Raduno Mondiale F-104

Pratica di Mare, Italy

29 and 30 May 2004

 

 All good things have to come to an end sometime and this also includes the flying career of one of the most charismatic fighter planes in post-war aviation history. During 2004, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force) will cease flying the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter after a career spanning 40 years. Add to this that in 1954 the Starfighter's prototype flew for time. Facts that can not go unnoticed and the Italian Air Force is the last service anywhere in the world to fly this jet. In order to allow a 40 year period in the Italian Air Force to pass into history, an airshow was held at Pratica di Mare near Rome featuring the F-104, but also of course other types in Italian service.

Naturally, Starfighters were much in evidence at Pratica di Mare, with an F-104S-ASA,  MM6943/4-1, sprayed in exactly the same silver/white colourscheme as used on the earliest examples in Italian service. This included a polished metal fuselage with white wing upper surfaces A scheme that was adopted for purposes of reflecting the intense light and heat following a nuclear explosion. Dropping nuclear weapons would have been a prime F-104G war role. Of course, F-104S interceptors never wore this colour scheme, but it was a nice way to commemorate 70 years of history of 4 Stormo at Grossetto, hence the 1931-2001 inscription.

   

Better known was the Starfighter for it's tactical camouflage scheme, as applied to this museum exhibit from Vigna di Valle, MM6501/3-11. Belonging to 3 Stormo at Villafranca during it's flying days, the text on the tail reads "Carlo Emmanuelo Buscaglia", for whom the Stormo was named.

In later years, when interception was the only role still performed, F-10S Starfighers would revert to a bland grey colour scheme. The Italians however, excel in applying special paint schemes to their aircraft and naturally each one of them still available had been flown to Pratica di Mare.

Among them was MM6873 in a predominantly black colourscheme celebrating 40 years of service with the Aeronautico Militare. The aircraft belongs to 4 Stormo at Grossetto which is currently converting to the Starfighter's successor, the Eurofighter Typhoon. 

The other Starfighter unit left in 2004, 9 Stormo at Grazzanise, apparantly has informal ties with Italy's motor industry. The prancing horse has been Ferrari's logo for many years. However, this colour scheme has not been inspired by Ferrari, but by motorcycle manufacturer Ducati. MM6930/9-99 wears the red paint scheme adopted for the Ducati 999 motorcycle.

20 Gruppo Addestramento Operativo, the Starfighter training unit, painted MM54253/4-20 in this scheme. The airshow included a flypast of nine Starfighters, among them three two seaters, with the characteristic howling of their GE J79 engines. A sound that inspired so many youngsters to become aviation enthousiasts....

Ultimately, the Starfighter's place is to be taken in Italy by the collaborative Eurofighter Typhoon. However, as this type is not yet in widespread service and the F-104 had to be partly replaced, the Italians leased 24 Panavia Tornado F.3's from the RAF between  1994 and 2004 until settling for 34 Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs. Those single seaters were of the F-16A-Block 15ADF subtype taken from USAF stocks. One of them displayed at Pratica di Mare was MM7247 which used to be 80-0604 when in USAF service. Three F-16A-Block 15ADF single seaters could be seen at Pratica di  Mare, alongside an F-16B-Block 10 two seater.

The shining new armour was represented by a pair of Typhoons. A familiar Alenia owned prototype could be seen on the flightline, but this first operational two seater Typhoon in Italian service was parked on the static. MM55093/4-1 is from 4 Stormo at Grossetto. Behind it one of the last Tornado F.3's still in service with 36 Stormo at Gioia del Colle. 

The AMI is a force with relatively many different fast jet types. Among them is the Italo-Brazilian AMX. Three of these were to be seen at Pratica di Mare with a two seater AMX-T in the static park and a pair from the resident RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo) trials unit, otherwise known as 311 Gruppo, on the flightline. This is CMX7158/RS-12.

Italy has participated in three collaborative fighter development programmes during the last decades. The first project was the Panavia Tornado. Although squadron aircraft of this type gained a grey paint coat lately, CMX7040/RS-01 managed to avoid this. No doubt because of it's assignment to RSV.

Italy's military transport fleet is in a state of change, with new built C-130J's being delivered and the Alenia G.222 being replaced with the Lockheed-Martin-Alenia C-27J Spartan. Serialled CSX61217, this was actually a G.222 before it was converted to C-27J standard and during the airshow gave an account of it's capabilities. It is the only one of it's type currently flying in Italy.

 

The new C-130 Hercules generation consists of both the short fuselage C-130J and the stretched C-130J-30. MM62187/46-53 from 46 Aerobrigata at Pisa is an example of the latter. It was accompanied by another C-130J-30 and a C-130J.

 

The static park harboured many smaller types of the Italian Air Force, along with some examples of machines flown by paramilitary organizations for which Italy is well known. An example of the light aircraft on show was SF.260AM MM55018/70-51 from 70 Stormo. Based at nearby Latina, the unit does primary training for Italian military pilots.

The Italian Navy also showed some of it's types in the inventory. among them of course the Boeing AV-8B Harrier II. The GRUPAER (Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati, Embarked Aircraft Group) at  Taranto. A total of five were on view, with one tucked away in the static park behind an array of possible stores and weapons. The other four however did a very nice formation display. One of those was MM7220/1-14.

During April 2004, the British Merlin HM.1 and HC.3 fleets were grounded due to structural failure of the tail rotor assembly. Strangely, this did not seem to affect the similar Italian EH.101, as MM81489/2-10 could be seen being put through it's paces during the show. The EH.101 is supplanting the AS.61 Sea Kings in the anti-submarine warfare role and partners the Harriers aboard the carrier Guiseppe Garibaldi.

Among the types rarely if ever seen outside of Italy is the Agusta-Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican. The type serves the AMI in the Search & Rescue role with a detachement of 15 Stormo performing this role based at Pratica di Mare. The result was that many individual HH-3F's could be found dispersed over the base. This example MM81351/15-39 has seen serice with the Italian peacekeeping force in Iraq, hence the Arabic titles below the cockpit.

Not really being an Apache, but having the same basic configuration is the Agusta A.129 attack helicopter. MM81426/E.I.-956 is an A.129CBT-EES-1 sub-type modified with a nose mounted gun. It was one of many Italian helicopters that could be seen at Pratica di Mare. 

 

Italy's aviation industry turned out some unusual types over the years. An example is the Piaggio P.166. This P.166DL3/SEM1 serialled MM25166/8-08 is from 1 Nucleo Aereo of the Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard). The type has evolved from a design for an amphibian, hence the general appearance.

Foreign participants to visit Pratica di Mare included, apart from among others British Harriers, Austrian SAAB 105's and a pair of Hungarian Mil helicopters this duo of Turkish Air Force RF-4E Phantoms. One of these was 69-7457 and both came from 173 Filo, which is based at Erhac.

Aircraft wise, Pratica di Mare's airshow had much to offer. The base has a built-in disadvantage however which results in the audience having to view into the sun during the flying display. Furthermore, the barriers around the aircraft appeared to be there to prevent the aircraft from running away rather than to separarte the public from the exhibits. 

Anyway, the glorious weather and the many rare aircraft on show gave the Starfighter it's farewell it deserved.  

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink

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