a Royal Air Force Typhoon took part to the daily air display, the most interesting thing at Farnborough International Airshow 2012 was the opportunity to get some more details about the recent participation of the German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons to the Red Flag.

In fact the last Red Flag-Alaska saw the first attendance by both the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptors and German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons.

As we have already reported, the Typhoons and the Raptor had the opportunity engage each other in dissimilar air combat training but only a part of the story about the outcome of the mock engagements has been reported so far: the one about the German commander saying that the F-22’s capabilities are “overwhelming,” a statement that, according to Eurofighter sources, was taken out of context.

Indeed, Typhoon pilots at Farnborough said that, when flying without their external fuel tanks, in the WVR (Within Visual Range) arena, the Eurofighter not only held its own, but proved to be better than the Raptor.

Indeed, it looks like the F-22 tends to lose too much energy when using thrust vectoring (TV): TV can be useful to enable a rapid direction change without losing sight of the adversary but, unless the Raptor can manage to immediately get in the proper position to score a kill, the energy it loses makes the then slow moving stealth combat plane quite vulnerable.

This would be coherent by analysis made in the past according to which the TV it’s not worth the energy cost unless the fighter is in the post stall regime, especially in the era of High Off Bore Sight and Helmet Mounted Display (features that the F-22 lacks).

Obviously, U.S. fighter pilots could argue that, flying a stealthy plane they will never need to engage an enemy in WVR dogfight, proving that, as already explained several times, kills and HUD captures scored during air combat training are not particularly interesting unless the actual Rules Of Engagement (ROE) and the training scenario are known.

However, not all the modern and future scenarios envisage BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagements and the risk of coming to close range 1 vs 1 (or 2 vs 2, 3 vs 3 etc) is still high, especially considered that the F-22 currently uses AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, whose maximum range is around 100 km (below the Meteor missile used by the Typhoon).

Moreover, at a distance of about 50 km the Typhoon IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) system is capable to find even a stealthy plane “especially if it is large and hot, like the F-22” a Eurofighter pilot said.

Anyway, the Typhoons scored several Raptor kills during the Red Flag Alaska. On one day a German pilot, recounting a succesfull mission ironically commented: “yesterday, we have had a Raptor salad for lunch.”

Above images (credit: The Aviationist’s photographer Giovanni Maduli) show the Typhoon at Farnborough International Airshow 2012.

[Read also the follow up post: F-22 Raptor kill markings shown off by German Eurofighter Typhoons. “The F-22 is not invincible” saga continues.]

4) Marine Attack Squadron loses eight Harrier jets in worst U.S. air loss in one day since the Vietnam War

Posted on Sept. 16

On Friday Sept. 14, at around 10.15 p.m. local time, a force of Taliban gunmen attacked Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province, the main strategic base in southwestern Afghanistan.

About 15 insurgents (19 according to some reports), wearing U.S. Army uniforms, organized into three teams, breached the perimeter fence and launched an assault on the airfield, that includes the U.S. Camp Leatherneck and the UK’s Camp Bastion, where British royal Prince Harry, an AH-64 Apache pilot (initially believed to be the main target of the attack) is stationed.

The attackers fired machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and possibly mortars against aircraft parked next to the airport’s runway. Two U.S. Marines were killed in the subsequent fighting whereas eight of 10 AV-8B+ Harrier jets of the Yuma-based Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 were destroyed (6) or heavily damaged (2): the worst U.S. air loss in one day since the Vietnam War.

The VMA-211 “Avengers” is part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered in San Diego at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It deployed to Afghanistan in April and relocated from Kandahar Airfield to Camp Bastion on Jul. 1.

According to Wikipedia, the VMA-211 last suffered this level of losses on Dec. 8, 1941.

Considered that the U.S. Marine Corps are believed to be equipped with slightly more than 120 AV-8B+, the attack on Camp Bastion has wiped out 1/15th of the entire U.S. Jump Jet fleet and a large slice of the Yuma-based squadron. A serious problem for the USMC, that was compelled to buy second hand RAF Harrier GR9s to keep the AV-8B+ in service beyond 2030, when it will be replaced by the F-35B.

Furthermore, the VMA-211 was the only Marine Harrier unit in Afghanistan: until the destroyed airframes will be replaced (most probably, by another Squadron), the coalition ground forces can’t count on the CAS (Close Air Support) provided by the Harrier.

Tom Meyer has contributed to this post.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

5) China unveils its brand new stealth fighter: the J-31 “Falcon Eagle”. But it’s a copy of the F-22 Raptor

Posted on Sept. 16

Pictures of a previously unknown brand new fighter jet have started to appear online over the weekend.

Built by the Shenyang company, the new aircraft, could be the answer of the aerospace firm to the Chengdu J-20, whose two prototypes have already become quite famous across the world since the first images of the large, short-take off and landing stealth plane, leaked on the Chinese defense forums about two years ago.

Image credit: Tixue.net

The new aircraft, coded 31001 (hence, believed to be designated J-31) it’s a sort of copy of the F-22 Raptor the most advanced (and troubled), (multi-role) fighter jet in the U.S. Air Force inventory: same nose section, same twin tails and trapezoidal wings along with the distinctive lines of the stealth design. Anyway, even if it has two engines, the new aircraft doesn’t seem to feature thrust vectoring capabilities. At least on this first prototype.

It has also some F-35-like features, as the air intakes and wings dimensions.

The J-31 is smaller than the J-20, from which it differs for the grey paint job and the presence of a colored emblem on the tails (in place of the typical red star) with the text 鹘鹰, Chinese for “Falcon Eagle”

Image credit: Tixue.net

Although it’s almost impossible to say whether the new aircraft will eventually reach production phase, for sure it proves that China has at least two stealth projects for future combat capable aircraft.

Considered all the cyber attacks targeting Lockheed Martin stealth projects in the last years, one could believe Chinese hackers were able to put their hands on some useful technical drawings of the Raptor. Still, it would be the avionics, radar-evading features, equipment and weapons, rather than the shape, to make the difference in a dogfight. Unless the Chinese will build some thousand examples such jets.

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The year 2010 in pictures (500th blog post)

It almost happened by sheer coincidence but I’m extremely proud that the one you are currently reading not only is the traditional 2010 yearly debrief, but it is also my 500th blog post. More than 700.000 unique visitors from every place of the world have read my posts in the last 3,5 years, leaving 1.157 comments and browsing through thousands pictures for some millions page views: an important achievement that I’m glad to share with my large and loyal community of readers. Thank you all for reading my articles (not only on the website but also on “traditional” magazines) and for supporting my work. 2011 holds the usual professional analysis of the most important aviation and defense news and topics and in-depth reports from airshows and exercises plus some interesting surprises. So stay tuned and Happy New Year!

As of tradition, the annual debrief can’t be introduced with different words from those I used last year: “It’s only when you get to the end of the year that you get the full picture of what has happened in the previous 12 months. Images collected during worlwide travels, flights and base visits, used to illustrate the most different stories dealing with the World of Aviation, provide a means to get a snapshop on the most important topics discussed on this site […]”. So, once again after 2008 and 2009 editions, pictures taken by me and by the site’s official photographer Giovanni Maduli during the last year will guide us along some of the most important things we have happened in the world of Aviation.

January 2010 started with the news of an Information Management issue affecting US drones operations in Afghanistan (a problem that could be solved by means of a telestrator and other TV tools used to “enrich” NFL games) and with the report from Gate XXI at Rome – Urbe airport, a trade fair that was announced as the first International exhibition organized in Italy dealing with the aerospace industry, “from ultralight aircraft to satellite development” but failed to live up with the general public expectations. As I wrote, there were a few booths to exhibit airport, aerospace and satellite equipment and just a few airplanes, helicopters and ultralight aircraft were on display on the apron in front of the Corpo Forestale dello Stato hangar. Towards the end of the month, I prepared the first of a series of reports from Decimomannu airbase (probably the most active Italian airbase) while in February I published a detailed article about the Italian Civil Protection (and the Government Aviation) after its chief, Guido Bertolaso (recently retired), 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. After another visit to Decimomannu airbase, during the firing campaign of the Italian Eurofighter Typhoons of the 4° and 36° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) and a German Tornados detachment, I had the opportunity to report from the ceremony for the 87th Anniversary of the ItAF at Pratica di Mare airbase that was attended by the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano, the President of the Chamber of Deputies (Italian House of Commons), Gianfranco Fini, the Minister of Defence, Ignazio La Russa, the Defence Chief of Staff, Gen. Vincenzo Camporini, and the ItAF Chief of Staff Gen. Giuseppe Bernardis. The exhibition was made of two sections: one, installed inside the 14° Stormo hangar, was organised in four thematic areas (airspace defense, international operations, rescue activities and logistic support in national and international field) with the purpose to underline the concept of a “Constantly Modern” armed force. The other one was a static display with a large selection of aircraft in the ItAF inventory: F-2000A and B, AMX-T, Tornado IDS, C-130J, HH-3F, AB-212, F-16B, SF-260EA, P-180AM, A-319CJ, MB-339CD and A. The most interesting event in April was the one held in Cervia by the 5° Stormo to give farewell to the F-16. During the year (in June) the locally-based 23° Gruppo released its remaining “Vipers” to the 18° Gruppo based in Trapani, that will be the last Italian squadron to fly with the F-16, while Cervia became the home base of the 15° Stormo, coming from Pratica di Mare airbase with its HH-3Fs. Dubbed “Con la Diana sul petto”, the F-16 farewell was particularly interesting  because a special colour and a special tail Vipers were prepared and displayed in a sort of mini-airshow that was scheduled to take place both on April 16 and 17, 2010 (although the display on the 17th had to be cancelled because of the volcanic ash of the Eyjafjallajkull that interested the Northern Italian airspace). The “full special” was the example MM7244, sporting a large “Viper” to homage the nickname of the aircraft (an aircraft that was later repainted grey as this picture shows), while the MM7236 had a special tail with the Diana the Hunter in two different versions on the two faces of the tail. Along with many other special colours, the “Viper Special” and the  “Diana Special” took part, from May 3 to May 13, 2010, from Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, to the  STAREX 2010, a multinational exercise attended by 50 aircraft: Italian F-2000s, AMXs, Tornado ECRs,  Tornado IDS, F-16s, HH-3Fs, AB.212s and MB-339CDs of the 61° Stormo (that became famous for sporting the F-2000 kill markings). In May, we attended the Frosinone airshow that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 72° Stormo, the helicopter school of the Italian Air Force. The airshow was also the season premiere for the Frecce Tricolori display team at their 50th airshow season, that performed also during a “private” event, the Finmeccanica seniores (held in 2010 at Pratica di Mare airbase), organised each year by Finmeccanica to give prizes to all its workers with 30, 40 and 45 years of experience in the company. In June, I started commenting the controversial news about the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II, one of the hot topics of the year. Heat and noise concerns came first, then it was the time to analyse the plans of one of the competitors, the F-18E/F, with the Super Hornet roadmap unvelied by Boeing at Farnborough 2010. In November, the F-35B and the STOVL debate began, as a consequence of the British Strategic Defence and Security Review issued in October, that scrapped the STOVL concept by switching the UK F-35 requirement to the C conventional carrier variant and scrapping the British Harrier fleet. In the following weeks, I frequently analysed the uncertain future of the F-35 and explained how the STOVL version of the aircraft should be saved from cut, provided that Lockheed Martin will be able to solve the heating management issues. The JSF was again in my posts following the British Harrier last flight that raised the UK problem of having aircraft carrier with no more aircraft to equip them to ensure a maritime strike force; following the interest of the readers in the F-35 I also decided to translate in English an article I published in 2006 following my experience on-board the JSF Cockpit Demonstrator, an experience that gave me a taste of how the the F-35 flies and fights. After recalling the F-35 saga, let’s return to July, when I published a highly appreciated analysis of the remains of the Sicilian WWII airports (some of which I had the opportunity to watch from above, on board an ItAF SIAI 208M of the 37° Stormo) and a piece, posted a few weeks later, about the famous Nervi Hangars. August saw the  return to Decimomannu for the last ever German Air Force F-4F Phantoms detachment. The “Rhinos”, that arrived on Aug. 2 from Wittmund (visited in October by Giovanni Maduli as reported in the post Wittmund – home of the last GAF Phantoms) and operated from Deci until mid September, were also joined by 2 A-4s of the BAE Systems (former Israeli Air Force Skyhawk that replaced the F-100Fs in 2002) employed for target-towing during gunnery practice. September was the month of the Frecce Tricolori’s 50th Anniversary airshow in Rivolto, the most important Italian aviation event of 2010, attended by about 450.000 people and by 600 media representatives. Some of the most important aerobatic teams joined the Frecce to celebrate the important achievement (raising the question Who are the best aerobatic team?): the Red Arrows, the Patrouille de France, the Patrulla Aguila, the Patrouille Suisse and the Jordanian Falcons. For the first time, the airshow was attended also by the Croatian Krila Oluje Team and by the Polish Team Iskry. Some solos displayed too: along with the MB.339CD, the Tornado, the C-27J, the AMX and the F-2000 of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, and also the Alenia Aermacchi M.346 “Master”. Having attended both the rehearsals (on Sept. 10) and the two days of display, this site provided an unparalleled coverage of the Rivolto airshow, whose complete photogallery is available here. My involvement in the Frecce’s 50th anniversary was direct, with some TV and radio interviews, as I’m also the author of the book “Frecce Tricolori – un volo lungo 50 anni”, published in September 2010, by the DeAgostini (one of the most important Italian publishing houses) with the contribution of Aviator Edizioni, the official publication of the Italian Air Force for the 50th Anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori. The book, in Italian and English text, is a spectacular hardcovered photographic album of 128 pages, measuring 44×30 cm, containing +220 images, that celebrates the fifty operational seasons of the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (Italian Aerobatic Display Team) with chapters unveiling all the “secrets” of the Frecce Tricolori, with information capable of satisfying even the most discriminating taste. The Frecce one was my second 2010 book, being “Italian Starfighters”, dedicated to the F-104 and announced for the first time on this site in March, my first book of the year.
The report about the Rivolto airshow was just the first of series provided by contributors from all around the world: thanks to the pictures and report provided by Ed Armstrong, I reported about the RAAF Williamtown airshow, then about the famous Axalp airshow in the Swiss Alps, attended this year by Simone Bovi, and finally, about the Wings over Atlanta airshow, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, thanks to Moreno Aguiari. In October, I visited the interesting Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace, at Le Bourget, Paris, with its remarkable collection of item spanning some 500 years, from the 16th century to the present days. For sure, two of the highlights of the Museum are the Concordes: the prototype 001 “F-WTSS”, that made its maiden flight on Mar. 2, 1969, piloted by André Turcat and Jacques Guignard and was retired from service after 397 test flights and 812 flight hours (255 supersonic ones); and the Concorde F-BTSD Sierra Delta, one of the last of such type to fly with Air France, that was retired to the Museum on Jun. 14, 2003, 13 days before the last flight of the Fox Charlie (F-BVFC) the last Air France Concorde that landed in Toulouse on Jun. 27, 2003. In November a series of posts provided the full coverage of the Armed Forces Day celebrations in Italy with the traditional Circus Maximus exhibition in Rome (arrivals and departures of the various aircraft included) and a visit on board the Cavour aircraft carrier in the Civitavecchia harbour. In mid November, I flew to Decimomannu again with Giovanni Maduli to report from the Vega 2010 (VEX 10), an exercise that saw the partecipation of the Israeli Air Force with some extremely interesting aircraft:  F-15Ds,  F-16Bs and also an intriguing Gulfstream G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning), quite  unusual visitors in Europe. Needless to say, the Israeli attendance to the VEX 10 exercise attracted the interest of aircraft enthusiasts and spotters who were delighted to see some of the most advanced and rare Israeli hardware at work during their stay in Decimomannu airbase. A gallery of 300 divided into Part 1 and Part 2 can be found at Lowpassage.com. November brought us the n-th Qantas in-flight emergency, an uncontained engine failure affecting one of the new Airbus A380 flying from Singapore to Sydney, immediately followed by another engine failure experienced by a B747-400ER “VH-OJD” flying from Singapore to Sydney. December “hosted” many of the above mentioned articles about the F-35 and the Harrier retirement.
Throughout the whole year, besides keeping the Newstand page updated with my works, I continued posting the various episodes of Airspace Violations edited by Simone Bovi, updated the ItAF Museum page, with information and pictures about the latest additions to Vigna di Valle, and redesigned the picture gallery at Lowpassage.com to improve the user experience. I also wrote new articles for the Information Security section, among which, one of the most read ones detailed the latest information and curiosities about Stuxnet virus brought to us by the ICT Security expert Paolo Passeri.
Obviously, this was just a summary of the year 2010 through the articles and pictures published on this site. To read what’s behind each image the best way is to go to the “Archive of the previous month” menu on the right hand coloumn and select a desired month, to access all the posts written in that month. Otherwise, another extremely quick way is to use the search box located on top of the right hand coloumn, type a desired word (for example: “airplane”, “F-2000” or “Rivolto airshow”) and then scroll down as soon as the new page containing all the article appears.

The year 2009 in pictures

Last year, I introduced my 2008 debrief with the following words: “It’s only when you get to the end of the year that you get the full picture of what has happened in the previous 12 months. Images collected during worlwide travels, flights and base visits, used to illustrate the most different stories dealing with the World of Aviation, provide a means to get a snapshop on the most important topics discussed on this site […]”. I couldn’t find better words for this “New Year’s Eve” post dealing with the year 2009. Pictures taken by me and Giovanni Maduli during the last year will guide us along some of the most important things happened in the world of Aviation.
January and February 2009 were mostly dedicated to the analysis of some aviation accidents: the US Air 1549 successful ditching into the Hudson River, the Cessna 650 misteriously exploded after departure from Rome Fiumicino, the C-17 gear-up landing in Bagram and few minor emergencies. The US Air 1549 ditching in the NYC’s Hudson River provided the input to talk about the airmanship of Capt. Sullenberger, the lessons learned and the differences between the NYC ditching and the Tuninter 1153 a topic that was discussed also in a subsequent analysis of other ditching stories. On Jan. 14 the new Alitalia was born and we were able to publish the first pictures of the dawn of the new company with the list of flights departing from Rome Fiumicino airport. In March, I published new articles of the “A day in the life of….” photostory series: Cervia and Gioia del Colle. During the month, I visited once again the Reparto Sperimentale Volo the Test unit of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force, ItAF), based in Pratica di Mare, the largest italian military airport. Accompayned by Maj. Igor Bruni, one the RSV pilots (and the MB339CD display pilot in the past two years), I spent a few hours on the “PB” apron of the Sperimentale where I was able to observe the daily flying activity. The flight line had many aircraft parked or being prepared for sorties: MB.339A, MB.339CD, C-27J, C-130J, NH.500E, Tornado IDS, AMX-T ACOL, Tornado ECR, AB-212 . More or less the majority of the aircraft types in service with the ItAF were in the flight line of the squadron. In April, we visited again Frosinone airbase to write two reports that were published by Rivista Aeronautica, about the Dutch helicopters (AH-64D, CH-47 and Cougar) which periodically deploy to Frosinone to train in the mountainous areas located around the Italian airport, in tactical low level flights needed keep the currencies required to be employed in Afghanistan. Towards the end of April I wrote my (only) article about the Air India 101. Thanks to a visitor that manages an Indian Aviation blog, I’ve had the opportunity to read an interesting story about the Air India flight 101, that crashed in Mont Blanc in 1966. The article provided some interesting details and a theory, according to which, the B-707 was collided with (or was shot down by) a military aircraft belonging to the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF). I analysed the the story and after reading the report of the investigation board I explained why the collision with an Italian aircraft was, in my opinion, an unreasonable conspiracy theory. That article and the subsequent series of comments was followed with much interest by thousands readers. Among them, the French aviation enthusiast who has spent five years researching and collecting the remains of the plane from Mont Blanc. Other interesting stories dealt with the presumed hack into the F-35 project and about the Italian air-to-air refueling capabilities as a consequence of the KC-767 delivery delays. In May, I published an extremely interesting picture of a Beechcraft Super King Air 200 aircraft with a modified nose section and wearing ATK and Vitrociset markings. The aircraft was the test bed aircraft developed for the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) as part of the AGM-88E AARGM Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile System Development and Demonstration (SD&D). The modified nose assembly carries the AARGM guidance section to support airborne testing of the sophisticated sensor suite. On May 30 and 31 I attended the Rome International Air Show held in Ostia, above the sea, that saw the partecipation of the Frecce Tricolori, the RSV Tornado and F-2000, the 15° Stormo HH-3F, the the Patrouille de France, the Dutch F-16 Demo Team, the Canadair CL-415 of the Protezione Civile (Italian Civil Protection), the P-180 of the Piaggio Aero Industries, the Breitling Devils demo team (with 3 SF-260s), the ATR-42 of the Guardia di Finanza (Italian Customs Police) and the B767 of the Alitalia. In June I had the opportunity to fly on board an SF-260EA of the 70° Stormo based in Latina to write the article that was published on Rivista Aeronautica 06/09. I flew with Enrico Maiorino, an old friend of mine, former F-104 and F-16 pilot, now flying the Siai trainer as Instructor Pilot of the 207° Gruppo. Flying along with us on the other SF-260EA of the “King Formation” was the 207° Gruppo Cdr, Maj. La Montagna and Giovanni Maduli.

On Jun. 8, the 37° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) presented at Trapani airbase two F-16 ADF (MM7240 and MM7249) painted in special colour schemes to celebrate the 1000 Flight Hours achieved by both commanders of the 10° and 18° Gruppo, Maj. Salvatore “Cheero” Ferrara and Maj. Maurizio “Masa” De Angelis. The two “special colours” performed an interesting air display that involved also other 7 aircraft of both Squadrons, comprising MM7239 that is a sort of semi-special having the tail painted with the colours of the 10° Gruppo on the right hand side and the ones of the 18° Gruppo on the left hand side: MM7253, 7257, 7241, 7260, 7250, 7267, 7239, 7240, 7249. The mini-airshow held in Trapani with the two “specials” provided the opportunity to take some pictures of the Gioia del Colle F-2000s temporary deployed to Trapani to perform firing activities in the Sardinian range (Trapani is ideal for such a kind of activity since it is located on the coast and the armed aircraft can reach the ranges overflying only the sea). The Ciampino based 31° Stormo hosted me and Giovanni Maduli twice between June and July for reports that were published on both RID, Rivista Aeronautica and Air Forces Monthly. Interestingly the on Jul. 13, a Falcon 900EX of the 93° Gruppo, serialled MM62171, rolled out at Rome Ciampino with a special colour scheme applied to celebrate the 100.000 flight hours of the locally-based 31° Stormo on the Falcon 50 and Falcon 900. In July, the G-8 held in L’Aquila brought to Rome many interesting visitors, the most interesting of which were the CH-47Ds escorting Mr Obama’s VH-60N. The aircraft made a stop in Rome Urbe airport before bringing the President of the US to L’Aquila Preturo airport.

Other interesting Chinooks were the Dutch ones of 298 Sqn that along with 3 AS535U2 Cougar of the 300 Sqn of the KLu (Koninklijke Luchtmacht, the Royal Netherlands Air Force) deployed to Frosinone during the first two weeks of June during the operation named “High Blaze” to conduct the “usual” low level training activity in the mountains to keep the currencies needed for deployments to Afghanistan. During the summer, I had the opportunity to visit to interesting museums, the Anzio Beachhead Museum, containing authentic uniforms, patches, badges, documents, pictures, articles of the Allied amphibious landing in the coastline area between Anzio and Nettuno, Italy, dubbed “Operation Shingle”, intended to outflank German forces and enable an attack on Rome. The Museum offers many exhibits coming from sea in front Anzio where remains of aircraft, war and merchant ships, landing craft are still lying at various depths. Another interesting place to visit is the Piana delle Orme historical park. Located near Borgo Faiti some 90 kilometers to the South of Rome, the park hosts a heterogeneous and interesting collection that includes aircraft, tanks, locomotives, carts, models, weapons, radios. The museum’s exhibits focuses on the 20th Century. A complete visit would take some 4 hours as each pavilion has textual boards and audio guides (available in English and German too). Interestingly both an F-104S/ASA-M (believed to be the MM6722 as the serial is missing) “9-35″ formerly belonging to the 9° Stormo at Grazzanise, and an EC-119G, visible from the car park are displayed in the area between the two rows of pavilions. The EC-119G is the example MM53-8146 “46-35″ an aircraft manufactured in 1953, employed by the Indian Air Force, then by the United Nations in Congo and later by the 46^ Aerobrigata of the Aeronautica Militare at Pisa. For this reason the aircraft still wears the 46^ AB markings. In 1975, the aircraft was modified and then taken on charge by the 71° Gruppo at Pratica di Mare, and used with radio callsign “Perseo 35″ as an Electronic Warfare asset. The aircraft made its last flight on Oct. 31, 1979 and it was the last Fairchild “Flying Boxcar” operating in Europe.It was initially destined to the Museo Storico Aeronautica Militare (ItAF Museum) at Vigna di Valle, but after resting many years at Pratica di Mare, it was acquired by the Piana delle Orme Museum in 1998. As picture I took in August 2009 show, the aircraft is in almost perfect conditions; furthermore, an hydraulic system allows the rotation of the propellers by inserting a 2 Euro coin in a sort of parking meter.

Between Oct. 18 and 19, I had the possibility to spend some 25 hours on board the USS Nimitz nuclear supercarrier. I went to Manama, Bahrain, and after a long flight in a C-2 of the VRC-30 “Providers” I trapped on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier that was sailing “somewhere” in the Indian Ocean. The purpose of my visit was to prepare a report that will be published in the next months on RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa). The visit provided the opportunity to take pictures of both day and night activity of F-18E and F “Super Hornet” (or “Rhino”), F-18C “Legacy” Hornets, EA-6B “Prowlers”, E-2C “Hawkeye” and UH-60s. Many of the pictures I took during the embark were published on the site (and many more will be published in the future), comprising the impressive sequence of a compressor stall experienced by the F-18C (BuNo 165205 Modex 405) belonging to the VFA-86 “Sidewinders” launching from CAT number 4. The aircraft was fully loaded with fuel and it is carrying weapons too, since it was taking off to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Fortunately, the aircraft was able to depart in spite of the loud bang and flames coming out from the port engine exhaust.
The main event we followed in November was the Italian Armed Forces day which resulted in a series of articles. We published some stunning pictures of the helicopters leaving the Circus Maximus with the background provided by the Ancient Rome.
December was dedicated to the in-depth study of the whole year, that produced this photostory and to prepare the downloadable calendar. Throughout the whole year, I followed with particular interest the latest develpments of the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) F-35 Lightning II, the fifth generation aircraft that Italy plans to acquire in 109 examples (69 conventional take-off and landing F-35As and 40 short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs) for both the Aeronautica Militare and the Marina Militare. I also created two brand new pages dedicated to the Naval Aviation and the Information Security, while improving the existing ones.
Obviously, this was just a quick look to the year 2009 through my articles and pictures published on this site. To read what’s behind each image (and to see much more pictures) the best way is to go to the “Archive of the previous month” menu on the right hand coloumn and, by selecting desired month, to access all the posts written in that month. Otherwise, you may also use the search box located on top of the right hand coloumn.

The year 2008 in pictures

It’s only when you get to the end of the year that you get the full picture of what has happened in the previous 12 months. Images collected during worlwide travels, flights and base visits, used to illustrate the most different stories dealing with the World of Aviation, provide a means to get a snapshop on the most important topics discussed on this site in the 2008. A sort of “debrief at a glance”.


During the first part of the year I often spotted in Fiumicino airport to take pictures of the civilian aircraft taking off from “Leonardo Da Vinci” airport. There are a lot of other interesting things to see at Fiumicino in that period: the first Alitalia aircraft wearing the brand new company’s livery and, in particular, the B767 (B764). In that period I’m also interested in taking pictures of the Emirates B.777-300 since I’m discussing a lot about the safety of the “Triple Seven” fleet following the British Airways 038 crash landing in London Heathrow. The analysis of the possible root causes of the crash landing of the BA038 will be updated and reviewed each time a new report is issued or new details surface. During the year Aviation Safety will be always discussed and most important emergencies analysed: the (many) Qantas emergencies (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/qantas/), the Lufthansa 044 wingstrike (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/lh044/) and the Spanair crash in Madridimg_0044 (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/spanair-5022/) just to name but few that had an extensive coverage.

At the end of February, I spent a few days in New York City and wrote a detailed Trip Report about my experiences on board one of those B767-300 still wearing the old colour scheme: Trip report: Rome Fiumicino (FCO) – New York JFK (JFK) Round-Trip

In March I went Frosinone airbase, to write a report on the 72° Stormo that will be published in 2009 on RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa). During the visit, I fly on board an NH-500E of the 208° Gruppo and to take part, along with another helicopter of the same type, to a mission inside the Frosinone (Aerodrome Traffic Zone). The flight provides an interesting opportunity for some air-to-air photography.

In April I visited the Exhibition held in Rome, inside an anti-aircraft bunker, whose title was “L’aeroporto che non c’è” (whose translation could be more or less “the airport that doesn’t exhist”) that dealt with the project of the Magliana water airport. crw_7587The exhibition provided many interesting details about the Aeronautica Militare in the ’30s and about the airport that was to be built in Rome in a large area located in the SW of Rome (an area comprising the current EUR and Magliana districts), in the period between 1930 and 1940, the Fascism had planned to erect an intercontinental seaplane station equipped also with a “normal” runway needed to serve “normal” aircraft.

The Spring Flag exercise provided an interesting opportunity to fly on board Italy’s Air Force One: Inside the Italian Air Force One: discover the A319CJ. The

A319CJ right wing

opportunity was provided by the Italian Air Force Press Office that organized a Media Flight to bring journlists and photographers to Decimomannu to attend the Media Day of the most important Italian exercise.

Spring Flag was indeed interesting. Media Day aside (with the interesting tactical event and subsequent mass fly-by) this website extensively covered the event, with a photographer (Giovanni Maduli), spending many days in the airport and reporting directly from there. All the related posts can be read by clicking the following link: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/category/military-aviation/spring-flag-military-aviation/.

F-2000As I wrote in one of the related posts, Sardinia island (and most of Italy), during the Exercise was interested by cloudy weather that had a significant impact on the planned sorties. Just to have an idea of the rate of cancellations let’s have a look at some figures: the Coalition forces, based in Deci flew 212 out 373 missions, the 63% of the planned sorties. F-2000 nozzlesThe Opfor based in Trapani were less affected by the meteorological conditions and flew 119 sorties out of 137 planned, the 87%. Even for this reason, one of the Exercise’s lessons learned is that next year the Spring Flag could take place a little later, most probably in May. Despite the bad weather that affected also the Media Day, I was able to take some interesting pictures. As I wrote in the debrief: SF08 was a Joint, Interdepartmental, International Exercise, integrated with some Government Agencies and with the Red Cross. In two week, medium-scale air operations were conducted from two DOBs (Deployable Operating Base), Decimomannu and Trapani. This is one of the main differences between the SF07 and this 2008 edition: in order to create a more realistic scenario, the aircraft crw_7866were not all based on the same airport, so the Red Air was stationed in Sicily, while the Blue Forces were in Deci. Because of the current financial crisis, this year’ SF did not host the field hospital, kitchen and all the logistic assets that during 2007 edition were based in Decimomannu. Unlike last year, when JFACC (Joint Force Air Component Command) managed all the air ops, this year the JFACC split in a DCAOC (Deployable Combined Air Operations Center), deployed to Bari-Palese airport, that managed the coalition forces, and CAOC5 that from its usual homebase in Poggio Renatico, managed the oSMIpposing forces (”opfor”). 52 Italian and 23 foreign assets (and 1.968 people) attended the exercise, performing all range of missions; among the most interesting sorties the SF08 encopassed also Intelligence gathering missions, Combat SAR (CSAR), Slow Mover Interception (SMI) and Urban CAS (Close Air Support). In order to test the handling capabilities of the airport, an ATOC (Air Terminal Operation Center) was established in Deci and operated for 8 days with 12 people providing check-in and boarding services and handling some 600/800 passengers per day.

On Apr 26 I went to Grazzanise for the 90th Anniversary of the 21° Gruppo. During the celebration, the ItAF Tiger Sqn presented a new Special Colour (New Italian Special Colour to celebrate the 21° Gruppo 90th Anniversary) and organizeAB212ICO Speciald an interesting tactical event that ended with the spectacular release of flares by two AB.212ICOs of the 4 ships formation (that was led by the AB.212ICO Tiger Special Colour). I wrote a detailed report on the event that was published by Rivista Aeronautica on the 03/08 issue. You can read the article (in Italian) by clicking on the following link: I 90 anni delle Tigri. You can also read an article on the Squadron activities in Afghanistan, published on June 2008 issue of Air Forces Monthly, at the following link: Burka Tigers.

On Apr 26, during the Reunion, I tested for the first time my Sigma 80-4AB212ICO calendar00mm f/4.5-5.6 EX APO OS DG with a Sigma 1.4x teleconverter specially modified (by me) to work calendario-2009with the AF (Autofocus). I’m pretty satisfied of the results and I’m very proud that one of the pictures I took that day in Grazzanise (a close up on a turning AB.212ICO) was used in the official Italian Air Force calendar (it is the picture used for November 2009) and represents the only picture in the calendar (front cover aside, shot by K. Tokunaga) from an “external” photographer. To read more about this year’s calendar of the Aeronautica Militare, visit this link on the ItAF website.

At the beginning of May I visited Trapani, where I took part in a SMI (Slow Mover Interception) F-16 air-to-airmission of the 37° Stormo on board a Siai 208M of the 637th Squadriglia Collegamenti and witnessed an interception from the “zombie” point of view: Air to Air with the Trapani-based Italian F-16s. The Siai was intercepted and escorted by 2 F-16s of the 10° Gruppo that provided a unique photo oppportunity. During the stay in Trapani I also attended a training sortie with an HH-3F “Pelikan” of the 82° Centro SAR of the 15° Stormo. We flew as “Palma 01″ a so-called “SAR mare” a search and rescue mission above the sea. The mission was extremely interesting: we performed a couple of instrumcrw_8565ental procedures under GCA control, then we performed some instrumental approach to the sea to simulate the approach procedure to the hovering position during a night SAR mission and then landed on the Favignana helipad. Before returning to Trapani in VFR, we made a couple of recoveries from the ground using the winch.

At the end of May I extensively followed the Giornata Azzurra 2008, the most important Italian airshow held each year at Pratica di Mare airbase. Among the most photographed aircraft, the mock up of the Lockheed JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), the UAE Mirages, C130J Giornata Azzurrathe Turkish NF-5 and also the new Punto Abarth of the Frecce Tricolori. Other interesting aircraft were the ROF Mig-21 and AN-26, the Italian SIGINT platform G-222VS, the last ItAF B707 (that in spite of its last operative flight, was still flying some sorties from Pratica di Mare), the NH-500E with rockets and in MEDEVAC configuration. The air display was focused on the tactical event that particularly interesting as it involved HH-3F, AB.212ICO, AMX, C-27J, C-130J, Tornado and F-2000 of the Italian Air Force in a simulated blitz to F-16 GA 2008take an airport located at the border between two fighting countries in a virtual out-of-area scenario. The simulated action saw the Tornado and AMX formations, covered by F-2000 Eurofighters in sweep role, attacking the airport in order to neutralize the enemy air defenses. Then the airport was taken by the Italian Special Forces carried by 2 HH-3F and 1 AB.212 and prepared for the arrival of the C-27J and C-130J carring the personnel, materials and equipments needed for the logistical support of the Forward Operating Base. The base was then readied for the arrival of the other allied aircraft operating under the UN flag while the transport aircraft departed again full of humanitarian aids, escorted to destination by AMXs and F-2000s.
All the posts dealing with the Giornata Azzurra can be read by clicking here: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/giornata-azzurra/.

On Ju 1 I witnessed the tragic accident involving the NH90 of the Esercito Italiano (Italian Army) which crashed into the surface of Bracciano Lake, causing the death of Capt. Filippo Fornassi. To read more about this picture and the accident, visit the following link: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/nh90-crash-pictures/.
NH90 crash

On Jun 20, I visited the Spotter Day for the 90th Anniversary of the 23° Gruppo, in Cervia. The highlight of the event, that was attended by many Italian and foreign visitors (for more details click hereSpecial Colour Cervia: Spotter Day 90th Anniversary 23° Gruppo – Cervia 20.06.08 was the F-16ADF MM7251 painted in a special colour scheme; the first and probably only F-16 “Special Colour” in ItAF service. To read my article on the event, published on the 04/08 issue of Rivista Aeronautica click the following link: Spotter Day per i 90 anni del 23° Gruppo.

During the Summer, I often went to Fiumicino, in order to witness the increase of air traffic caused by the transfer of the 70% of the Alitalia flights from Milan Malpensa (MXP) to Rome Fiumicino and by the Summer season’ schedule that always bring more aircraft to the Leonardo Da Vinci. After discussing a lot during the year about the safety issues of the B747-400 and B777 fleets (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/aviation-safety/),B777 Emirates I often go to Fiumicino to watch some wide-bodies arriving or departing from Rome airport and visually assess their status. Among the interesting details I noticed spending more or less an hour on Sunday Aug. 3 next to the airport’s fence, was the red “Emirates” writing below the fuselage and the URL of the company’s website applied to B777-300 “A6-EMN” (that I had never spotted before in “Fiume”).

Cavour On Nov 9, during the Armed Forces Day celebrations I went to Civitavecchia to visit the brand new Italian aircraft carrier Cavour (see also: On board the Cavour aircraft carrier). The aircraft carrier was next to the Amerigo Vespucci, the famous tall ship of the Marina Militare based in Livorno and used for training purposes. An interesting public tour brought all the visitors on the flight deck on the top/flag bridge (to visit the Primary Flight Control inside the “Tower”), and in the large hangar of 2.500 sqmt capable of recovering 12 helicopters or 8 AV-8B+ (or JSF in the future) or mix of the two types, where a static display of AB-212ASW, EH-101 and Harrier had been arranged.pict1464

In November, I had also the unique opportunity to visit the Tishreen War Panorama Museum, located in Damascus, Syria. Built to celebrate the Yom Kippur War that took place in the October 1973 (”Tishreen” means “October” in Arabic), during which Syria fought along Egypt against Israel to conquer the Sinai peninsula and the Golan Heights lost in the Six Days War in 1967, the Museum hosts both Syrian equipment (aircraft, tanks, cannons) and Israeli “hardware” captured during the 1973 war and in 1982 war in Lebanon.

December was dedicated to the in-depth study of the whole year, that produced this photostory and the article about the accidents that involved Italian military helicopters: 2008: a bad year for Italian military helicopters.
Obviously, this was just a quick look to the year 2008. To read what’s behind each image (and to see much more pictures) the best way is to go to the “Archive of the previous month” menu on the right hand coloumn and, by selecting desired month, to access all the posts written in that month. Otherwise, you may also use the search box located on top of the right hand coloumn.