MariSTAaeli Catania Fontanarossa
The Stazione Elicotteri Marina Militare di Catania (Catania Italian Navy Helicopter Station) is located just a short distance from the city centre, and not far from the volcano Etna, both of which are visible when standing on the aprons of the Stazione Elicotteri. The airport complex at Catania Fontanarossa is composed of the MariSTaeli situated on the eastern side of the airfield, and the International Airport on the side closest to the city, both structures being completely autonomous. The base is named after Sotto Tenente di Vascello Mario Calderara, the first Italian military pilot and holder of Licence No. 1, issued on 10 May 1910. Calderara was born in Verona on 10 October 1879, becoming a famous Italian inventor and aviator: as well as being the first military pilot to gain his licence, he was also the first person in Italy to construct a seaplane (1911).
The story of this pioneer of Italian aviation merits further examination. In 1898, on coming of age, he was admitted to the Accademia Navale at Livorno, and in 1901 passed out with promotion to Guardiamarina (midshipman). He soon developed a strong attraction for flight: it should not be forgotten that during that period the possibilities of placing a human being aboard a flying machine slowly began to come to fruition, thanks to the ideas and early successes of Otto Lilienthal and the more well-known Wright brothers. Calderara himself engaged in intense correspondence with the illustrious brothers, which developed into a profound friendship after the mythical first flight performed by the Wrights in 1905.
From that point the new inventor managed to glean much information and technical details, which permitted him, in 1907, to commence his first gliding experiments in the Gulf of La Spezia. In the course of these trials with a biplane towed by a ship, he reached an altitude of around fifteen metres, only to crash into the sea, where Calderara ran the risk of drowning. In April 1909 Calderara was afforded the opportunity meeting Wilbur Wright during one of his visits to Roma, and to take some lessons from the illustrious pioneer.
In 1911 Calderara designed and constructed the largest seaplane ever built in the world at the time, but to see it fly he would have to wait until the spring of 1912. In the period between 1917 and 1922 he was assigned the command of a new school for seaplane pilots of the United States Navy. Now promoted to Capitano di Corvetta, Calderara was awarded the prestigious “American Navy Cross”. From 1923 to 1925 he was posted to the role, less operational but far more authoritative, of Military Attache with the Italian Embassy in Washington.
At the end of his posting to the United States, Calderara decided to leave the Regia Marina and Italy, relocating to Paris, where he commenced, with some success, commercial activites in the aviation sector. With the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, he elected to return to Italy, and at this point the first financial problems for his family began to occur. In 1944, in his home city of Verona, Mario Calderara passed away after a sudden illness.
The Stazione Elicotteri (Helicopter Station) at Catania Fontanarossa, like the other bases at Grottaglie and Luni, reports directly ro COMFORAER (Comando delle Forze Aeree — Air Forces Headquarters), which in turn reports to CINCNAV (Comando in Capo della Squadra Navale — Commander in Chief of the Naval Force). Comando delle Forze Aeree della Marina Militare (COMFORAER) was formally constituted on 1 January 2000, and just over five years later, on 10 June 2005, the Presidente of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, awarded the Command its Bandiera di Guerra (standard). As its main task, COMFORAER manages the air bases and Gruppi di volo (flying squadrons) which report to it, with its core mission being to guarantee the availability to the naval fleet of aircraft, aircrew, and trained and equipped specialist personnel, coupled with the necessary technical and logistical support.
COMFORAER is, moreover, delivering results on a similar level to an equivalent European force, both for quality and the continuity of its efficiency (16,000 hours flown annually, 75% average serviceability of its aircraft). Its various components, which conduct maritime and land operations mainly from surface vessels are also constantly involved in rescue operations, the protection of human life, and Protezione Civile (Civil Defence). These units have distinguished themselves in various operational theatres and, in the national and international context, in all the missions in which they have played a part. In the course of these activities the helicopters and aircraft of the Marina Militare, mainly through their multi-role capabilities and qualities of versatility, efficiency and availability, have proven to be effective and irreplaceable instruments in the provision of assistance and defence to warships at sea and land forces. Obviously, all these operations support both national and international collective requirements.
In respect of their national requirements, daily the crews and aircraft undertake their institutional roles in support of the various missions assigned to the Squadra Navale (maritime surveillance, anti-submarine and anti-shipping missions, electronic warfare support, amphibious operations, and Special Forces activities), taking part in search and rescue operations. They also participate in the fight against forest fires, support the civilian community in civil defence operations, and respond to any other emergencies to which their training and equipment is suited. The Catania crews fly innumerable missions on behalf of the inhabitants of Sicilia, performing frequent missions to guarantee communication with the smaller islands when they are isolated by bad weather, and are closely involved with the vulcanology institutes, flying missions to monitor the eruptions of Mount Etna.
During the course of recent years, furthermore, there has been an increase in operations associated with the control of migration and fishery protection (VI.PE - VIgilanza Pesca). In this context, the activities are conducted both from on-board ships on patrol and from the bases at Catania and Grottaglie (Taranto), mission which are coupled with the provision of maritime search and rescue.
Command of the Sicilian base is traditionally assigned to a senior officer, normally of the rank of Capitano di Vascello, to whom report the 2° Gruppo Elicotteri, which operates AB 212 helicopters in the ASW/ASuW versions, and the 3° Gruppo Elicotteri, equipped with EH 101ASW/ASuW helicopters, the entire operation being supported by technical and logistical structures which will be more closely examined.The current staffing of the base comprises some 700 men and women, of whom around sixty are civilians. Although limited in numbers, there are women serving on the base: three are basic ‘seamen’, and two are officer pilots. It is useful to turn to the roles fulfilled by the latter two members of the “gentle sex” to illustrate the current situation.Our first subject is, inevitably, STV (Sotto Tenente di Vascello) Pilota Daniela Giordano, Chief of the Headquarters Officer and External Affairs Officer for the base, who was also, above all, the patient organiser of my visit to the MariSTaeli. Giordano was the first Italian woman to be awarded the Brevetto di Pilota Militare. Her career, however, following the Diploma di Maturità Classica gained in 1995, took an initial and albeit brief patch down another road, although retaining an element of her “passion” for uniform; her initial enrolement in service took place in September 1998, when she joined the Polizia di Stato. However, her strong interest in the armed forces, and in particular in the Marina Militare, was turned into a more definite path when, following the approval of Law 380/99 (Institutional Laws for Female Military Service), Signora (as junior officers are called in the Marina) Giordano, following an open competition, was admitted in September 2000 to the Accademia Navale in Livorno for the 1° Corso Allievi Ufficiali Piloti di Complemento (1° AUPC — 1st Short Term Commissioned Officer Student Pilot Course).
Posted to the United States Navy flying schools in the States, she commenced a thorough flying training syllabus which required an initial training phase, designated “Primary”, ot be completed at Pensacola in Florida, performed on the T 34C Turbo Mentor trainer, and an “Advanced” phase at Corpus Christi in Texas, this time on the twin-engined T 44A. It was at this famous school than finally, on 10 May 2002, she gained the much vaunted “Wings of Gold” of the United States Navy, being classified, amongst other awards. Bu entry onto the “Commodore List” (a grading issued to the first 10% of the pilots graduating from the course). In December 2002 she moved to rotart winged flying training (on the Bell TH 57 Sea Ranger), this time at the school at Whiting Field in Florida.Following this “rewarding” but demanding American selection process, STV Giordano returned to Italy and was assigned to the 3° Gruppo Elicotteri. Within the Gruppo she achieved CRB status (Combat Ready Bravo) on the SH 3D “Sea King”, becoming operationally employable on all the activities of the air element of the Marina. As one of the highlights of her career, Giordano will probably remember two significant dates, one on 28 May 2003, when she was awarded the honour of Cavaliere al Merito della Repubblica as the “First Woman Military Pilot in the History of Italy”, reiceiving the actual medal from Presidente della Repubblica Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. The second date is certainly 14 March 2007, when STV Giordano flew as aircraft commander with the “primo volo rosa — first pink flight” in Italy, the first mission conducted by an all feminine crew, comprising: Cre Commander STV Daniela Giordano, Copilot GM Nicoletta Palma, Flight Rescue Operators C3.cl Maddalena Lecce and C3.cl MariaVittoria Capraro. At present Giordano has totalled around 1,000 flying hours, and has been involved in many and diverse training and operational activities with the Marina: in 2008, she commenced type conversion onto the EH 101 helicopter.
The second female pilot present at Catania is STV Lea Norma Bottacini, also serving with the 3° Gruppo Elicotteri. Born in Merano (Bolzano) on 18 December 1983, after obtaining a classics diploma in German in July 2002, she enrolled in the Accademia Navale at Livorno in May 2004. At the end of her studies, she followed the same path as her “colleague” Giordano, resulting in the award of her “Navy Wings” on 28 April 2006: in January 2007 she qualified as a helicopter pilot.
Bottacini was also assigned to the 3° Gruppo and followed the same path, obtaining CRB qualification on the Sea King and subsequently on theEH 101. Today STV Bottacini has around 700 flying hours,registered during participation in exercises both on land and on the carriers Garibaldi and Cavour. The principal peculiarity that marks out the Stazione Elicotteri di Catania is the presence of a high level training structure which is unique within the Marina Militare. This “School” is occupied with the training of all the personnel of the service both as engineers and on-board operators, while for the pilots it is an obligatory step, taking aircrew newly qualified from the flying schools and submitting them to type conversion, training them to fly the type of helicopter in which they will serve operationally. This training activity for crews based at Catania adds to their “normal” operational duties, and makes their workload particularly heavy: this affects not just the aircrew, but also the technical personnel occupied with the maintenance of the aircraft. The entire syllabus is managed by a section known as the Ufficio Corsi e Tirocini — Course and Study Office. All the sections can be explored by clicking on the appropriate patches.
Since 24 September 2009 the Comandante of the Stazione Elicotteri di Catania Fontanarossa has been Capitano di Vascello Giuseppe Galli, born in 1961 at Cagliari.Galli entered the Accademia Navale in 1980, and subsequently gained his military pilot’s wings at the United States Navy flying schools. His career in the Marina Militare commenced with a posting to the frigate ‘Espero’ as a pilot, and subsequently as Chief of the flying unit, and while serving in this post he took part in operations to protect merchant shipping the the Persian Gulf.Between 1990 and1992 he continued his shipborne career, this time on the frigate ‘Alpino’, as head of the flying section. From 1992 until 1993, promoted to Tenente di Vascello, he commanded the transport ship ‘Caprera’, and amongst a variety of activities played a vital part in support operations for the Pellicano mission in Albania.From 1993 until 1997 he held his first prestigious post, that of Capo Servizio Volo on board the destroyer ‘Ardito’, and subsequently was second-in-command of the 2° Gruppo Elicotteri, based at Catania.In the following two years he took a break from operational service to undergo two years of academic training, the first at the Interforce Defence College of the Military School in Paris, and the second with the Accademia Navale in Livorno, where he was a coordinator and lecturer for the officers posted to the Ruoli Speciali (Special Roles) and the pre-pilot courses.In 2001 Galli was promoted again to Capitano di Fregata, and returned to operational service as commander of the frigate ‘Bersagliere’: amongst the more routine activities, the ship was involved in the trials of the new generation Otot Melara 127LW cannon.In the following year, and until 2005, he returned to dry land with the Stato Maggiore della Marina in Roma: over these three years he served as Capo Sezione (Section Head) and Capo Ufficio Supporto al Volo (Head of the Flight Support Office) with the Reparto Aeromobili. In September 2005 Galli was transferred on a four year posting to Toulon in France, as representative of the Squadra Navale with ALFAN (Amiral Commandant la Force d’Action Navale) and CECMED (Commandant en Chef pour la Méditerranée).The Capitano di Vascello has been awarded the following honours:
- Croce d’Oro (25 years) of military service;
- NATO Medal (Kosovo);
- Commemorative medal for the protection of merchant shipping and the safeguarding of liberty in the Persian Gulf.
- Cavaliere dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica.
Ufficio Corsi e Tirocinio
The Course and Study Office at Catania, unique in its genre for the entire air component of the Marina Militare, is the point of reference for all the flying personnel. The institute was created in 1960, when it was realised that it was necessary to standardise training procedures, particularly for the non-pilot aircrew and all the technical personnel. The structure, which is an intregal part of the MariSTaeli, reports directly to the base Commander, and is managed by Tenente di Vascello Gianluca Pasquinelli, assisted by TV Nicola Casarini who serves as Head of the Course Management Section. Both officer granted me the couresty of an interview, enabling me to gain a broader understanding of how the unit functions.
The principal scope of the institution it that of preparing engineers and flight crews which have been identified as potential candidates by the Stato Maggiore Marina (6° Reparto 4° Ufficio) on the basis of their attitudes, previous roles performed within the Marina, qualifications already achieved, and the requirements of the air component of the Marina. It should be underlined that the same Ufficio has also been involved, using identical methods, with the training of personnel coming from the Guardia Costiera, the Guardia di Finanza (until 2007), and foreign armed forces (such as Greece and Brasil).
Another specialist role performed by the Ufficio is the provision of classroom training for the aircrew arriving from the flying schools of the Aeronautica Militare or U. S. Navy prior to their type conversion courses onto aircraft operated by the Marina Militare.
For those students who arrive at the Ufficio Corsi e Tirocini at Catania, the training syllabus commences with some initial evaluation sessions prior commencing the various specialist courses. These tests and practical evaluations involve; identification of the students physical and medical characteristics through physical fitness tests (P.I.F.), a course in sea survival, and some simulated forced landings at sea in the Dilbert Dunker facility (for a more detailed explanation of this facility the reader should turn to the specific section). This initial phase allowes the student to acquire familiarity with the maritime environment, with the safety equipment, and with the escape procedures from a helicopter which, in an emergency, ahs been forced to make a precautional or forced landing. Satisfactory performance in these tests is proof of the condition required to continue the training syllabus at Catania (and it seems that only a very small percentage of candidates fail to survive this first phase).
The theoretical phase has a duration which varies in accordance with the specialisation (from a minimum of four weeks to a maximum of eight calendar months), and is divided into two parts, but both these training phases are conducted principally in the classroom. The first, known as preparatory, is intended to instill the basic concepts of the specific course requirements, while the second results in a more profound exploration of the syllabus, with emphasis placed on the type of aircraft to which the individual trainees have been assigned. At the end of this classroom phase the students are subjected to an intermediate examination set and marked by a technical commission. It is reported that, on average, around 15% of the trainees do not complete the theoretical phase of the training syllabus.
After overcoming this first hurdle, the trainee, having received an initial baggage of specialist material, is posted to the Gruppi di Volo for the subsequent practical phase. Working in their intended role, the trainees perform their activities under the watchful eyes of the instructors of the Gruppo, following guidelines provided by theUfficio Corsi e Tirocini.
As opposed to the theoretical phase, failures or retirements from the syllabus at this stage are almost inexistant.
The training syllabus concludes with a final examination that delivers the Brevetto di Specialista, and is conducted in the presence of a commission composed of: one officer from the Stato Maggiore (MARISTAT), Technical Officers from the Gruppi di Volo, an officer from the Ufficio Corsi and, finally, a Technical officer from theAeronautica Militare. Many might ask what this latter figure is doing in the context of an evaluation commission dealing with military personnel from the Marina Militare: the response is simple, it is their duty of oversight. Without too deep an examination, the AM, since the earliest days of its constitution, has always had legal control of all the national aviation material. Probably those who have read my earlier articles on other Marina bases will remember, for example, the eclectic case of the Helldivers transferred by the U.S. Navy to the Marina Militare which were practically seized by the Aeronautica Militare for reasons of competence!
Having described the activities of the Ufficio Corsi e Tirocini, I will turn to the structure of the establishment, and how it is organised. Each year around sixty trainees undergo the courses. The engineering courses usually commence in April and September, and are subdivided into specialist sectors: engine mechanics, avionics mechanics, non-pilot flight crew, and armourers. There are, moreover, specific courses for Technical Officer from the Corpo delle Armi Navali and Genio Navale (Naval Engineers), as well as courses specific to the centralised control of aviation supplies run for Officers of the Corpo Commissari (Commissariat Corps).
Another activity which is of fundamental importance are the courses provided for aircrew who are required to convert onto a different aircraft from that on which they are qualified; a good example is the type conversion for the systems operators from the “old” SH 3D Sea King, whose mounts have been replaced by the new EH 101 Merlin. In this case, the Ufficio awards and certifies the type rating for the personnel who have completed conversion onto the new aircraft.
There are around 25 instructors available at the Ufficio Corsi, including the forementioned Direttore and Capo Nucleo who, besides performing the normal training and instructions activities for the various specialist categories, are also engaged in the revision and creation of training programmes (subjected to approval by the Stato Maggiore and the Ispettorato delle Scuole), the maintenance of the serviceability of the simulators and multi-media halls, and all the logistical and administrative requirements which support the assigned personnel and trainees.
This “Forced Ditching Trainer” installed at MariSTaeli Catania is complementary to that known as the Helo Dunker which is in use at the Stazione Elicotteri at Luni (La Spezia). Both have many elements in common, but the activities conducted on each of these have their own separate characteristics. To understand those of the Helo Dunker the reader should turn to the following description: VEDI, while for an examination of the Dilbert Dunker the reader should continue here. Work commenced on the construction of the Dilbert Dunker in 1965, and the complex became operational in 1969. After the recent closure of the identical facility which was installed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in the United States, the Catania Dunker remains the only one of its kind operational in the world.
In the main, the complex is utilised for water familiarisation and survival at sea courses, but, and above all, this particular aircrew trainer serves to instruct flying personnel in the management of the state of emergency in which they could be unfortunate enough to find themselves in the the event of a controlled or forced ditching.
To better understand how the trainer functions, it is best that we examine the situation of a controlled ditching, as to describe a forced ditching seems superfluous. In the case of a not too severe fault with the aircraft, the Capo Equipaggio (Crew Chief) orders the occupants to abandon the aircraft, and jettisons any extra material on board: the aircraft then flies about 200 metres away, and is brought into contact with the water.
Compare this with the environment which we encounter withing the structure of the Dilbert Dunker: within the building is a large size swimming pool with a co-located metal structure fitted with a slide, along which runs a mock-up of a fuselage which reproduces that of a jet. Its operation is fairly simple, and a scan through the pictures will give an idea – in any case, it seems pointless to even try and describe it. As we have said, the structure is composed of a slide which extends into the water and a mobile cockpit. Once the cockpit is positioned about half way up the ramp, the individual to be trained is seated inside, and secured by standard seat straps. The cockpit is released from the retention system, and slides down into the pool: the impact velocity with the water is in the region of 65 km/h. On impacting the water the cockpit overturns, and the occupant is upside down: at this point the pilot or crewman places the emergency oxygen supply into his mouth, and then, in order: release himself from the seat, head toward the bottom of the pool to simulate the avoidance of further wreckage, and then move away, all this taking place under the supervison of two professional divers, who stand ready in the event of emergency.
What has been described up to now is the most evident part of the structure , but the Dilbert Dunker offers much more, and we will now examine the details of the courses followed by the participants.
The first course is divided into three sixty hours sections:
-Survival at sea
During these sixty hours, with a maximum of four hours per consecutive day spent in the pool, the trainee should acquire considerable skills in the water, the ability to dismantle, re-assemble an ERAV oxygen supply kit, and subsequently use it, the ability to interact in the water with other individuals, and in the case of necessity to create a team, to utilise all the rescue systems, the ability to cope as a sole survivor, or to take command of survivors and replace the most senior member of the crew in the case that they are dead or incapacitated.
Once the initial training phase is completed, thre final launches are conducted as a final examination in the Dilbert Dunker:
- on the first launch, once under the water the trainee must release himself from the seat, swim to the bottom of the pool, and move away from the cabin.
- the second launch involves the blockage of the safety harness, and once in the eater the trainee must release himself and manoeuvre his body out of the seat and exit the cockpit.
- on the third launch, to increase the level of difficulty, the trainee wears goggles which inhibit vision. The loss of vision, simulated with this device, serves to create a scenario, albeit fairly realistic, in which the trainee, while learning to manage his panic, is taught to make best use of his remaining sensory organs. Operating in these conditions, paradoxically, everything occurs, according to the students and instructors), in almost complete serenity (if it could be called that..). Once the various qualifications have been issued, pilots and systems operators must undergo an annual check of competence to maintain them, while engineers must go through the check every three years. The organisation of the structure comprises a total of nine people, of which one is the Capo Nucleo, five are diving instructors, and three administrators. All the divers have been qualified by the Scuola Comsubin (Comando Subacquei ed Incursori – the Italian Navy Special Forces school), where they receive the OSSALC (Operatori Subacquei del Servizio di Sicurezza Abilitati ai Lavori in Carena – Underwater Dockside Safety Service Operator Qualification) and the ORN (Operatore Recupero Naufrago o Recupero Eli Ammarato – Survivor Recovery or Ditched Helicopter Operator) qualification.
In order to allow the Stazione Elicotteri to function efficiently, the establishment includes a particularly active Servizio Tecnico (Technical Service) which guarantees maintenance support to a notably advanced level (in technical language “to second and third level”) for the two Gruppi di Volo, the 2° and 3° Gruppo Elicotteri, as well as the ground support for their aircraft, coupled with the supply of combustibles and a fire fighting service.
At the same time, the Servizio Tecnico manages and maintains the entire infrastructure of the base and its integral systems (electric power, fresh and foul water, air conditioning, smoke and fire detection, anti-intrusion alarms etc.), including the cable network and IT systems.
For all the activities cited above, the Servizio Tecnico possesses three units which report to the Capo Servizio Tecnico, who is a senior officer (AN/GN) TC/AER engineer:
- General Support (Supporto Generale):
Maintenance of the infrastructure, base fire fighting service, operational flight line support for the aircraft, JP 5 helicopter refuelling section, and base lighting team.
- Laboratory Unit (Reparto laboratory):
The highly specialised personnel assigned to this unit are engaged in the maintenance of the electromechanical material and avionics used in the helicopters based at Catania, and more. They operate in various laboratories: the microwave laboratory (for the radar systems, Doppler navigators, radar altimeters etc,), the sonar laboratory, the TLC laboratory (for communications and radio assistance systems), the electromechanical laboratory (for the maintenance of the electrical instruments on board and the flight instrumentation)
All these procedures are performed by personnel who are highly qualified in working on the test beds, some of which, interestingly, were conceived and developed in house. Another particular feature of the electronic laboratory is a special “white room”, a completely sterile environment with a controlled atmosphere, within which staff can dismantle and reassemble certain navigation instruments (such as artificial horizons, compasses) which are so delicate that if the tiniest speck of dust is permitted to find its way into the mechanism, the correct functioning of the instrument could be prejudiced.
- Control and Test Unit
This unit undertakes a variety of essential activities supporting the operations of the aircraft assigned to the Marina Militare, and parents two sections:
- NDT (Non-Destructive Testing) Laboratory:
This represents a real centre of excellence, undertaking the non-destructive testing of aviation equipment both for the flying units and, when necessary, out-of-area. It utilises several methods: optical, penetrating liquid, ultrasound, inducted current, and X-ray. The NDT Laboratory, within the organisation of the aviation component of the MM is, moreover, the sole centre of training and examination for the award of the various levels of qualification in the NDT sector for the AER engineers.
The tests are conducted in the following ways:
- X-rays are used in the classic way, similar to the medical sector, to examine the internal parts of some mechanical parts of the aircraft, including large dimension components.
- Inducted currents utilise the parasite currents (Eddy Currents) to check for the presence of possible internal cracks or malformations in metal structures, and in particular in the mechanical parts of rotors or transmissions. The examination is conducted by connecting the metal component under test to a particular tester which, through an entry pole and an exit pole passes a current which, when measures, reveals the impedance of the metal: on the basis of the values recorded, the perfection of the material under test can be established.
- Ultrasound is detection system similar to that utilised in medicine. These sound scans can be conducted both on a test bed and in the field, directly on the aircraft, and can vary in their field of application, from small parts to others of larger dimensions by simply changing the dimensions of the transmitter of the ultrasound waves. The basic principal of the device is simple: ultrasound detection is based on the principal of the emission of the echo: the waves are generated by a piezoceramic crystal inserted into a probe. The probe is kept in contact with the part under examination with the assistance of a particular gel which has the dual function of serving as a wave conductor and eliminating the air which would inhibit the correct wave propagation. This diagnostic examination enables the inspection of the structure of the mechanical under test, revealing any cracks or internal factures, and is considered a highly valid system in the aviation field.
- Optical inspection is achieved by the irrigation of the metal parts with a special penetrative liquid and its subsequent drying out: this sets inside superficial imperfections, and with subsequent exposure to Wood light, or UV (Ultraviolet) light, it reveals any possible damage or malformation, faults which are totally invisible to the naked eye, or visible with such precision. I was able to watch the inspection of a small metal component, and the results are impressive.
- Chemical analysis laboratory
Unique in its genre within the AER component of the MM, this laboratory performs checks on aviation fuels (up to B3 type checks) on behalf of the flying units of the MM. It provides, moreover, important support to the naval units which operate from the port at Augusta, undertaking similar checks on the fuel stored in the depots used to re-supply the ships. The laboratory also performs checks on hydraulic fluids and other lubricants, with spectrometer analysis and particle analysis equipment.
The Centro Equipaggiamento Sicurezza del Volo (Flight Safety Equipment Centre) is one of the elements placed under the command of Capitano di Fregata Agatino Catania, Chief of the Servizio Tecnico (Technical Service) of the MariSTaeli. This unit manages all the equipment associated with flight safety, including: individual lifejackets and their associated material, multi-crew dinghies (housing between 4 and 10 people) for the AB 212 and EH 101, lifejackets for the Survivor Recovery Operators, AREV oxygen bottles and their supply equipment, and finally radio transceivers. All these products are subjected to periodic quality control and inspection, together with major overhauls, which up to a short time ago were performed by the suppliers. There is, moreover, a planning and management system which permits the CESIV to maintain its own warehouse. The entire operation is managed by specifically qualified personnel.
History of the Maristaeli
The history of the aviation service of the Marina Militare commenced, in fact, at Catania, as it was the first Stazione Elicotteri of the service to be constituted, and can be defined as the cradle of Italian naval aviation. The date of this historic step was 13 February 1963. The dedication of the Stazione Elicotteri in memory of STV (Sotto Tenete di Vascello) Mario Calderara was anything but coincidental, as Calderara was the first Italian military pilot to gain the Brevetto di Pilota Militare, and given the fact that he was serving with the Regia Marina, the motivation behind the choice was more than appropriate.
It is always considered that the Stazione Elicotteri was the first and definitive base to be utilised by the forming Gruppi Elicotteri, but the truth is that the first flying operations by a small group of AB 47G in the colours of the Marina Militare had already occurred in 1956 at Terrevecchie, utilising an area of the Arsenale at Augusta: these helicopters were under the dependence of the newly-formed 1° Gruppo Elicotteri. The first major evolution occurred in the following years when a contingent of personnel from the marina and their aircraft were accommodated in the Aeronautica Militare facility a Catania Fontanarossa airfield. Another fundamental step occurred in the early 1960s when the AB 47G were joined by a few SH 34G Seabat. With the arrival of the Seabat it became clear that there was a requirement to transfer the entire sutructure for logistical reasons to Catania Fontanarossa, and with this slow but inexorable expansion of the Catania facility the Aeronautica Militare decided to transfer the ownership of some of the facility to the Marina Militare. This took place in 1963, and the step was the official sanction for the constitution of the Marina’s first Base Aerea.
At the time of its constitution, the 1° Gruppo was equipped with the AB 47J and AB 47G and the “new” SH 34G, but by now the growth in the service was exponential, and there was an evident requirement to create a new Gruppo di Volo, the 2° Gruppo Elicotteri, which had already, since 1964, had been charged with receiving the new AB 204AS. Only four years later, in 1968, came another major step, the creation of a further Gruppo, the 3° Gruppo Elicotteri, which received, however, the more powerful Sikorsky SH 3D Sea King, bringing the quality of the air component of the Marina to the highest level in an extremely short time span. Between 1963 and 1971 Catania-Fontanarossa remained the principal Stazione Elicotteri, and was the point of reference, unequalled in potential by the other Stazioni Elicotteri. In 1971 the Stato Maggiore decided to transfer the 1° Gruppo Elicotteri to Luni-Sarzana, thereby equalising the potential of all its bases, and simultaneously arranging for each to retain their own particular characteristics.
With the transfer out of the 1° Gruppo in 1971, Maristaeli Catania assumed its definitive aspect, and this situation continues today with the presence of two Gruppi Elicotteri, Grupelicot Due and Grupelicot Tre.
Before continuing with the history of the MariSTaeli, it is worth examining the early history of the airfield at Catania-Fontanarossa. The origins of military flying in Catania can be traced to the pioneering era, and back in 1912, although not officially, there was extensive flying activity from a field in an area to the South of the city. In these early years there is evidence of the presence of a military component from the Battaglione Aviatori, which later became the Regia Aeronautica, in 1922, while in the following year (1923) the RA formalised its presence on the airfield by creating a Nucleo Aeroportuale. The official inauguration of the Fontanarossa airfield took place on 11 May 1924, the ceremony presided over by the then Presidente del Consiglio Benito Mussolini: on the edge of the airfield was a small quantity of Caproni Ca.450 bombers.
With the passage of time, activity increased, and in the mid-thirties the Catania airfield was home to a newly-created Squadriglia da Ricognizione (reconnaissance Squadriglia), but the period of greatest use of the airfield occurred, obviously, during the Second World War. Given its significant strategic position, Fontanarossa was used by the Luftwaffe as a “trampoline” airfield for mountaing raids on nearby Malta. Throughout the war it remained a crossroads of major events. After the war, both the civilian and military structures wee developed, and the Aeronautica Militare was present in the form of the 87° Gruppo Autonomo Antisom, an anti-submarine warfare unit which operated SB2C Helldiver from 1949, the PV 2 Harpoon from 1953, and finally the S 2F Tracker in 1957. In 1965 the 87° Gruppo was incorporated into the newly-constituted 41° Stormo, based at Sigonella.
The history of the civil side of the airfield dates from the establishment of the first structures in 1924, but only in 1947 did the airport see its first scheduled service arrive, coming from Torino-Collegno. Until the sixties the civil terminal was little used, but since then it has witnessed continued traffic expansion, and today has become the sixth busiest airport in Italy. The so-called “civil zone” also houses detachments of the Guardia di Finanza, Guardia Costiera, Vigili del Fuoco, and Carabinieri, and is also home to the local Aero Club.
In describing the events from the history of the Stazione Elicotteri di Catania, one that cannot be overlooked was the tragic disaster that occurred on 31 October 1964, when the airfield was flattened by a extraordinary squall, which, in the space of a few minutes, reduced the entire infrastructure utilised by the 1° Gruppo Elicotteri and Nucleo 2° Gruppo to tiny pieces: the work and accomplishments achieved by the personnel on the base was lost. Under the collapsed hangars were the majority of the helicopters on charge, totaly destroyed by the fires that developed after the collapse provoked electrical short circuits, Of the ten SH 34G, some seven were lost, the others being saved by the fact that, luckily, they were embarked at the time of the tragedy. Despite the disappointment of the personnel, reconstruction work quickly began, but not in the northern part of the airfield, but in the area to the south which today the MariSTaeli is positioned. The United States Navy were also quick to assist, handing over three SH 34G to enable the flying activity of the Gruppo Elicotteri to be quickly resumed. The rebuilding finished in the December of 1967 with the return of the two Gruppi di Volo to full operational status.
To bring to a just conclusion this chapter, it is worthy of note that in the Officers’ Mess of the Stazione Elicotteri di Catania, a true relic is housed, a relic that is also the symbol of the developing naval air arm. This is the original motto that was present on the Bergamini Class frigate F 595 Carlo Margottino, “PER UNDAS AD HOSTEM — Through the Waves towards the Enemy”. The Margottino was the first of four warships conceived and predisposed by the Marina Militare for revolutionary use in synergy with air assets: the other three were F 953 Carlo Bergamini, F 954 Virgino Fasan, and F 956 Luigi Rizzo. These warships were normally utilised as fleet escorts, and were the first in the world to be modified to host a flight deck capable of accommodating an ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) helicopter, but not just for landing, as they featured a special sliding cover which could be used to house the aircraft during its stay at sea. None of the preceding versions of warships fitted with flight decks offered the possibility of hangaring aircraft on board.
2° Gruppo Elicotteri
Historically linked to MariSTaeli Catania, the 2° Gruppo has since its creation served as the training centre for the ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) speciality of the Marina Militare.
The 2° Gruppo Elicotteri was constituted on 15 April 1964 at the Stazione Elicotteri di Catania, and since the first day of its existence the unit has assumed the principal role of training the aircrew and technical personnel of the Marina, while as an additional task it provides technical and logistical support to the helicopters which are embarked on the surface vessels of the Squadra Navale present in the port of Augusta.
A few months after its creation, in July 1964, the unit was assigned the first AB 204AS helicopter, AS standing for Antisom, and from this moment the unit commenced the development of a strong vocation for the most significant role in a maritime air component, the capacity to conduct anti-submarine operations with suitable resources.
Unfortunately, these moments of enthusiasm were quickly dissipated by the events of 31 October 1964, and having described them in the section covering the history of the MariSTaeli, it serves no purpose to repeat them. From 1964, and continuously until the end of 1981 the 2° Gruppo Elicotteri perform the role of Operational Conversion Unit for the AB 204AS fleet, a situation which would remain unchanged with the arrival of the first AB 212ASW, a twin-engined developed version of the preceding AB 204 and AB 205. The first “Twin Huey” was delivered to the unit on 15 December 1981. A decisive inversion of this tendancy occurred, however, in 2001 when, with the constitution of the Comando delle Forze Aeree, besides its training duties, the unit was charaged with conducting operational and exercise activities on a par with the other Gruppi: this obviously permitted the flying personnel to not loose ground in comparison with their colleagues, and at the same time maintain the particular specialist skills of a training unit. The exercise and operations in which Grupelicot Due participates are multiple, and the most representative have been: Constant Vigilance and Frontex for the control of illegal immigration, Enduring Freedom in the Middle East, Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean for the control of illicit traffic in the Straits of Messina, Leonte-UNIFIL-MTF in Lebanon, EUNAVFOR Atalanta off the Horn of Africa combating piracy, the International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the Oasis multinational operation with Tunisia, Loyal Midas and Mare Aperto-Amphex, which are national exercises, and ending with Archimede, an anti-pollution operation. All these missions see the helicopters and personnel of the 2° Gruppo flying from the warships of the Squadra Navale.
The tasks assigned to the Gruppo do not, however, end with the operational missions and exercises, as, apart from those already mentioned, the unit provides, with its cousins from the 3° Gruppo Elicotteri, support for the civil population, performing search and rescue missions for survivors and missing people, particularly on the volcano Etna. Another seriously demanding task, particularly in the summer months, is collaboration with the Protezione Civile agency, contrasting the wild fires which afflict Sicilian territory, and which also extend north into Calabria. The extensive operations in response to major national emergencies should also not be forgotten, such as the flooding which struck Messina and the terrible earthquake in L’Aquila, just the latest two missions in a long and tragic list.
At present the unit possesses a force of 28 officers (26 pilots and 2 engineers), while the NCO complement comprises 89 personnel, divided into 17 Operatori di Volo (non-pilot aircrew), 67 engineers, and 5 staff who cover other mansions. It is also interesting to note that the Catania base is in a location that is particularly suited for the exercise of surveillance over the Mediterranean sea, and the AB 212 of Grupelicot Tre, in patrol configuration but operating from and to their home base are capable of covering a radius of action of 275 km, thereby including all Calabria and, obviously, Sicily, while pushing as far as the islands of Lampedusa and Malta. In a “one-way” ferry configuration, the 550 km range permits them to reachthe capital, Roma, Cagliari in Sardinia, and all the coasts of Tunisia, Libya, Greece and Albania, covering the entire southern Mediterranean.
It just remains to make a brief mention of the near future, which is called the Agusta/Eurocopter NH 90, as by now, the AB 212, although validly performing their roles, are beginning to suffer from “ageing”. Their replacement is now only a question of months away, although account must be taken over the delays accumulated in the programme for the new helicopter.
The present Comandante of the 2° Gruppo Elicotteri is Capitano di Fregata Paolo Florentino, born in Napoli on 14 October 1968. His debut in the military aviation world was following his graduation from the academic world of theAccademia Navale at Livorno in 1991. After gaining his degree, he was posted to the United States Navy pilot training syllabus, where he obtained his Brevetto di Pilota Militare on both fixed wing and rotary winged aircraft. In 1994, holding new wings, he was assigned to the 2° Gruppo Elicotteri where he converted onto the AB 212ASW. Between 1995 and 2000 Florentino served aboard a variety of warships of the Squadra Navale, acting as air component liaison officer until 1997, and subsequently Chief of the ship’s air component. Moreover, during the same period he achieved the ‘B’ characteristic for landing and take-off operations from surface vessels, and gained “Combat Ready” status, on both occasions flying the AB 212. Following attendance at the Scuola di Comando Navale and the Corso Normale di Stato Maggiore (Livorno), Florentino assumed command of the ‘Tirso’ for the period between July 2000 and August of the following year. After this brief experience he was posted to the 3° Gruppo Elicotteri at Catania, where he remained until October 2007. Clearly, aas the unit operated the SH 3D Sea King, it was essential to undergo type conversion and achieve the related “Combat Readiness” on the new type. During his stay at the MariSTaeli he assumed the role of Head of Operations and Training for the Gruppo, and became Second-in-Command of the Gruppo di Volo. Although remaining assigned to Grupelicot Due, Florentino was detached for seven months (September 2004 - March 2005) to Bahrain and the U. S. Navy Command, where he served as “Italian National Liason Officer” for duties connected with Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, while another temporary detachment occurred in the autumn of 2006 when he participated in Operation ‘Leonte’, a mission based on the carrier ’Garibaldi’, cruising off the Lebanese coast. On the conclusion of his posting to Sicily Florentino was transferred to the Comando delle Forze Aeree della Marina Militare in Roma, where he was assigned the role of Chief of the ASW/ASuW Helicopter Operations Office. His stay in the capital ended in June 2009, and on the 19th of the same month he returned to Catania to take up the position of Comandante of the 2° Gruppo Elicotteri. In his long career, Florentino has been awarded a degree in Maritime and Naval Science from the University of Pisa and a degree in Political Science from the University of Trieste. The multiple roles he has performed buring his military service have resulted in the award of the following decorations:
-Medaglia militare aeronautica di lunga navigazione aerea (silver - 15 years);
-Croce d’oro per anzianità di servizio militare (25 years);
-NATO Medal for operations in the former- Jugoslavia (Operation Sharp Guard);
-Commemorative Cross for Peace Keeping missions related to the crisis in the former-Jugoslavia;
-Commemorative Cross for the international rescue mission in Albania;
-Commemorative Cross for operations in favour of the pacification of Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom);
-Croce Commemorativa per la missione militare di pace in Libano (Operazione Leonte);
-PROCIV Public Service award (Eruption of the Stromboli volcano in December 2002).
In May 1968 the 3° Gruppo Elicotteri (Grupelicot Tre) was constituted at the Stazione Elicotteri Marina Militare di Catania (MariSTaeli Catania). The unit was created specifically to receive the first SH 3D Sea King helicopters assigned to the air component of the Marina Militare. The role assigned to the Gruppo since its establishment is the fight against submarines, which is conducted both from on-board surface vessels, and from land bases. The early years of the unit’s life were focussed on the acquisition of the new helicopters and the completion of the personnel’s training. In 1970 the unit’s first rescue mission was conducted, a flight to the island of Linosa, while the first mission on behalf of the civilian population afflicted by a natural disaster was flown in 1973, when severe flooding struck nearby Tunisia.
The unit’s first mission flown in support of a national emergency was the intervention in Friuli in 1976 following the devastating earthquake.
In 1980 the events of 1976 were repeated, this time following the seismic disturbance in Irpinia: in both cases the helicopter component was fundamental in bringing aid to the afflicted population.
In 1982 the 3° Gruppo was ordered, together with the other Gruppi di Volo of the Marina, to undertake one of the earliest “out of area” missions in the Middle East, provoked by the crisis in Lebanon. The mission was “UNIFIL Support and Peacekeeping”, created by the United Nations to stabilise the area. In successive years further peacekeeping missions out of Italian territory were to follow, and although this type of operation was still in its earliest beginnings, it was clear that this work would quickly become the norm. In the nineties the principal missions were conducted in Albania, controlling illegal traffic in people, weapons and narcotics, and, with the growing internal crisis situations in various countries, firstly in Somalia, initially for the evacuations of civilians, and later in the participation in the more complex Restore Hope and United Shield operations, aimed at halting the inter-faction massacres, and concluding in far off East Timor (Indonesia) with Operation “Stabilise”.
With the arrival of the new millennium, the situation did not really change, with training activity continuing as normal, but the foreign missions were, in general, were more demanding for the Italian armed forces, and thereby for the personnel and machines of Grupelicot Tre. Demands continued to emanate from the Balkans, and more exactly in Kosovo, where unforeseen problems erupted into a new fratricidal war, while new developments were the famous missions in Afghanistan and Iraq connected to the much reported operations “Enduring Freedom” and “ISAF”. The unit went back to Lebanon under Operation LEONTE. Subsequently the unit participated in Frontex, aimed at the control of the migration across the straits of Messina, which saw a detachment of the unit posted to a DOB (Distaccamento Operativo Base) on the island of Pantelleria: the air component of the Marina Militare retains this “advanced” base which is normally managed by MariSTaeli Catania.
Between December 2009 and May 2010 it was the turn of EUNAVFOR (European Naval Forces) Atalanta, a mission intended to deter the acts of piracy occurring along the Somali coast at the Horn of Africa. The Gruppo, finally, regularly participates from its home base in the NATO Mediterranean Active Endeavour military operation, aimed at preventing the movement of terrorists of the passage of weapons of mass destruction, together with an overall goal of maintaining the general safety of maritime navigation. Operation Active Endeavour, initiated on 21 October 2001 in application of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, was launched following the attacks of 11 September 2001, with the intention of confronting the networks of international terrorism. The Operation is lead by the Southern Europe Headquarters of the Allied Maritime Component at Napoli; the Marina Militare regularly participate with surface vessels (frigates or submarines) and aircraft (both fixed and rotary winged).
It should not be forgotten, amidst the spotlight which always falls on the activities which are of “high value in an international context”, that the 3° Gruppo has always responded to the many disastrous calamities which have occurred in Italy, such as the Versilia flooding of 1995, the 2000 flooding in Piemonte, and, more recently, the earthquake which occurred last year in Abruzzo.
The Gruppo has participated, and continues to participate in continual training activities on a national and international level, and which, without becoming too deeply involved in the full list, over the last two years have included: Mare Aperto 2009, Mare Aperto/Amphex 2010, Loyal Midas 2009, Amphex 2009, Mighty Panther 2009, Starex 2009, EAG CJPRS 2009-2010, Noble Manta 2009-2010, Campagna Nave San Giusto 2009, and Trial Imperial Hammer 2008: the Gruppo moreover provided aircraft and personnel for events of global political significance, such as the G 8 meetings.
It was my intention to describe, in the preceding paragraphs, the multitude of activities of national and international relevance undertaken by the Gruppo, but without forgetting to underline that the men and women of the “Tridente” (the historical trident insignia which identifies the Third Gruppo Elicotteri, and which sits at the centre of its crest) regularly operate their EH 101 in favour of the local population, providing search and rescue cover H24 for 365 days a year, obviously sharing the duty with their “cousins” in the 2° Gruppo. Benefitting from the availability of a crew and helicopter at constant two-hour readiness, every day, in over forty years of service more than 1,900 rescue missions have been flown, for a total of more than 5,500 flying hours. These activities, and in particular the most meritorious, have resulted in the Bandiera di Combattimento (Standard) of Gruppo receiving a Silver Medal for Civilian Bravery, and a Gold Medal for Valour from the Marina, the latter awarded just this year in a solemn ceremony at Napoli by the Presidente della Repubblica as part of the annual celebrations for the Marina. This is the standard readiness offered daily by the generosity of the men and women of the 3° Gruppo, who, last year in Abruzzo, were within ten hours of the earthquake were ready and operational in theatre, available on demand to any institution.
It seems reasonable at this point to report the actual situation in which the 3° Gruppo find itself today, having been able to gather some information during my period with the unit. The Gruppo can count on some 150 service personnel, including officer pilots and engineers, non-pilot aircrew and engineers (comprising both mechanical and avionics trades), eight EH 101ASW/ASuW helicopters. It is worth noting that the Stato Maggiore has elected to gather all the Antisom versions of the Merlin with Grupelicot Tre at Catania. To conclude the data, a significant figure is the 94,362 flying hours achieved since its constitution. It should also be mentioned that the first “Hammer”, the operational callsign prefix given to the “101ASW”, joined the unit in June 2008,replacing the by now “ancient” SH 3D, a process which has now ended, after a period of two years, with the qualification of all the crews on the new machine.
The institutional duties assigned to the Gruppo on a daily basis are: supporting the Squadra Navale with helicopters and personnel, antisubmarine (ASW) and/or anti-ship (ASuW) missions directly supporting the naval forces or in operations independent of the fleet, SAR (Search and Rescue), the training of the aircrew posted to the EH 101 fleet, and finally, but no less important, the first and second level maintenance of the helicopters on charge.
The “radius of action” is further extended, albeit with lesser frequency and with a lower priority, to the task of trialling new weapons and mission systems on behalf of the CSA (Centro Sperimentazione Aeromarittimo) at Luni, together with routine military utility missions (principally transport, liaison, etc.) and MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation).
To appropriately conclude this article dedicated to the 3° Gruppo Elicotteri, the future should be discussed, but this is particularly difficult, as the outlook for the men and women of the “Tridente” is concentrated, apart from nothing more than a few minor adjustments, on the continuation of the path which was commenced in April 2008.
The present Commander of the 3° Gruppo Elicotteri is Capitano di Fregata Maurizio Loi, who took over this role on 10 June 2008.
Loi was born in Torino on 5 July 1967, and after gaining a Science Diploma at the Collegio Navale ‘Francesco Morosini’ in 1986, decided to set out on a military career, and was awarded a place on the Corso Normale of the Stato Maggiore at the Accademia Navale in Livorno. In May 1990 he completed his studies, graduating in Maritime and Naval Science from the Università di Pisa, and was posted to the United States Navy schools in America to obtain his Brevetto di Pilota Militare (Military Pilot Wings), and after around two years was awarded his “Naval Aviator” qualification.
As is the norm for new pilots returning to complete their training in Italy, he was posted to the 2° Gruppo Elicotteri at Catania, where he completed the requisite type conversion course onto the AB 212ASW/ASuW. This was followed by an assignment, as an embarked pilot, to surface units of the Squadra Navale. His ship-borne posting lasted for four consecutive years, between 1993 and 1997, during which he performed various roles, initially Flying Officer on board the destroyer ‘Audace’ and then the frigate ‘Libeccio’, and then served as Chief of the Air Component of the frigate ‘Bersagliere’. Thes four years were not lacking in operational activities, and he took part in missions supporting the embargo against Serbia Herzegovina, then passed on to operations supporting the UNO forces in Somalia, and was also engaged in the control of the migratory exodus from Albania. While on board the ‘Bersagliere’ he experienced the circumnavigation of the world, between July 1996 and April 1997.
In 1998 , with the grade of Tenete di Vascello, he commanded the water tanker ’Ticino’, participating in the operations of the 28° Gruppo Navale off Durazzo (Albania) and the emergency resupply of water to Sicily during the supply crisis that occurred on the island. From October 1999 he returned to flying operations in the mansion of embarked pilot, serving as Chief of the Air Component of the destroyer ‘Luigi Durand de La Penne’. In the same context, from September 2000 until March 2001 he performed the role of Chief of the Air Component of the Seconda Divisione Navale and was on the headquarters staff of the Standing Naval Formation in Mediterranean.
On finishing his shipborne tour, he commenced land-based duties (2001), his assignment being the Comando delle Forze Aeree of the Marina Militare, based at Santa Rosa (Roma). In this environment he served as Chief of the ASW/ASuW helicopter office, a post he held until June 2004.
Loi’s nex posting was to MariSTaeli Luni as Chief Operations Officer (Capo Ufficio Operazioni) of the 1° Gruppo Elicotteri. During his stay at Luni Comandante Loi was able to acquire the requisite qualifications permitting him to fly the EH 101 helicopter. Still at Luni, between July 2006 and May 2008 he served as Capo Ufficio Operazioni for the Stazione Elicotteri. Despite being at Luni, Loi was also on the staff of the Italian Joint Cell at USCENTCOM (US Central Command), based at Tampa in Florida, with the title of Chief of the Naval Operations Department (J3N) and Communications (J6).
In the course of his long career, Loi has accumulated some nine years’ service at sea, 3,000 flying hours, and more than 1,000 deck landings, gaining type ratings on T 34C and T 44° aircraft and A 109, Bell TH 57A, AB 212 and EH 101 helicopters: on the latter two types, he is also qualified as a role instructor. He frequented the Corso di Perfezionamento Professionale in 1994 and the 20^ Corso Normale di Stato Maggiore in 1997. His many operational and training postings have resulted in the award of the following decorations:
-Medaglia d’Argento di Lunga Navigazione Aerea
-Croce d’oro per Anzianità di Servizio
- NATO (Sharp Guard — Maritime Monitor — Maritime Guard) Medal
- WEO (Operazione ex-Jugoslavia) Medal
-Croce Commemorativa Missioni di Pace in Albania
-Croce Commemorativa Missioni di Pace in Somalia
-Croce Commemorativa Operazioni Militari in Afghanistan
-Medaglia di benemerenza per l’intervento nelle Pubbliche Calamità (PROCIV)
-Distintivo Dorato per Attività nei Reparti Aerei M.M.
-Distintivo per Ufficiali ex-allievi Scuola Navale Militare “F. Morosini”
At the beginning of 1977 the British Ministry of Defence published a requirement for an ASW “Antisubmarine” helicopter to replace the Sea Kings in service with the Royal Navy. The Westland proposal resulted in a project designated WG 34. In the meantime, the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) found itself facing a similar problem, and approached the Italian Agusta company to discuss whether a common solution to the requirement could be achieved through collaboration with Westland in Great Britain.
In 1979 an agreement between the two manufacturers was finalised which resulted in the creation of a new company known as EHI “European Helicopter Industries Limited”; the financial capital of EHI was equally divided between Westland and Agusta. The new organisation had its legal headquarters in London, while the assembly lines would be at Vergiate and Yeovil. In the following year work began to create and develop the project.
In June 1981 the British Ministry of Defence provided the first financial backing for the construction of nine pre-series examples. At the Le Bourget Sal on 1985 Agusta displayed a Mock-Up of the multi-role version, and after a long period of development, on 9 October 1987 the first prototype made its first flight.
Towards the end of 1991 Memorandum of Understanding were signed between the two governments for the production of ten helicopters for use in trials, five per nation, and shortly after a contract was signed for the construction of 44 EH 101, to be known as the “Merlin”, for the Royal Navy. The first production example made its first flight in December 1995, and the first Squadron of the FAA (Fleet Air Arm) became operational in 2000.
Also in 1995 the Italian government signed a contract for 16 examples, plus an option for eight more, for the Marina Militare. The first Italian production example flew in October 1999, and the first helicopter was delivered in the following autumn.
In 2004, the fusion of the two companies resulted in the creation of AgustaWestland International Limited, and as a consequence, in 2007 the EH 101 designation was changed to AW 101. Recently, an additional element of the financial stake has been acquired by Finmeccanica.
Currently, the AW 101 is in service with five nations: Italy, Great Britain, Denmark, Portugal, Canada, and Japan.
The AW 101 is a three-turbine military multi-role 15 tonne helicopter with excellent performance in respect of speed, payload and range. Thanks to the power developed by the three turbines, it can easily operate with one of these out of service, while the notable fuel capacity translates into around six hours’ endurance. There are many versions of the AW 101: the principal variant is the Antisom version used for anti-submarine and anti-shipping operations, while another variant undertakes radar picket duties, designated HEW (Helicopter Early Warning). The transport versions undertake a variety of duties, including special operations and troop or cargo transport. There are also SAR (Search and Rescue) and CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) variants, the latter providing 360° coverage of all the search and rescue mission types. The technical characteristics of these individual versions can be found in the following tables.
Length: 19.53 m
Length including rotor: 22.80 m
Length — folded when embarked: 15.75 m
Width: 5.09 m
Width — folded when embarked: 5.20 m
Height: 6.62 m
Height when hangared on ship: 5.20 m
Main rotor diameter: 18.59 m
Tail rotor diameter: 4.00 m
Main rotor surface area: 271 m2
Maximum take-off weight: 14,600 kg
Empty weight: from 9,300 to 10,500 kg
Maximum payload: 5,500 kg
Maximum underslung load: 4,600 kg
Maximum speed: 309 km/h
Rate of climb: 10.50 m/sec
Ceiling: 4,575 m
Engines: 3 x 1.725 kW (2.300 shp) General Electric T700-GE-T6A
Other specific version characteristics
EH 101 ASW/ASuW
Fuel capacity: 3,296 kg
Endurance: 4 hours / equivalent 480 nm
On-board apparatus: Search and detection radar, Helras SONAR, Star Saphire II FLIR, ESM, Link 11, IFF interrogator
Defensive suite: SIAP ECDS-2 integrated self-defence suite, chaffe and flare dispenser
Armament: MU90 or Mk46 torpedoes, Marte Mk 2 ASM, 2 x 7.62 mm machine guns
Crew — minimum: 2 Pilots and 2 Operators
Passengers: 16 maximum
EH 101 HEW
Fuel capacity: 3,296 kg
Endurance: 4 hours / equivalent 480 nm
On-board apparatus: HEW-784 Pulse Doppler X-band radar, Star Saphire II FLIR, ESM, Link 11, IFF interrogator
Defensive suite: SIAP ECDS-2 integrated self-defence suite,chaffe and flare dispenser
Armament: MU90 or Mk46 torpedoes, Marte Mk 2, 2 x 7.62 mm machine guns
Crew — minimum: 2 Pilots and 2 Operators
Passengers: 16 maximum
EH 101 UTI/ASH 1st batch
Fuel capacity: 3,155 kg
Endurance: 3 hours 40 minutes / equivalent 450 nm
On-board apparatus: Star Saphire II FLIR, ESM, Link 11, IFF interrogator
Defensive suite: SIAP ECDS-2 integrated self-defence suite,chaffe and flare dispenser
Armament: 2 MG CL 7.62mm machine guns
Crew - mimimum: 2 Pilots and 2 Operators
Capacity — troop transport: maximum 35 seats available (excluding the pilots)
Capacity — troop transport with two 7.62 mm machine guns mounted: maximum 21 seats available (excluding the pilots)
Capacity - vehicle transport: maximum 4 seats available (excluding the pilots)
CASEVAC: maximum 2 seats available (excluding the pilots)
EH 101 UTI/ASH 2nd batch
Fuel capacity: 3,938 kg
Endurance: 4 hours 30 minutes / equivalent 540 nm
On-board apparatus: Star Saphire II FLIR, Personal Locator System, SATCOM
Defensive suite: SIAP ECDS-2 integrated self-defence suite, chaffe and flare dispenser
Armament: 2 MG CL 7.62mm machine guns
Crew - mimimum: 2 Pilots and 2 Operators
Capacity — troop transport: maximum 35 seats available (excluding the pilots)
Capacity — troop transport with two 7.62 mm machine guns mounted: maximum 21 seats available (excluding the pilots)
Capacity - vehicle transport: maximum 4 seats available (excluding the pilots)
CASEVAC: maximum 2 seats available (excluding the pilots)
The Bell 212 “Twin Huey” is a medium transport helicopter aimed at the civilian and military market. It first flew in 1968, being developed and manufactured by the American company Bell Helicopter as a twin-engined evolution of the celebrated UH 1D or Bell 205 “Huey”. Both the “212” and its predecessor were certainly two absolutely fundamental designs amongst the global helicopter panorama. In Italy, Agusta acquired a production licence in the following year, 1969. Amongst the various versions developed and produced to meet the requirements of the Italian armed forces, Agusta immediately created a specific ad-hoc version to satisfy the Marina Militare (Italian Navy), the AB 212 ASW-ASuW. Beside a strengthened structure with protection against the salty maritime conditions, indispensible for prolonged deployment on naval vessels, it was equipped with the most modern sensors and armament for the anti-shipping role, such as the APS-705 radar, the ASQ-13B, and the “STAR SAFIRE” (Forward Looking Infra-Red). It could, moreover, be equipped with the LINK / TG-2 apparatus to provide course guidance to surface-to-surface missiles such as the Teseo, and could carry up to two Mk.46 torpedoes. The helicopter also featured emergency floats for over water operations.
Another variant operated by the air component of the marina is the AB 212 NLA (Eliassalto — heli-assault), this also modified from the base ASW/AsuW model. It has been reconfigured to undertake the helicopter assault mission: stripped of the electronic apparatus characteristic of the ASW version, the NLA features removable armoured panelling on the pilots’ seats and cabin floor, internal and NVG external illumination (Night Vision Goggles), cable cutters, and mountings to carry two 12.7 mm HMP (Heavy Machine-gun Pods), two free-mounted MG 42/59 machine guns, and HL 19/70 rocket launchers. The equipment also includes the SIAP (Sistema Integrato di Autoprotezione Passiva — Passive Integrated Self-Defence System) with anti-missile sensors and the automatic deployment of false radar (chaff) and IR (flare) targets. The helicopter is capable of transporting between two and five commandos of the Reggimento San Marco or other Special Forces.
Height: 4.53 m
Length: 14.02 m
Range: 550 km
Main rotor diameter: 14.49 m
Maximum take-off weight: 5,080 kg
Engines: 2 x Pratt & Whitney PT-6T-3
Power: 1,800 shp
ASW AsuW version crew: 2 pilots / 2 operators
NLA version crew: 2 pilots / 5 operators
Maximum speed: 240 km/h