The Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) is significantly modernising its flying training. In 2015, Alenia Aermacchi’s T-346A advanced jet trainer entered service and 2016 will see the recently announced introduction of Tecnam’s P2006T for basic multi-engined training. Within a few years, the Alenia Aermacchi M-345 High Efficiency Trainer (HET) looks poised to replace the countries ageing MB-339s and equip Italy’s world famous Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team. Kevin Wright examines how Italy is managing the most fundamental modernisation of its military flying training since the Cold War.
FLYING SELECTION AND INITIAL TRAINING
A young aspirant pilots training includes a three-year programme of first-degree studies centered on the Accademia Aeronautica (Air Force Academy) at Pozzuoli in Naples. This is interspersed with periods at three air bases – Latina, Guidonia and Lecce Galatina – as they gain the needed flying experience. The successful candidates will then progress to advanced training at locations in Italy, Greece, or the United States.
Selection training is undertaken at Latina Air Base, home of 70° Stormo, which is found to the South of Rome. The unit flies the modern twin seat SIAI Marchetti SF-260EA (designated theT-260B by the AMI) and was developed from the original SF-260AM, the first of which was acquired by the air arm in 1976. The last of the 45 SF-260AMs, with their distinctive overall orange paint scheme, were retired in 2009 having collectively flown some 235,000-flight hours and used to train more than 4,500 students and their replacement of 30 or so of the more modern T-260Bs began in August 2005. Improvements included a new 260hp Avco Lycoming 0-540-E4A5 piston engine, modernised instrumentation, VHF and UHF radios, VOR/ILS, ADF and DME navigation equipment to enable IFR operations and simplified maintenance. The traditional orange paint scheme was replaced with an overall grey finish, with the fuselage and a number of wing panels being painted black to improve in-flight visibility.
In the early stages, which finds around 50 students on the course with some 20 instructors and aircraft available, the trainee pilots plan and brief their flights in small groups. First Lieutenant Adreani recently joined 70° Stormo as an Instructor Pilot, having previously flown C-130Js form Pisa explains.
“On joining the AMI Academy candidates for flying training are sent to us to for flight selection. The students programme usually consists of 15 flights, ending with the all-important solo, if they reach the required standard. Our job is to take trainee officers and help them successfully complete their basic, Phase 1, training as pilots on the T-260B before they move onto Phase 2. Those successfully completing flight selection are awarded their Brevetto di Pilota d’Aeroplano (BPA – Aircraft Pilots Licence) before returning to their studies at the Academy in Pozzuli. They periodically return to Latina to develop their airmanship skills.”
70° Stormo also manages initial flight selection training for the nation’s Army, Navy, Guardia di Finanza, Guardia Costiera, Carabinieri plus various other government agencies and even some foreign militaries. Lieutenant Andrea Adrian continues.
“The other armed services and police pilots follow their own syllabus to gain the same qualifications as AMI aircrews. Most of them, future helicopter pilots go to Frosinone Air Base where the AMI has its basic helicopter school. There they learn the fundamentals flying NH-500 and HH-139. Future fixed wing pilots go through an advanced phase in Pratica di Mare on Piaggio P.180s, widely used by the Italian military and law enforcement agencies.”
Ahead of the April 2016 agreement with Italian aerospace giant Finmeccanica to supply 28 Eurofighter Typhoons to the Kuwaiti Air Force, its first five trainees arrived at Latina in March 2015. The successful students are hoping to be among the Kuwaiti Air Force’s first Eurofighter Typhoon pilots, after completing their final operational training with the AMI Typhoon OCU at Grosseto in the next few years.
In recent years, there have been concerted efforts within NATO to standardize and increase cooperation in flying training. For Italy, this has included an agreement with the Greek Air Force to use some of its spare T-6A Texan capacity found with 120 Air Training Wing at Kalamata Air Base to train Italian pilots. The long standing multinational and NATO arrangements that sees some AMI pilots heading to train in the United States on a number of different programmes continue. International cooperation and integration extends beyond aircraft use with an exchange visit with instructors from Latina and their counterparts at the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Aviation School at Woensdrecht being planned for some time this year. The AMI is very keen to see cooperation between the two countries develop further given the fact that a number of Dutch Air Force instructor and student pilots have already trained on the new T-346A at Lecce-Galatina AB.
GLIDING AT GUIDONIA
Alongside their academic studies cadets fly with a unique AMI unit on the small airfield at Guidonia. Previously known as the Gruppo Volo a Vela (Gliding Group) it was renamed 60° Stormo in February 2015 and is organised around a cadre of 8 Instructor Pilots (IPs), plus others who staff the Operations and Planning cell. In addition to non-flying tasks, 60° Stormo provides flight experience for students from the Air Force Academy, continuation training for its IPs and some senior officers on staff appointments at Air Force Headquarters.
60 Stormo° are in fact the only glider-equipped unit in the AMI and operates a variety of gliders, the principal type being the Grob G103 Twin Astir. Gliding is seen as key in establishing basic airmanship skills and providing opportunities for Academy students to gain further flight experience, whilst concentrating on their academic studies. The Twin Astirs, which first arrived in 1984, are the most heavily utilised gliders with additional Nimbus 4D and 4Ms being used alongside LAK17 gliders. Initially students complete eleven glider flights, with the twelfth being their first solo experience, but this can be postponed if students need a little more practice before going solo. Major Simone de Paoli, a 60° Stormo Instructor Pilot explains –
“The purpose of the gliding is for training, not selection, which means students are generally a little more relaxed. They come here in groups of 10-12, for two weeks, working with instructors and ground crews to plan operations, prepare, launch and recover the gliders. Gliding is a very pure form of flying so any problems with technique are difficult to hide, which we help them identify and correct. We assess the student’s organisational, cooperation and leadership skills and the way they go about the whole gliding programme when they are here.”
The venerable SIAI-Marchetti S.208Ms are the oldest active aircraft within the AMI’s inventory and are used at Guidonia to tow launch the gliders as well as being occasionally used as a utility aircraft. Entering service in 1968, the AMI purchased some 44 aircraft powered by the 260hp Lycoming O-540 engine, featuring a retractable undercarriage, two cabin doors and optional tip tanks.
The pilots of 60° Stormo are multi-type qualified. In addition to flying the unit’s gliders and S.208Ms, most undertake regular jet continuation training via the MB-339A and MB-339CD that are regularly detached to Guidonia from 61° Stormo. As one of the longest serving IPs commented, “Where else in the Air Force can I fly as many types of aircraft? On one day last week I flew gliders and S.208s in the morning and in the afternoon I had two sorties in different versions of the MB-339”.
IP Major de Paoli, a rotary-winged pilot with Search and Rescue experience, has been with 60° Stormo for just over two years. He and the other rotary wing trained instructors periodically fly the NH500E to maintain currency.
Lieutenant Adreani explained “Air Force students Phase 2 training location is determined by their Academy ranking”. Those locations are with 61° Stormo at Lecce Galatina Air Base in Southern Italy flying the MB-339A, Kalamata Air Base Greece, or the United States both of which would see the student fly the T-6A. Those on Phase 2 training with the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) programme at Sheppard Air Force Base (AFB), Texas complete just over 100 hours flying the T-6 covering visual and instrument flying, navigation, basic and tactical formation work and low-level operations with NATO instructors. Phase 2 training at Kalamata is slightly longer at around 120 hours and flown with both Greek and AMI instructors. Successful Phase 2 completion sees student pilots awarded the coveted AMI Brevetto di Pilota Militare (BPM – Military Pilots Licence) as are those from Italian law enforcement agencies.
It is at the Phase 3 stage that pilots are ‘streamed’ into their future flying careers. Those entering fast-jet training follow two routes. First is continuation with the ENJJPT at Sheppard AFB for 90 hours on the T-38C. This includes some elements for European pilots that are not provided until later stages in US pilot training, such as ‘fluid maneuvering’, advanced four-ship formation flying and weapons employment exercises. Alternatively, Italian students may join the Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (JSUPT) programme that operates within the USAF Flying Training Wings at Laughlin, Vance and Columbus AFBs, providing similar experience while utilising USAF instructors and aircraft starting with the T-6. Successful JSUPT students completing their Phase 2 training have two alternative tracks for advanced training. A Phase 3 fighter-bomber pilot’s syllabus sees another 119 hours, this time flying with the T-38C, whilst those one on the Phase 3 tanker-airlift track undertake 87 hours of flight time in the T-1A Jayhawk. Phase 3 training in Italy is very similar to those programmes in the US involving some 90-100 flying hours on the MB-339CD across a period of around ten months covering instrument flying, basic and tactical formation operations and low-level work – particularly over the Salento Military Operating Area.
Students for multi-crew aircraft go through Phase 3a type rating training either returning to Latina with Phase 3b at Pratica di Mare on the P.180 whilst those prospective Boeing KC-767 tanker pilots remain at Pratica di Mare for type training. Pilots can also be assigned to Sigonella Air Base to fly the maritime patrol ATR-72MP while future rotary wing pilots train at Frosinone on the NH500 and HH-139 before progressing to operational types for final training. C-130J and C-27J transport pilots move to Pisa AB joining the 46 Air Brigade. First Lieutenant Adreani explained further –
“For future C-130J pilots their training is divided in three stages. First, one month of ground school, 35 simulator and 12 flights to learn the basics of the aircraft (take offs, landings, VFR and IFR navigation). The second stage, operational readiness, includes another ten simulator and ten real flights to learn parachutist and payload deployment techniques. The third stage, combat readiness, includes ten more simulator and ten real flights where the pilot learns low-level VFR flying, daylight and NVG, threat avoidance and reaction techniques, assault approaches and takeoffs. Each stage is completed flying either the C-130J or C-130J-30.”
On December 21, 2015, Italian aircraft manufacturer Tecnam announced the decision by the AMI to acquire three P2006Ts from them for use as multi-engined trainers following an extensive two-year evaluation. The purchase includes aircraft, a flight simulator, training for pilots and technicians plus maintenance/assistance for a 3-year period. Tecnam hopes this is just an initial contract from the AMI. The company is offering the P2006 in a variety of Special Mission platform configurations, including a maritime patrol variant, the recent tragic Mediterranean migrant crisis having demonstrated the need for additional capacity. The company are keen to market the cost-effectiveness of the aircraft, which it says, “provides a flexible, safe and low cost surveillance platform with multiple sensor capability”.
LEAD IN FIGHTER TRAINING
For fast jet pilots the final element of their training is Phase 4 or Lead In Fighter Training (LIFT) which is also known as Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF). It is the last stage before they join Typhoon, Tornado, AMX and before too long, F-35 Operational Conversion Units.
Until recently within Italy, this training phase utilised the MB-339CD, which is an updated and digitally instrumented version of the earlier MB-339A. However, this is currently being replaced by the far more advanced T-346A. The initial order of aircraft for the AMI was increased to 18 in March 2016 with the last delivery due in around two years time. The T-346As arrival at Lecce Galatina saw the first course, for four Italian pilots, commence in September 2015. Lecce has also become home to international T-346 training, for some time at least. In addition to the Dutch trainees and instructors mentioned, there are others from current customers for the M346 – these being Poland, Israel and Singapore. The MB-339Cs airframes freed up by the T-346s introduction are likely to replace the old MB-339As currently used for Phase 2 training by 61° Stormo, with the intention to replace those with brand new M-345s within the next few years.
Further renewal of the AMIs flight training system requires replacement of the remaining MB-339As. Alenia Aermacchi’s proposal is the M-345HET. Its origins stem back to the S-211A trainer designed in the 1980s and it was used by Singapore and the Philippines and saw proposed further development as the the S-311. Now powered by the Williams International FJ44-4M engine, fitted with modern avionics including datalinks, the company expect the redesignated M-345 project development aircraft to fly sometime this year, with the first new build airframe in 2017. The Italian government has expressed interest in up to 30 aircraft, to replace not only its MB-339A trainers but also those flown by the Frecce Tricolori. Alenia Aermacchi are marketing the combination of M-345 and M-346 as a complete ‘integrated training system’ and are said to be exploring a ‘clean sheet’ design to replace the long standing SF-260 design.
Increased internationalisation in Italy’s flying training system, the purchase of new fully digitalised training aircraft in the T-346A, are both significant advancements necessary to prepare crews for newer combat types like the Typhoon and soon the F-35. The investments already made, and those planned, with the M-345 and P2006T, are ushering in a renaissance to the Italian military pilot training system, bringing real benefits in training quality through modern technologies.
Colonel Gianluca Piccolomini, CO 70° Stormo, First Lieutenant Andrea Adreani and Major Simone de Paoli