Author & photographer: Ian French
Pilot training for the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (“AMI”) falls under the Comando Scuole dell’Aeronautica Militare and is undertaken by three wings:
61 Stormo at Lecce-Galatina
70 Stormo at Latina
72 Stormo at Frosinone
All three wings are located in the south of Italy where the constant sunshine makes for ideal flying conditions.
Initial training commences with the SIAI Marchetti SF260EA of 70 Stormo at Lecce-Enrico Comani Airport in Lazio. The airfield was established in 1939. 207 Gruppo operates 30 SF260EA (since 2006) and prior to this operated an older version of the SF260 and prior to this the Piaggio 148.
The SF260 dates back to the 1960s and was designed as an aerobatic military trainer. It is an extremely successful aircraft with hundreds having been built and operated throughout the world.
Prospective pilots for all branches of the Italian military as well as overseas air forces commence their initial training here. After obtaining their wings pilots are then streamed for fighters, transports or helicopters. Pilots for transports will transfer to their respective transport bases whilst the fighter pilots will go to Lecce and the helicopter pilots to Frosinone.
This wing undertakes advanced training at Lecce-Galatina (F Cesari) established in 1931 in Apulia.
61 Stormo currently operates three types of aircraft as follows:
212 Gruppo MB339CD & T-346A
213 Gruppo MB339A
214 Gruppo MB339A & MB339CD
The Aermacchi MB339 was designed as a military trainer and light combat aircraft and replaced the earlier Aermacchi MB326. It first flew in the 1970s and production totalled several hundred aircraft. 107 MB339A models were initially delivered to the AMI. Later 30 MB339CD were delivered to the AMI. The MB339CD featured modernised flight controls and avionics but retained the original engines.
The Aermacchi T-346A is a twin engine transonic lead-in fighter trainer originally co-developed with Yakolev OKB. It features a fully digital fly by wire control system, a very high angle of attack (in excess of 30 degrees) and is highly manoeuvrable. The first flight was in 2004 but deliveries only commenced to the AMI in 2015. At the time of writing this article six had been delivered to 61 Stormo.
Pilots commence advanced training on the MB339A before progressing to the MB339CD and T-346A. The MB339A will be phased out and gradually replaced by the cheaper less powerful T-345A. The current more powerful T-346A undertakes the most advanced flying training.
Helicopter training is undertaken by 208 Gruppo at Frosinone – Girolamo Moscardini in Lazio. The airfield was established in 1936 and is named after a famous pilot who died in 1932.
Basic training is undertaken on the Nardi Hughes NH500E, which is now a fairly basic helicopter first introduced in 1985! 50 aircraft were delivered to the unit. Prior to this the unit operated the AB204 (from 1962) and prior to that the AB47 (from 1953). The basic helicopter conversion course lasts seven months and some 80 flying hours.
Despite its age the NH500E is still preferred today as it is difficult to fly and if you master the controls of this then you deserve your wings! The more modern helicopters, such as the Agusta Westland AW139, which pilots will move onto next, have so much computer assistance that they practically fly themselves. This is good for freeing up the pilots’ time for other tasks but not so good if there is a systems failure. In such circumstances, the lessons learned on the manual NH500E will be invaluable for flying the AW139 with a systems failure.
Special thanks to Mark Forest, Paolo Di Biagio and the Italian Air Force for their help in producing this article.
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