Having examined the helicopter flying training facilities of the 72° Stormo at Frosinone, the obvious next step takes us to the school that offers basic fixed wing flying training, and results in a visit to the flying school at Latina.
The 70° Stormo is based at Latina airfield, and is dedicated to the memory of Capitano Pilota Enrico Comani, holder of the Medaglia d'Oro al Valore Aeronautico awarded posthumously in 1938 following a 7.000 km non-stop flight performed between 28 and 29 December 1937 between Cadiz (Spain) and Caravelas (Brasil): the unfortunate Captain lost his life during the return flight from this record-breaking feat. Capitano Comani was also the first Italian pilot to gain an instrument-flying qualification at the Luftwaffe flying school at Celle in Germany, the German facility which inspired the Italians to initiate their own instruction in instrument flying.
Passing through a succession of denominations until arriving at its present status, the 70° Stormo continues the strong traditions of Italian flying training schools, superb producers of excellent pilots.
Today the 70° Stormo reports directly to the Comando Scuole of the 3^ Regione Aerea AM in Bari, and its structure is similar to that of all the other Stormi of the Aeronautica Militare.
As its primary task, the unit at Latina undertakes the selection and flying training of student pilots from the regular courses held at the Accademia Aeronautica. Primary grading is also performed for the Allievi Piloti di Complemento (Short Service Commission Officer student pilots), while additionally the 70° conducts flying training resulting in the issue of the Brevetto di Pilota Militare (Military Pilot Licence) and Air Observer to officers from the Marina Militare, Esercito, Guardia di Finanza and Polizia di Stato. In the section dedicated to the 207° Gruppo, the selection and training of these personnel will be examined in detail.
The Stormo additionally offers qualification and certification courses for Flying Instructors and Examiner Pilots, together with professional training and qualification courses for personnel from the Aeronautica Militare’s fire-fighting service, for those of the other armed forces and State Corps, and for personnel posted to Antarctic operations under the "Antartide" programme managed by ENEA.
During our visit we had the pleasure of meeting the Commander of the 70° Stormo, Colonnello Giovanni Magazzino. A student on the ‘Drago IV’ Course at the Accademia, he gained his Brevetto di Pilota Militare in 1989 at the ENJJPT (Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training) school at Sheppard AFB (Texas), and presently has more than 3.200 flying hours in his log book, undertaken mainly in the Tornado, G 91T and T 37 aircraft.
Colonnello Magazzino began his operational career with the 156° Gruppo Volo of the 36° Stormo at Gioia del Colle, and performed a variety of duties within the Gruppo di Volo. Transferred in 1993 to the 32° Stormo at Amendola, he undertook the role of Operational Tactics Instructor on the G 91T aircraft. From 1995 he served as a flying instructor at the ENJJPT school in America. On his return to Italy, he managed the “Aquila V” Course at the Accademia Aeronautica at Pozzuoli. In the more recent past Tenente Colonnello Magazzino has been the commander of the 207° Gruppo di Volo, and after several other military training roles, in July 2008 he was appointed Comandante of the 70°Stormo, being promoted to Colonnello.
The GEA (Gruppo Efficienza Aeromobili — Aircraft Serviceability Squadron) was constituted on 1 February 2003, based on the former CM (Centro Manutenzione — Maintenance Centre). The GEA, in virtue of the organisation so created, has assumed complete responsibility for the 1° Livello Tecnico (flight line) and 2° Livello Tecnico (hangar) maintenance operations for the SF 260EA, the aircraft manufactured by the Alenia Aermacchi company which entered service as a basic trainer in the year 2006 as the natural evolution of the AM version (designed by SIAI Marchetti, which in 1996 was acquired by Aermacchi). The maintenance programme provided by the manufacturer is built around two fundamental events: the IP (Ispezione Periodica — periodic inspection) for airframe and engine scheduled every 100 flying hours and undertaken on a 2nd Technical Level by the GEA, and the Revisione Generale (general overhaul), a 3rd Technical Level intervention performed every 3.000 flying hours or 10 years (whichever comes first) by Alenia Aermacchi at its factory. In comparison with the old AM version, the new maintenance programme has resulted in both a reduction in the numbers of aircraft on the ground for maintenance and in the number of inspections required, resulting in greater availability of aircraft for the training programme through reduced aircraft down time. The staff of the GEA (Technical Officers, engineers, and civilian personnel) number more than one hundred, and, thanks to the thirty years experience gained on the AM variant are capable of completing professionally and on schedule all the maintenance interventions assigned, contributing significantly to the introduction into the aircraft of those improvements which, in any case, have to be divided with and completed by the Alenia Aermacchi manufacturer, which holds the Design Responsibility. In fact, the peculiarity of the GEA of the 70° Stormo is that it performs, albeit in a limited way, the functions of an RMV (Reparto Manutenzione Velivoli — aircraft maintenance unit) for the SF 260EA, for which the air force has not established a dedicated superior maintenance unit. In the initial operational service of the new SF 260EA aircraft, the AM, using an option already taken up by other state organisations, has contractually devolved the initial logistical support to Alenia Aermacchi SpA. This provides for the supply of spare parts and AGE, repair and overhaul of the same, and technical assistance for all the problems which arise during the utilisation of the aircraft through the establishment of a company facility at the Latina Base.
The GEA of the 70° Stormo, like other similar units of the Aeronautica Militare, additionally performs in-house training of officers, engineers, and technical personnel through its Nucleo Addestramento, supporting both internal staff and those of other units concerned with the SF 260EA and its relative survival equipment (a function normally performed by an RMV). Moreover, it contributes to the teaching of technical material to the student pilots during their training for the Brevetto di Pilota, and to military pilots who require to convert onto the SF 260EA aircraft.
The GEA, finally, through the Nucleo Tecnico Squadriglia di Collegamento, ensures the serviceability and performs a large part of the 1st Technical Level interventions on the MB 339A which are temporarily assigned to the 70° Stormo and its Squadra Assistenza Velivoli, guarantees the provision of services to aircraft transiting through Latina.
What becomes clear from all this is the strict interdependence between the GEA and the flying operations conducted by the 70° Stormo, and in all the significantly important collateral aspects which involve Flight Safety. This translates into the control of all the work phases, the training and instructional content, the equipment required to guarantee the serviceability and controls of calibration and verification, the quality control of the maintenance through a dedicated audit team and, above all, the spirit de corps which reinforces the teamwork that characterises the personnel.
The establishment of the airfield at Latina (initially known as Littoria) dates from March 1939, and followed the suppression of the fields at Cisterna, Sezze and Terracina. Soon after its opening in 1939, the SVSV (Scuola di Volo Senza Visibilità - Instrument Flying School) was created, and this remained in place until April 1943. Subsequently, due to the events of the war, for some years Latina lost its based flying school, which relocated to Linate, while the airfield accommodated several operational units, all engaged in combat missions.
A return to normal training activities occurred in 1955 with the establishment of the SAP (Scuola di Addestramento Plurimotori — multi-engined training school), which simultaneously incorporated the SIE (Scuola Istruzione Equipaggi - crew training school), transferred from Frosinone airfield to Latina together with its fleet of C 45 and C 47 "Dakota".
In 1962 another change in designation caused the Scuola di Addestramento Plurimotori to be renamed the SVBAE (Scuola Volo Basico Avanzato Elica — Basic and advanced propeller training school) with widened training roles, amongst which the formation of military pilots destined to fly multi-engined aircraft. For this task the C 47 was initially joined and later replaced by the Piaggio P166M.
It was in 1974 that the role of the Scuola was radically altered: the unit began to receive the first students coming directly from the Accademia Aeronautica, students who had been selected by the Scuola as possessing potential for flying training. This evaluation procedure was initially conducted on the Piaggio P.148 aircraft, replaced in 1976 by the single-engined aerobatic SIAI SF 260AM, an aircraft which, following an outstanding thirty year career, was replaced in the training syllabus in January 2006 by the new SF 260EA version. A handful of examples of the AM still fly with the 70° Stormo, but will their retirement is planned for 2009. The final chapter of the SVBAE occurred in 1985, when the unit was re-designated as the 70° Stormo.
The SF 260 is the primary trainer that has achieved the greatest success in the global market. It is a two-seat aerobatic propeller trainer which offers the possibility of carrying an additional third person. Its performance and flying characteristics allow it to both serve as an initial pilot selection tool and to fully cover all the primary phases of pilot training.
The aircraft is universally recognised as highly formative, and an effective tool for facilitating the subsequent conversion of the students onto the Aermacchi MB 339A jet trainer. The SF 260 is a versatile aircraft which is particularly suited to instruction thanks to the two side-by-side seats for instructor and student, both fitted with flight controls, and is, moreover, and excellent aerobatic trainer.
The configuration of the EA version is characterised by a modern avionics system and improved cabin ergonomics, and benefiting from simpler maintenance procedures. The electrical and avionics systems include new communication and navigation equipment. The radio navigation equipment, which includes VOR/ILS, ADF, DME, GPS, ADI and HSI, with the instrument panel laid in the classic “T” for both pilot positions, expands the possibilities for IFR navigation training, and enables the conduct of complete instrument approach and landings, improving flight safety and training efficiency during both navigation training and aerobatic manoeuvres.
The radio communications equipment, which includes two VHF/AM and UHF/AM radios and intercom, comprises state of the art systems designed to optimise communications between the pilots and air traffic control. The revised canopy design offers a cockpit that is more spacious than that of the previous version; the integrally illuminated instrument panels are easier to read; cockpit air ventilation has been improved with re-designed air vents and a new air-conditioning system. Some of the improvements over the original version have facilitated the maintenance operations on the aircraft.
Deliveries of the batch of 30 aircraft ordered were completed by Alenia Aermacchi, a company in the Finmeccanica group, were completed in July 2006, when the Aeronautica Militare accepted the last two SF 260EA primary trainers. The hand-over took place at Vengono (VA) in the presence of Generale di Squadra Aerea Giampiero Gargini, Comandante delle Scuole of the Aeronautica Militare, Colonnello Francesco Tinagli, Comandante of the 70° Stormo at Latina, and the senior executives of Alenia Aermacchi, bringing to a conclusion the contract signed in 2005 with the Ministero della Difesa.
The contract included, apart from the development and certification processes for the new EA configuration, the provision of training and logistic support directly at the base of the 70° Stormo. Accompanying the fleet support contractual activity, a logistic support centre was established within the 70° Stormo with the role of cooperating with the Aeronautica Militare personnel in the maintenance of the aircraft. Furthermore, the logistics centre works to delivered complete support to the client, managing the supplies, spare parts, and equipment required for the operational maintenance of the fleet.
Wing span 8.35 mt
Length 7.10 mt
Height 2.68 mt
Wing area 0.10 m2
Maximum TOW in Aerobatic configuration 1200kg
Maximum TOW in Utility configuration 1300kg
Maximum TOW in Armed configuration 1350kg
One 260 hp Lycoming AEIO-540 D4A5
Hartzel HC-C2YK-1BF/F8477-8R two-bladed propeller
Performance (ISA, SL, 1100 kg/2425 lb)
Maximum speed at altitude 182 kts
Cruising speed (6000 ft, 75% power) 175 kts
Climb rate 1800 ft/min
Stalling speed (full flap) 59 kts
Ceiling 6100 mt
Take-off run 275 mt
Landing roll 270 mt
Endurance with two external tanks (10% reserve) 710/1090 nm
Maximum speed 236 kts
Load factor +6g / -3 g
Principal differences between the old SIAI SF260AM version and the new Aermacchi SF260EA
- Introduction of new electrical apparatus (e.g. electric trim)
- Digital instrumentation
- Advanced avionics
- GPS — ILS
- Improved cockpit ergonomics and visibility
- Air-conditioned cabin
Training and the 207°Gruppo
The 207° Gruppo is the flying unit which conducts the training of the students, and is sub-divided into four Squadriglie. With the SF 260EA aircraft, managed by the GEA, it provides the entire training syllabus for the students. The training is obviously conducted by the Instructor Pilots assigned to the 207° Gruppo, all pilots with significant experience, and drawn from every operational unit of the AM. These instructors also conduct a good part of the classroom training in collaboration with ground-based lecturers, the latter selected from Officers and NCOs drawn from the staff of the Stormo. The training staff, pilots and lecturers, perform their role with high competence and professionalism, coupled with excellent technical and organisational support that allows the unit to reach a very high standard of safety and efficiency.
An Aermacchi MB 339A from the Base at Lecce is detached to the 674^ Squadriglia Collegamenti of the 70° Stormo and is utilised by the Latina pilots, and pilots from neighbouring units, to maintain their professional jet aircraft qualifications, with the Squadriglia flying around 700 hours every year.
From July 2006, with the entry into service of the new Aermacchi SF 260EA, the Stormo has introduced a new training regime which offers a significant step forward in respect of the recent past. The new version of the aircraft facilitates the improvement of the training of the course participants by widening the training capabilities of the unit, thanks to the new avionics fit in the aircraft. At present the students can acquire enhanced capacities in IFR navigation, permitting the Aeronautica Militare to significantly bring down their costs with no loss of quality. The new training programmes, which were adopted in summer 2006, today allow the future pilots of the Aeronautica Militare and the other state corps who rely on the 70° Stormo for their initial training, to attain an advanced level of training in all the basic forms of flight. Besides acquiring more complete practical and theoretical skills in IFR navigation than the VFR style of operations of the past, the new programme offer low-level navigation and night flying. In precedence, the flying operations were mainly conducted in the area around the airfield, but today the aircraft of the 70° Stormo utilise other airfields and areas for their training needs. Thanks then to the characteristics of the aircraft, more modern and technologically advanced, the pre-existing programmes have been expanded to include more advanced types of flying, which the students of the Aeronautica Militare previously conducted on jet trainers at foreign flying schools (USA-Canada) and/or with the 61° Stormo at Lecce on the MB 339A aircraft.
The present commander of the Gruppo, Maggiore Raffaele La Montagna, outlined to us the programmes employed to select and prepare the future pilots and navigators who come to Latina. The Maggiore described how a major modernisation impulse, besides the acquisition of the new aircraft, has been the introduction of an information technology system; based on an analog style system acquired when he was in the USA. It allows the management of the student flown through the school. As the course students do not constantly arrive, but in batches of 60 to 65 students at a time, the management of the distribution of the flying hours with the IT system avoids congestion of training missions and allows the instructors and the GEA, the latter managing the aircraft’ flying hours, to distribute them in a way that is more suited to the requirements of the students. Moreover, with these databases it is possible to forecast future flying hours requirements and to manage better both human resources and the aircraft.
The various selection types are:
Phase 1. The student arrived at Latina to train for the Brevetto di Pilota d’Aeroplano BPA (Aircraft pilot’s Licence). After some two to three weeks of classroom activity, the student performs 20 missions lasting around one hour each, plus two examinations: this activity phase is subdivided into three blocks:
1st Block: dedicated to familiarisation with the aircraft, procedures and effects of controls, and introduction to aerobatics, and to the airfield circuit pattern;
2nd Block: dedicated to basic training and the capacity to performed determined aerobatic manoeuvres, stalls in unusual attitudes, and above all aerodrome circuit flying;
3rd Block: dedicated to the consolidation of the capacity to safely and independently conduct a basic training mission from take-off to landing.
At the conclusion of each mission, the instructor delivers an assessment regarding the execution of every single manoeuvre, referring to the standards published for the aircraft. Having evaluated every single manoeuvre, the instructor then determines the overall performance level of the sortie, which becomes an index of the progress demonstrated by the student and is used to assess his/her potential to achieve the requisite standard required by the conclusion of the instructional block. In the case of a student who is unable to achieve the required performance set out in the published targets for each block, a process to verify his/her potential is initiated, which could eventually result in dismissal from the course. In the event that the training syllabus continues without intermediate hiccups, the significant point is the 13th missions, known as the Esame di Volo a Vista (visual flight examination), the passing of which is a fundamental requirement enabling progression on to the third and definitive block. At the end of the third block the student must successfully pass the final EBPA examination, which is again fundamental to progression onto the first solo mission and the issue of the Brevetto di Pilota d'Aeroplano (Aircraft Pilot’s Licence). The 20th mission, known in slang as "IL DECOLLO", is the first solo flight by the student, crowning his/her success, and a consolidation of the faith and security in his/her own individual capacities. This mission has been judged, understandably, by generations of pilots as the most significant in the life of a Military Pilot.
Once the student has been awarded the BPA, the focus turns towards the studies for the degree at the Accademia Aeronautica at Pozzuoli: on completion of the course, the student returns to Latin for the second phase.
This phase enables the pilot to gain the Brevetto di Pilota Militare (BPM) which can be awarded at Latina by the 70° Stormo or at the ENJJPT (Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training) at Sheppard AFB (Texas). At Latina phase 2 requires some 70 hour-long missions, which explore more deeply the mission profiles undertaken under Phase 1.
The mission-types which are flown during this phase are:
VFR flying (with the final exam), instrument flying, pair formation flying (with final exam), IFR navex (with final exam), VFR low level navex (with final exam), mixed IFR/VFR navex, and, finally, night flying.
At the end of the training syllabus the pilot concludes his adventures at Latina and is assigned to the 61° Stormo at Lecce Galatina to undergo phase 3 on the MB 339A, and later, if assigned to the fast jet fleet, completes phase 4 on the MB 339CD.
The Latina facility is also open to students from other armed forces which have the requirement to train their own pilots to gain the BPM Dedicated instructors, in synergy with the Gruppo Istruzione Professionale, conduct theoretical and practical training, utilising for the flying activity P 166DL3 aircraft of the Guardia di Finanza and Do 228 of the Esercito. The Guardia di Finanza detaches an aircraft for the training of its trainee officer pilots, and which is also used for the training programme dedicated to multi-engine propeller training. For the occasion, a special Instructors cell is created within the Stormo, drawing on pilots with experience in transport and anti-submarine units, and they conduct the training on this aircraft. At the conclusion of their training the G.d.F. officers are awarded their Brevetto di Pilota Militare.
Special thanks to Col. Magazzino, Maj. La Montagna,
Lt.Col. Capasso, Maj. Cati and Lt. Ten. Gioia
Also for the perfect partnership a special thanks to the Ten. Testa (SMA Roma)
Images and text by Giorgio Ciarini