Tag: Italian Air Force

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Two Russian Tu-160s And Four Flankers Intercepted By Italian F-35s, Danish F-16s and Swedish Gripens Over The Baltic

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Tu-160 F-35
One of the two Tu-160s involved in the June 15, 2021 mission over the Baltic. (Image credit: Russian MOD)

Two Russian Tu-160s, two Su-27s and two Su-35s were escorted at various stages by NATO and Swedish fighters in the Baltic region.

Two Russian Tu-160 (NATO reporting name “Blackjack”) bombers carried out an 8-hour mission over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea on Jun. 15, 2021. Interestingly, the two “White Swan” missile-carrier bombers were escorted by two Su-35S aircraft of the Aerospace Force and two Su-27 fighters of the Baltic Fleet’s naval aviation during their trip.

The Tu-160s belong to the 121st Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment stationed at Engels-2 Air Base in Saratov, Oblast, southwestern Russia, the only unit to fly the 14-16 Blackjack bombers believed to be operational with the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The Russian Long Range Aviation (LRA) mission in the Baltic region caused several NATO aircraft in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duty to scramble: Italian Air Force F-35As, Royal Danish Air Force F-16s and Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripens were scrambled to identify and shadow the Russian “package” as it progressed across the region.

The crews of Russian long-range aircraft regularly perform flights over the neutral waters of the Arctic, the North Atlantic, the Black and Baltic Seas and the Pacific Ocean, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Today’s intercept comes less than a week after the first close encounter between an Italian F-35 and a Russian Su-30SM escorting an An-12 transport aircraft flying to/from Kaliningrad oblast, off Estonia.

As already explained, the Italian F-35A involved in the intercept are two of the four Lightning II aircraft, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, that are currently stationed at Amari, in Estonia, where they arrived on Apr. 30, 2021, to carry out the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission. The Italian F-35s, operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia, in support of “Baltic Eagle II” (as the mission has been dubbed at national level), will remain in Estonia for the BAP mission until August.

As a matter of fact, no photographs nor videos of the most recent intercepts were released by NATO and Italian Air Force. However, it is possible that some images will be made available in the next few days (as happened for the F-35’s first intercept in support of BAP on May 14, whose photos were cleared many days after the event), as the number of intercepts increases.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Russian Su-30SM and Italian F-35As Had Their First Close Encounter Over The Baltic Sea

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Russian Su-30SM Italian F-35A
A screenshot of the video released by the Fighter Bomber instagram account showing the Russian Su-30SM and the Italian F-35A.

A video shows an interesting intercept that occurred in international airspace off Estonia.

It was just a matter of time but, in the end, a pretty interesting (and quite relaxed) close encounter between a Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM two-seat multirole aircraft and two Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft, took place in the Baltic Region.

One video and two shots, released today by the popular “Fighter Bomber” (@fighter_bomber_) Instagram account, show a Russian Su-30SM Flanker derivative flying alongside two F-35As over the Baltic Sea, somewhere off Estonia, where the Italian stealth jets are deployed to carry out QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) task in support of NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.

The short clip shows the two F-35s approaching what seems to be a An-12 (like the one already intercepted by the Italians in that scenario on May 14) aircraft that is probably flying to/from Kaliningrad oblast escorted by at least one Su-30SM.

The Italian F-35A involved in the intercept belong to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, the first unit of the Aeronautica Militare to receive the Lightning in 2016 and the first in Europe to achieve IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in November 2018. As explained in details in a few recent articles, the Italian jets have arrived in Estonia, on Apr. 30, 2021, marking both the first time the Italian stealth jets deploy to the Baltic and the first time 5th generation aircraft support NATO’s mission in the Baltic States. On May 3, the Italian detachment officially took over the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the German Air Force Eurofighter detachment, starting providing QRA duties.

The Italian F-35A jets carry out the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service in the same configuration used to support the domestic SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) on a rotational basis, where the SCL (Standard Conventional Load) includes two AIM-120C AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missiles in the internal weapons bay. They also carry RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers (so they don’t fly in stealth mode).

Interestingly, the Su-30SM in the video appears to carry an IR-guided R-27T/ET (NATO reporting name AA-10 Alamo) air-to-air missile. Even more worth of remark is the fact that the Flanker was escorting an An-12: unless this was some special mission variant of the “Cub”, it seems quite weird that the Russian Su-30SM was escorting a simple transport aircraft. Unless, they knew NATO would scramble the F-35s and wanted the close encounter to take place.  Anyway, let’s also wait for NATO to release some details (and possibly photo) of the intercept.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Here Are The Photos Of The First Ever Intercept Of A Russian Aircraft By F-35 Under NATO Command In The Baltics

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F-35 intercept An-12
An Italian Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft intercepting a Russian An-12 on 14 May 2021. This was the first intercept a modern fighter aircraft executed in the Baltic Sea region as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Italy has augmented the collective Allied mission safeguarding the skies above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since beginning of May 2021. Photo by Italian Air Force (all rights reserved).

We have obtained the photos of the first intercept by F-35s supporting NATO Baltic Air Policing mission last month.

As already reported, the Italian Air Force F-35 aircraft deployed to Ämari Air Base, Estonia, to support NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission, carried out their first intercept on May 14, 2021.

The Lightning II jets, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, were scrambled after the Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, detected an unidentified track in the Baltic Sea flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad. Upon take off, the F-35s in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) approached and identified a Russian An-12 transport aircraft flying in international airspace off Estonia.

Initially, no official photo of the intercepted Russian aircraft was released. “Actually, unlike the majority of the other allies, Italy rarely releases images of the “zombies” (as the targets of the intercept mission are called in fighter pilot lingo) taken by the Italian pilots during their QRA launches in support of NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing missions around Europe,” this Author commented back then.

However, responding to a request we submitted immediately after the news of the intercept had been released, NATO Allied Air Command has eventually provided us two images showing one of the two Italian F-35s escorting the An-12 over the Baltics: nothing special to be honest, since the configuration of the Lightning was standard (with RCS enhancers and no external air-to-air missile launchers) and the “zombie” was just a “Cub” transport plane, still interesting, as they represent the only photo evidence of the first ever intercept of an F-35 under NATO command in the Baltics for the records.

Noteworthy, you can also see the pretty distinctive wingtip vortices (similar to contrails) generated by the F-35.

The flaperon and wingtip vortices have long been subject of discussion here at The Aviationist. GAO claimed that these could affect the aircraft’s stealth performance; others suggest these visible “tubes of circulating air which are left behind the aircraft’s wing as it generates lift” may make the aircraft more easily picked up visually by an enemy pilot in a WVR (Within Visual Range) engagement even though some pilots have explained that they are not a factor because if you are close enough to see the F-35’s vortices, you are probably close enough to see the jet. True, although some images taken from the ground and posted online recently of F-35s trailing a tanker indeed seem to confirm that, under certain conditions, those vortices may highlight the presence of the jet from several miles away.

F-35 intercept An-12
An Italian Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft intercepting a Russian An-12 on 14 May 2021. This was the first intercept a modern fighter aircraft executed in the Baltic Sea region as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Italy has augmented the collective Allied mission safeguarding the skies above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since beginning of May 2021. Photo by Italian Air Force (all rights reserved).

The Italian F-35s deployed to Estonia, on Apr. 30, 2021; on May 3, the Italian detachment officially took over the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the German Air Force Eurofighter detachment, starting providing QRA duties.

The Italian F-35s will remain in Estonia for the BAP mission until August, supporting “Baltic Eagle II” (as the mission has been dubbed at national level), operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia. The F-35s will then be replaced by the Italian Typhoons as the plan calls for Italy to support NATO BAP in Estonia until the end of 2021.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Integration Between 4th and 5th Gen Aircraft Among The Key Themes Of Astral Knight 2021 Exercise

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Astral Knight 2021
Some images of the assets taking part in Astral Knight 2021. (All images: Claudio Tramontin)

Astral Knight 2021 was a U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa-led joint multinational exercise that took place in the Adriatic region.

From May 13 to 21, personnel and assets from the U.S., Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy and Slovenia, took part in the latest iteration of Astral Knight, a joint multinational exercise with the “aims to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities, and overlapping operations into the integrated air and missile defense enterprise.”

Astral Knight 2021 saw the return of the drills to the Adriatic theatre after the 2020 edition took place in Poland and the Baltic area.

This year, participating aircraft, based at Aviano AB, Italy, and several other locations across the region, included the U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle belonging to the 492rd Fighter Squadron, deployed to Larissa, Greece; F-16 Fighting Falcon jets and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters belonging to the 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano; C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from various bases; Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft belonging to the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola AB; Hellenic Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon and Emb-145 Erieye aircraft; and Croatian MiG-21 BisD/UMD aircraft.

Astral Knight 2021
F-16 in Have Glass V paint scheme.

A NATO E-3 AWACS and several KC-135 and KC-46 tankers also supported the exercise flying their racetracks over Italy and the Adriatic Sea, where they could be tracked online on an almost daily basis by means of their Mode-S transponders. Interestingly, online flight tracking apps and websites exposed also the presence, over Croatia, of an “unannounced” USAF E-8J Joint STARS, most probably involved in the drills.

“[Astral Knight 2021] is USAFE’S exercise for integrated missile defense,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Richard Greer, 31st Fighter Wing AK21 exercise planner. “The [exercise participants] are linking all of their command and control nodes together to be able to show a combined radar picture.”

Astral Knight 2021
F-16 taxiing.

The integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) exercise focused on defending key terrain, and scheduled training involved a combination of flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios.

This year’s edition of Astral Knight was also linked to Adriatic Strike 2021, a Slovenia-led JTAC training exercise involving 22 NATO nations intended to develop interoperability joint readiness capability. As already reported, a Spanish Tiger helicopter flying an Adriatic Strike mission was forced to perform an emergency landing after hitting a power line in Slovenia.

Integration between 4th and 5th generation aircraft by means of Link 16 was again one of the key themes of Astral Knight.

Astral Knight 2021
One of the Aviano AB-based HH-60G Pave Hawks.

While U.S. Air Force F-35As (belonging to Hill AFB’s 421st Fighter Squadron) integrated operationally with Italian Air Force F-35As and communicated with each other over the MADL (Multifunction Advanced Data Link) for the first time in 2019, Astral Knight 2021 saw two Italian F-35As deploy for the first time to Aviano AB, where they were cross-serviced by eleven F-35 crew chiefs from Hill, Eglin, Eielson and Luke Air Force Bases.

Astral Knight 2021
One of the two Italian F-35s landing at Aviano AB on May 20, 2021.

The two Italian Lightnings, including the latest delivered airframe coded 32-13 with special tail markings, made their first landing at Aviano AB on May 20, 2021.

“We started off with hot-pit refueling and interoperation servicing (IOS),” U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Drace Bertrand, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-35 crew chief said. “We had ITAF members here with us, just in case anything went wrong. We then sent the jet up to perform another mission after the IOS.”

Some interesting details about the participation of the ItAF F-35s in AK21 were released by the U.S. Air Force:

“I was flying in AK19 with the [ITAF] squadron and a [U.S. F-35s] with my former students over the Adriatic Sea,” said ‘Decker,’ ITAF 13th Squadron commander. “I felt at home in a perfect comfort zone, sharing plans is a strength for conducting operations.”

During this multinational exercise, they had the opportunity to strengthen and improve communication, partnerships and operational capabilities.

“The opportunity to put together activities, efforts and experiences is one of the added values of this [exercise],” said Decker. “It give us the chance to operate together in a harmonized scenario that satisfies the needs from all the players.”

Decker, one of the first two ITAF instructor pilots who trained on the F-35 in 2016, spoke on the F-35’s capability for interoperability with older aircraft such as F-16 Fighting Falcons during AK21.

“The Italian air force is strongly focused on the integration activity between 4th and 5th-generation aircraft, with a particular focus on the ways in which systems, including the fundamental chain of command and control, are able to interact, communicate, integrate and help each other,” said Decker.

The Italian F-35s, equipped with both the MADL and Link 16, communicated with legacy aircraft and performed the function of “enhancers” of previous generation platforms.

AK21 builds upon nations’ joint capabilities, ensuring enhanced interoperability. Decker said he has high expectations for future Astral Knight exercises.

“The more exercises like [AK21] that are in place, the more partnerships will strengthen and the more we become a unified force ready to carry out the assigned tasks for the protection of NATO airspace,” said Decker.

We had the opportunity to visit Aviano AB during the Media Day of the Exercise. The photographs you can find in this report were taken by our photographer Claudio Tramontin on May 21, 2021.

Astral Knight 2021
Aviano Viper.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Here Are All The Special Tail Liveries Of The Italian Frecce Tricolori

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Frecce Special Tails
All the Frecce Tricolori special tails. (All images: Giovanni Maduli)

The new special tails celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori display team.

On Jun. 1, 2021, the Frecce Tricolori display team deployed to Pratica di Mare Air Base, ahead of the traditional June 2 flyover of Rome for Italy’s Republic Day. The arrival at the airbase located near Rome provided an interesting opportunity to observe all the new special tail liveries applied to 6 of the team’s MB-339A/PAN MLU aircraft, to celebrate the Frecce’s 60th anniversary.

Indeed, as explained in detail in this previous post, all the aircraft assigned to the official aerobatic team of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) are going to be painted with a special tail, inspired by the display teams that represented Italy and its Air Force in the decade before the Frecce Tricolori were officially established.

For the moment the first six aircraft aircraft have been given special colors: “Pony 0”, the aircraft of the commander (that doesn’t take part in the actual show) sports the 60th anniversary logo on the tail, while Pony 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 have been adorned with symbols and markings inspired by the “Cavallino Rampante”, “Getti Tonanti”, “Tigri Bianche”, “Diavoli Rossi” and “Lancieri Neri”, the display teams that in the 1950s were given, on a rotational basis, the task of representing the Air Force at air shows and flyovers in Italy and abroad.

Our contributor Giovanni Maduli was outside Pratica di Mare and took the images of the six Frecce aircraft with the new special tails that you can find in this post.

Frecce Special Tails
Pony 0 with the 60th anniversary logo.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 1 with the Cavallino Rampante (Prancing Horse) tail.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 2 with the Getti Tonanti (Thunder Jets) tail.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 3 with the “Tigri Bianche” (White Tigers) tail.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 4 with the “Diavoli Rossi” (Red Devils) tail.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 5 with the Lanceri Neri (Black Lancers) tail.

As already explained in the previous article, the liveries were created by the renowned Italian artist Mirco Pecorari of AircraftStudioDesign. The project calls for 11 Frecce aircraft to be given special tails: the liveries will be doubled so that the 5 liveries will be applied to 5 pairs of MB-339s with only one jet, Pony 0,  with the 60th anniversary badge.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Frecce Tricolori’s New Special Tails Celebrate The 60th Anniversary Of The Team

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Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The five special tails of the Frecce Tricolori that celebrate the 60th anniversary of the team. (All images by Mercurio Studio – mercuriostudio.com – via Mirco Pecorari)

MB-339A/PAN aircraft of the Frecce Tricolori were given special tail markings to celebrate the team’s 60th anniversary.

On May 23, 2021, the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) unveiled five MB-339 aircraft of the Frecce Tricolori display team, sporting brand new special tail markings. The five surprise “liveries”, inspired by the Italian Air Force display teams that represented Italy and its Air Force in the decade before the Frecce Tricolori were officially established, were unveiled with a video posted on the social channels of the Aeronautica Militare.

The special tails of the five Frecce Tricolori’s aircraft have been adorned with symbols and markings inspired by the “Cavallino Rampante”, “Getti Tonanti”, “Tigri Bianche”, “Diavoli Rossi” and “Lancieri Neri”, the display teams that in the 1950s were given, on a rotational basis, the task of representing the Air Force at air shows and flyovers in Italy and abroad.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The five special colors. To be followed by other 6 aircraft for a total of 11. (All images by Mercurio Studio – via Mirco Pecorari)

The liveries were created by the renowned Italian artist Mirco Pecorari of AircraftStudioDesign, who designed hundreds of liveries for aircraft all around the world (along with custom designs for cars, boats, collections etc). “I’ve re-imagined the emblems sported in the ’50s by the F-86s and F-84Fs belonging to the aerobatic display teams that preceded the Frecce Tricolori, so that they could be applied to the MB-339’s tail”, Mirco told us.

“The project calls for 11 aircraft to be given to the team’s jets: the idea is to have the 5 liveries applied to 5 pairs of MB-339s with an eleventh aircraft wearing a special tail with the 60th anniversary badge. […] Although it looks like they are painted, what you see on the tails of the aircraft are actually stickers: we have made several in-flight tests before we found out the right materials that could be installed on the aircraft, covering the existing paint, and would not be peeled off by the high-speed flying of the jets”.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
Mirco Pecorari of AircraftStudioDesign at the drawing board.

Before the Frecce were born.

The Capodichino-based 4° Stormo (Wing), which had recently been issued with the De Havilland DH 100 Vampire, was the first unit to be tasked with forming an aerobatic team in the aftermath of the war. This gave birth to the “Cavallino Rampante” (“Prancing Horse”) team, the denomination of which was inspired by the Wing’s heraldry. Equipped with only four aircraft, the team displayed in a 30-minute program, which included a simulation of an airfield attack and a minimum controllable airspeed pass with lowered landing gear along with some basic aerobatic manoeuvres such as loops and rolls. The team displayed for the first time in Rome on June 2, 1952, and performed its first transfer abroad to Melsbroek, Belgium, on Jul. 13 of the same year. Their success was such that the Air Force decided to follow up this type of activity.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The tail of the MB-339 inspired by the “Cavallino Rampante”.

That same year, the Villafranca 5° Stormo (which became an Air Brigade in 1953) started to receive its first new Republic F-84G “Thunderjets”. With these aircraft the Unit and its three child Squadrons (the 101°, 102° and 103° Gruppo), was issued the task to form the new aerobatic team called “Guizzo” (after the 103° Gruppo radio callsign). The four “Guizzo” aircraft displayed for the first time on Apr. 14, 1953 at Villafranca airbase, followed by participation in airshows at Soesterberg (The Netherlands), Livorno, Lucca, Caselle and Centocelle and, in 1954, Madrid (Spain), Cologne and Nuremberg (Germany).

Starting from 1955, what had been until then an ad-hoc arrangement was made official: responsibility to represent the Air Force with an aerobatic team, would be assigned to each Fighter Unit on a rotating yearly basis. A team would serve as “reserve” for one year, and as “regular player” the following year.

In the meantime, in 1953, the Aviano-based 53^ Aerobrigata also gave birth to a new aerobatic team. Equipped with four F-84Gs, and initially known as “Bellagambi” Team, after its leader’s name, the team made its debut on Sept. 13, 1953, during an air show at Ferrara, where it was called on to represent the Air Force in lieu of the “Guizzo”, already engaged in Lucca. Decommissioned and re-constituted in 1955, the team was renamed “Tigri Bianche”(“White Tigers”, after the 21° Gruppo badge) and it was the first team to adopt a special livery to distinguish its aircraft from the ones in use with operational units.

Due to the involvement of the “Guizzos” in the making of the movie “I Quattro del Getto Tonante” (“The four of the thundering jet”, after the Italian translation of the F-84G nickname), a motion picture on the life of the team’s pilots, the “Tigri Bianche” performed a long series of successful exhibitions both in Italy and abroad during their first season as reserve team. Among the most important was the one performed at Tours (France), during which the four F-84 presented the downward bomb burst. Once the filming for the movie had been terminated, in 1956, the “Guizzos” changed their name to “Getti Tonanti” (Thundering Jets), taking part in some displays with a maneuver which was created especially for the shooting of the movie: the double roll.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The “Getti Tonanti” MB-339.

In 1957, the representative team was the “Cavallino Rampante” from the 4^ Aerobrigata, flying the Canadair CL13 Sabre MK4 (F-86E), equipped with smoke generating devices which could be controlled by the pilots and a coloured livery which decorated the entire aircraft. Their official debut was on Mar. 27 at Pratica di Mare airbase, while their display on Aug. 31, 1957, at Rimini airbase is remembered for the introduction into the team of a fifth aircraft, joining the original four.

The effective team in 1968 was the “Diavoli Rossi” (“Red Devils”), from the 6^ Aerobrigata, flying F-84F “Thunderstreak”, which had made its debut on 11 March 1957 at Vicenza airbase when serving as the reserve team. Beginning on Mar. 15, 1958, the team displayed with five aircraft plus one solo. With their seven F-84Fs, the “Diavoli Rossi” were present at many air shows. Particularly important was the one at Aviano during which the Italian team measured itself against the “Sky Blazers”; this presentation resulted in the achievements of the “Diavoli Rossi” provoking an invitation to display in the United States in April 1959, on the occasion of the first Las Vegas World Flight Congress. During their American tour, on which the “Diavoli Rossi” flew in F-84Fs made available by the Weapons School at Luke AFB, which were painted in a slightly different scheme than their usual, the team participated in several air displays among which, their last before returning home, was that over Coney Island, in New York bay, in front of a little less than a million spectators, including thousands of Italian nationals who had emigrated to the New Continent.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The original F-84F “Diavoli Rossi” livery.

Meanwhile, at Cameri, the 2^ Aerobrigata’s “Lanceri Neri” (“Black Knights”) Team was created as the official formation for 1959, equipped with six black painted CL13s on which, for the first time ever, the national tricolour appeared under the wings and on the stabilisers. The team displayed at various national and international air events and featured in the longest formation transfer made by ItAF aircraft, taking part, following the invitation from Shah of Persia, in an important air show at Teheran.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The “Lanceri Neri” tail.

In 1959, the 5^ Aerobrigata’s “Getti Tonanti” returned with F-84Fs, initially flying standard colour aircraft on which only the “Goddess Diana the Hunter” logo featured, but which, beginning in the following season, and coinciding with the Rome Olympics, were decorated with the coloured rings symbol of the Olympic Games. Despite the fact that at the time the reserve role was assigned to the 4^ Aerobrigata, in 1960 the Air Force Staff decided to interrupt the team formation rotation principal in order to rationalise the employment of human resources and aircraft. The presence of two teams in two Air Brigades had become unsustainable, such was the effort in training the pilots, which diverted them from operational activity. It was thus decided to create an ad hoc unit which would be dedicated to aerobatics training.

On Jan. 16, 1961, through directive number 5567/243, the Air Staff issued a command for the constitution of the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico, commencing on Jul. 1 of the same year, with home base in Rivolto airbase in the Udine province. In the new Squadron six CL13s were merged with four pilots from the 4^ Aerobrigata team, which in the original plan were due to have been appointed as the effective team that same year. These pilots were joined by others who had already served with the “Diavoli Rossi” and the “Tigri Bianche”. The “core” of these pilots came from the “Cavallino Rampante” team and were therefore entitled to choose the Unit’s radio call sign, which has survived until today: “Pony” – rather than “Freccia” (Italian for “Arrow”) or “Rivo” (after Rivolto), as some had suggested.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
Mirco Pecorari working on the special tails for the MB-339s of the Frecce Tricolori.

Previous special tails.

Back in 2015, to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the team (actually, the 55th display season) the MB-339 assigned to the Frecce Commander was the first aircraft to be painted with a special tail (with the tricolored stripes that cover the whole of it), special silhouettes of the aircraft flown by the team since 1961 (F-86, G.91 and MB.339) and was given the celebratory number #55 in yellow color (instead of the #0 carried usually sported by “Pony 0” the Commander’s plane).

The paint scheme was then applied to the rest of the aircraft and became the standard livery of the team. In the following years, only the individual number changed in position (from the central part of the tail to the rudder) and color (from yellow to black and white).

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Italian Air Force Identifies Russian An-12 Off Estonia In First Ever Intercept By F-35 Supporting NATO BAP

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F-35 Intercept Russian An-20 in Estonia
File photo of an F-35A supporting NATO mission in Iceland in 2019 (Image credit: Author)

The Italian F-35 jets deployed to Estonia, scored their first intercept under NATO command in the Baltic region.

On May 14, 2021, the Italian Air Force F-35 aircraft deployed to Ämari Air Base, Estonia, to support NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission, were scrambled and executed their first intercept.

“The Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, recorded an unidentified track in the Baltic Sea  flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad and ordered an alert scramble for the F-35s mission to identify that track. Upon take-off, the Italian NATO aircraft approached and identified a Russian An-12 transport aircraft executing the first ever intercept by an F-35 under NATO orders in the Baltic Sea,” NATO Allied Air Command said in a public statement.

“The Russian military transport plane was flying over international waters close to the Estonian coast; it was not on a flight plan and not sending a transponder signal causing a potential risk to other airspace users. Upon completing the identification, the Italian fighter aircraft returned to Ämari Air Base.”

The Italian F-35A involved in the intercept belong to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, the first unit of the Aeronautica Militare to receive the Lightning in 2016 and the first in Europe to achieve IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in November 2018.

F-35 Intercept Russian An-20 in Estonia
An F-35A of the Aeronautica Militare launches from Amari AB, Estonia. (Image credit: ItAF)

The Italian F-35A jets carry out the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service in the same configuration used to support the domestic SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) on a rotational basis, where the SCL (Standard Conventional Load) includes two AIM-120C AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missiles in the internal weapons bay.

The Italian jets have arrived in Estonia, on Apr. 30, 2021, marking both the first time the Italian stealth jets deploy to the Baltic and the first time 5th generation aircraft support NATO’s mission in the Baltic States. On May 3, the Italian detachment officially took over the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the German Air Force Eurofighter detachment, starting providing QRA duties.

Italian F-35 Intercept
An Italian Air Force F-35A at Amari AB, Estonia. (Image credit: ItAF)

Under NATO command, the Italian F-35s will remain in Estonia until August, supporting “Baltic Eagle II” (as the mission has been dubbed at national level), operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia. The F-35s will then be replaced by the Italian Typhoons: in other words, Italy will support NATO BAP in Estonia until the end of 2021.

“The integration of the F-35 advanced capabilities demonstrates how the Allies bring their cutting-edge technology and support NATO’s enduring defensive mission in the region,” said Brigadier General Andrew Hansen, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at Allied Air Command, said in a public release. “The mission in the Baltics epitomises NATO cohesion and solidarity; at Ämari, the deployed Allied fighter detachments have enabled us at AIRCOM to flexibly conduct the mission and at the same time assure the Baltic populations of NATO’s commitment,” General Hansen added.

F-35 Intercept Russian An-20 in Estonia
File photo of an F-35A about to launch for a QRA mission from Keflavik International Airport during the 2019 deployment in support of NATO Icelandic Air Policing. Note the AIM-120C inside the weapons bay (Image credit: Author)

Although it’s the first time they operate from Estonia, the Italian Air Force F-35A jets have already supported NATO Air Policing mission in Iceland twice: the first time was in 2019, the second in 2020, when the Italian Lightnings scrambled for the first time to intercept a formation of three Russian Tu-142s. As happened back then, no official photo of the intercepted Russian aircraft has been released. Actually, unlike the majority of the other allies, Italy rarely releases images of the “zombies” (as the targets of the intercept mission are called in fighter pilot lingo) taken by the Italian pilots during their QRA launches in support of NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing missions around Europe.

F-35 Intercept Russian An-20 in Estonia
An Italian Air Force F-35A at Amari AB, Estonia. (Image credit: ItAF)

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Take A Look At These Amazing Photos Of Yesterday’s NATO Tiger Meet 2021 Spotter Day

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NTM 2021 Spotters Day
Some of the highlights of the NTM2021 Spotter Day. (All images David Parody unless otherwise stated)

The second Spotter Day of NATO Tiger Meet (NTM) 2021 was held yesterday at Beja Air Base, Portugal. And here are some gorgeous shots.

The flying segment of this year’s edition of NATO Tiger Meet (NTM) 2021, organized by the Portuguese Air Force, at Beja Air Base, ended today, May 13, 2021, at lunch time. Some transports have already arrived at Air Base No. 11 (BA11) to pick things up as the drills officially finishes tomorrow.

We have already provided a lot of details about the exercise in a previous post we published after our correspondent David Parody, attended the exercise’s Media Day on May 3. David went again to Beja AB on May 12, for the second Spotter Day arranged by the Portuguese Air Force and NTM 2021’s host unit, the Squadron 301 “Jaguares”.

According to the Portuguese Air Force, about 160 photography and military aviation enthusiasts of various nationalities attended the NTM 2021 Spotter Day.

During the morning, they had the opportunity to watch and photograph an “Elephant Walk”, with 23 aircraft taxiing down the runway before take off.

NTM 2021 Elephant Walk. (Image credit: Portuguese Air Force)

During the afternoon, the spotter’s saw more take-offs and landings, including those of the F-16s from Poland, Greece and Portugal, the F-18s from Switzerland and the F-2000 Typhoons from Italy. Along with the fast jets, the Spotter Day featured some pretty interesting helicopter action, involving the Italian AB.212ICO and HH-101A Caesar helicopters of the 21° Gruppo (Squadron) of the Italian Air Force, which operated with the Portuguese EH-101 Merlin of the Esquadra 751.

The Italian Air Force HH-101A
Nice trio of helicopters, including an AB-212ICO of the 21° Gruppo.

Surprise visit was the French Air Force E-3 which just did a flypast. Swiss Pilatus PC-24 and Portuguese C-295 were other much appreciated visitors. Anyway, in this article you can find some of the highlights photographed by David Parody at Beja AB.

F-16 of the 301 Sqn of the Portuguese Air Force.
Portuguese Tiger
Shaka sign
Italian Typhoon. Note the centerline Litening pod.
The Italian Air Force F-2000 of the 12° Gruppo.
HAF F-16 on the go.
Portuguese F-16.
HAF pilot close up.
Hellenic Air Force F-16.
Polish Viper launching.
Special Colored F-16 of the host unit.
Portuguese EH-101.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Libyan Coast Guard Shoots At Two Italian Fishing Boats: Italian Frigate And P-72A Surveillance Plane On The Scene

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P-72A Libya
A P-72A of the Italian Air Force (Image credit: Italian Air Force). In the right box the Libeccio frigate (Image credit: Italian Navy). In the left box: AIS situation off Libya (Image credit: MarineTraffic.com)

The Italian Navy and Air Force intervened in international waters off Libya after a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat shot at Italian fishing boats.

Two Italian fishing boats were involved in an incident about 30 miles off Libya on May 6, 2021. Warning shots were fired at the Aliseo and Artemide fishing boats, in international waters, off Misrata by a Libyan Coast Guard patrol vessel: the commander of one of the two fishing boats was injured, the Italian media reported.

The Libeccio frigate of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare), supporting “Operazione Mare Sicuro” (Italian for “Safe Sea”) in the Mediterranean Sea was dispatched to assist the fishing boats. Operation “Mare Sicuro” was established in 2015, is a mission of the Italian Navy aimed at ensuring maritime security in the Central Mediterranean Sea – an area of major national interest – launched following the worsening of the Libyan crisis in order to provide presence, surveillance and maritime security, and to ensure freedom of navigation, according to national legislation and international agreements in force.

According to the Italian Navy, the Libeccio frigate was instructed to assist a group of three fishing boats (Artemide, Aliseo and Nuovo Cosimo) which were conducting fishing activities in the waters of Tripolitania,  within the “high risk” zone defined by the Interministerial Coordination Committee for Safety of Transport and Infrastructure  located 35 nautical miles from the Libyan coast, north of the city of Al Khums.

The intervention of the Italian Navy warship was requested due to the presence of a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat rapidly approaching the Italian fishing boats.

Nave Libeccio, which at the time of the report was about 60 miles from the scene, headed towards the fishing boats at maximum speed and sent the helicopter, which reached the area and made radio contact with the patrol boat personnel.

The Libeccio frigate, which arrived in the vicinity of the fishing boats, received news of the presence of a seaman aboard Aliseo who was wounded in the arm.

Currently the fishing boats Artemide and Nuovo Cosimo are safely sailing northbound towards Mazara del Vallo harbour. The Libeccio frigate remained in support of the Aliseo fishing boat as the commander had been transhipped by Libyan personnel on board the patrol boat for medical checks and later released. The Aliseo fishing boat is currently free.

The P-72A

To verify the situation, a P-72A MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) was also dispatched to the area: the aircraft observed some warning shots from the Libyan patrol boat.

The aircraft, that operates a mixed Air Force/Navy crew, belongs to the 41° Stormo (Wing) an Italian Air Force unit based at Sigonella Air Base, in Sicily. The P-72A is a military variant of the ATR 72-600. The Italian Air Force has received four P-72s that the service has used to replace the Breguet BR1150 Atlantic.

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

P-72A Libya
The Atlantic and the P-72 flew alongside during the very last flight of the Atlantic, from Sigonella to Pratica di Mare on Nov. 22, 2017. (Image credit: Italian Air Force)

Previous incidents

The firing of warning shots at the Italian fishing boats is just the latest in a series of incidents in the troubled waters located within the ZPP (Zona Protezione Pesca – Fishing Protection Zone) unilaterally declared by Libya in 2005 with the intention of exercising sovereign rights over fishing resources.

Last year, the Antartide and Medinea fishing boats, were seized with eighteen seafarers on board and remained in Libya for 108 days before being able to return home on Dec. 20, 2020.

A few days ago, in the same area, the Italian Navy FREEM frigate Alpino was dispatched to protect a group of 7 fishing boats threatened by a rubber dinghy, coming from Cirenaica. The attempted seizure was averted by the timely intervention of the Alpino warship.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

We Have Been To NATO Tiger Meet 2021 And Here Are The Most Interesting Aircraft We Found There.

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NATO Tiger Meet 2021 Beja
The special F-16 of the Portuguese Air Force. (All images: David Parody)

Our correspondent David Parody went to Beja, Portugal, for NATO Tiger Meet 2021.

NATO Tiger Meet (NTM) is one of Europe’s most famous and loved among the aviation enthusiasts community, multinational exercise attended by squadrons sporting Tiger (or feline) emblems. As often explained, although it usually includes Spotters/Media Day and, sometimes, an Open Day for general public, NTM is not an air show: all types of air-to-air and air-to-ground and a wide variety of support missions are part of each Tiger Meeting, whose goals are the “creation of a high-level tactical exercise, where participants can train realistically; practice day and night operations in a multi-domain environment, against air, land and sea threats; maximize integration and interoperability with NATO members & Partnership for Peace Members, and share learning points; creation of an environment promoting the well-known “Tiger Spirit”, which respects the NATO Tiger Association Traditions and Customs.”

However, the main difference between NTM and many other “traditional” exercises is that many aircraft taking part in the maneuvers, at least one (but usually more than one) per participating unit, sport Tiger markings, Special Tails or flamboyant tiger-themed paint schemes.

This year’s edition, NTM 21, organized by the Portuguese Air Force, is underway from May 2 to May 14, 2021,  at Air Base No. 11 (BA11), in Beja. The Portuguese airbase was planned to host the NTM in 2020, but the exercise last year was cancelled because of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Commanding Officer, Major Driller, of 301 Squadron.

NTM21 host unit is the Squadron 301 “Jaguares” of the Portuguese Air Force. At NTM 2019, which took place in Mont-de-Marsan, France, the Portuguese unit, flying the F-16 was awarded both the “Silver” trophy Tiger ”and the“ Tiger Spirit ”award.

NTM 2021 is underway at Beja AB, Portugal.

Nine “Tiger” squadrons from 8 allied nations for a total of more than 50 aircraft and around 1,000 military personnel are scheduled to take part in this year’s Tiger Meet that, as usual, will also be supported by several “external” units, including Esquadra 751, performing troop insertion with its EH-101 Merlin helicopters; and the civilian Cobham Aviation with its Special Mission Falcon 20 jet.

Portuguese F16 MLU with squadrons 50 anniversary tail.

The Game Plan

The NTM’s program is basically always the same: two waves are flown, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The first ones are usually the most complex COMAO (Composite Air Operations) and the second ones are the so-called Shadow/Panther missions (the first are performed during the day the second are night missions), smaller scale events which usually involve junior pilots. There are also some night operations, this year planned on May 4, 5 and 6, 2021.

Portuguese F16 MLU with squadrons 50 anniversary tail.

COMAO missions cover the entire spectrum of air operations with broad force involvement as part of the same package: from the air defense of a specific area to the offensive operations against all types of targets (both maritime and land), all the missions require the participants to cooperate and face threats to ingress and egress a simulated contested airspace.

Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet with NTM tail.

Shadow and Panther missions are smaller scale missions, where specific operations will be trained. Some examples are: CAS (Close Air Support), in coordination with ground troops; Vehicle Interdiction or Hostage Rescue, where a helicopter will command the operation with the support of fighters; Basic Fighter Maneuvers (BFM) and DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training).

The Italian special Eurofighter Typhoon.
Tiger tail.

Tiger Meetings also offer some nice exchange opportunity for aircrew to fly orientation missions aboard allied aircraft.

Media Day

On May 3, 2021, our contributor David Parody had the opportunity to attend the Media Day at Beja and shoot the photographs you can find in this article.

Among the most interesting, eye-catching liveries of NTM 21, we can’t but mention the one of the Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon with the 12° Gruppo (Squadron) with the Siberian/White Tiger as well as the host nation’s F-16 MLU jets: the full Tiger special color of the Esq 301 along with the other F-16 Viper sporting the 50th anniversary tail.

The Tiger-themed F-2000A of the Italian Air Force.
Polish Air Force F-16C Block 52+
Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet with NTM tail landing after a mission.
Greek Air Force F-16C Block 52+ with NTM paint scheme.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.
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