Although some had to cancel their participation at the last minute, Rivolto airshow featured teams from all over Europe,
As we reported few days ago, an international airshow was held at Rivolto Air Base, Italy, on Sept. 18 and 19, 2021, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori, the display team of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force). This was the first large-scale airshow in Italy in almost two years, which was initially intended to be held in 2020 as the beginning of year of celebrations which would have lasted until the anniversary on March 1, 2021.
The cancelled 2020 airshow season was then replaced by an unprecedented tour of Italy, named “Abbraccio Tricolore” (Italian for “Tricolor Hug”), which included 21 flyovers in 5 days before the final flight over Rome on June 2 for the Festa della Repubblica, the Italian National Day and Republic Day. When airshows started to be cancelled in 2021 too, the Italian Air Force did its best to avoid postponing again the celebrations for the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (PAN, National Aerobatic Team).
In the first part of our report about the airshow, we dissected the highlights of the flight program. The whole airshow was divided in two main parts, both introduced by a flyby of a HH-139A helicopter with an Air Rescueman suspended by the winch and carrying the Italian flag. The first part of the show was reserved to the exhibitions of the foreign aerobatic teams, while the second part was dedicated to the Italian assets, including the Legend formation, a Slow Mover Intercept (SMI) scenario, the technical displays of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (the Test unit of the ItAF) and a very interesting COMAO (Composite Air Operations) demonstration.
In this second part of the report about Rivolto Airshow, we will focus on the aerobatic teams that were invited to the 60th anniversary.
Frecce’s colleagues from all over Europe were invited to join the airshow, with an initial lineup of seven aerobatic teams in addition to the Frecce Tricolori: Red Devils (Belgium), Orlik Aerobatic Team (Poland), Krila Oluje (Croatia), Midnight Hawks (Finland), Patrulla Águila (Spain), Patroulle Suisse (Switzerland), Red Arrows (United Kingdom).
The Red Arrows were the first to be removed from the airshow schedule, as they were expected to perform a flypast over Astey Hall, Chorley for the G7 Speaker’s conference on September 18. At the last minute, the Red Arrows’ cancellation was followed by the one of the Red Devils and Krila Oluje: the reason for their absence is not clear at the moment. The Patrouille de France, who was a guest for the previous anniversaries, was not able to join the airshow this year as, in the same days, the team was already involved in the airshow at the Base Aérienne 116 Luxeuil.
The Orlik Aerobatic Team (Zespół Akrobacyjny Orlik) is one of the two national teams of the Polish Air Force, with the other being the Red and White Iskras (Biało-Czerwone Iskry). The team, which takes the name from its seven PZL-130TC-II Orlik turboprop trainer aircraft, was first established in 1998 and based at the 42nd Training Air Base in Radom, the home of the entire PZL-130 fleet. Later that year, the team took part to its firsts international air show at the Royal International Air Tattoo.
The pilots are flight instructors of the Polish Air Force Academy who volunteered to join the team while still continuing to provide training to the cadets. Unlike other teams, their aircraft do not have any special marking that identifies the Orlik Team, but they fly instead with the standard PolAF livery and just a white smoke generator installed under the fuselage. The 20-minute display includes maneuvers in different formations by the main five aircraft section, with the two solos demonstrating the capabilities of the PZL-130.
The second team to perform at Rivolto was the Midnight Hawks of the Finnish Air Force which, like the Orlik Team, is one of the youngest aerobatic teams in Europe, being established only in 1997. The name comes from the fact the team and its predecessors were permanent performers of the Midnight Sun Airshow in June which, as the name implies, lasts from 7PM to midnight. Like Orlik, the pilots of the Midnight Hawks are instructors of the Air Force Academy who continue to train cadets while being part of the team.
One of the Hawks also showed special tail marking for the 40 years of service of the Hawk aircraft in the FinAF, celebrated last year. The Midnight Hawks introduced this year some new vertical maneuvers to increase the variety and spectacularity of their show, which includes multiple passes in various formations enriched by formation breaks and rejoins by the three aircraft section and the solo.
The Patrulla Águila (Eagle Patrol) of the Spanish Air Force was the next performer, flying with its seven specially colored CASA C-101 Aviojet (E.25 in the Spanish military designation) trainer aircraft. The team, established in 1985 at San Javier Air Base, is made by flight instructors of the Academia General del Aire (General Air Academy) and is the only team to use yellow smoke, one of the colors of the Spanish flag, during their shows.
Y por supuesto no podía faltar nuestro video resumen de nuestra experiencia en Rivolto. Gran trabajo de nuestra sección de fotografía 💪💪💪. ¡¡¡Disfrutadlo!!!@EjercitoAire
During their 25-minute display routine, the team alternates formation passes of the main section of four aircraft (callsigns Eagle 1 through 4), the solo (Eagle 5) and the pair (Eagle 6 and 7), each with their characteristic aerobatic figures. The Spanish Air Force is replacing the aging C-101 jet trainers with the new PC-21 turboprop trainers, however it has been confirmed that the Patrulla Águila will keep flying as long as possible the Aviojet to represent not only the Air Force, but also the national industry, in absence of a Spanish-made replacement.
The last team to fly during the first part of the show was the Patrouille Suisse, one of the two aerobatic display teams of the Swiss Air Force (the other being the PC-7 Team) and one of the few teams to operate fighter jets instead of trainer aircraft, flying with six white and red F-5E Tiger II fighters. The Swiss team itself is close to its 60th anniversary, since it was founded in 1964 (three years after Frecce Tricolori).
Since the F-5E has different handling characteristics compared to a trainer aircraft, it also requires more space during the airshow, as the higher speeds lead to a larger turn radius during maneuvers. An example of this is mentioned on the team’s website: the looping requires an entry speed of 460 knots (850 km/h) and about 10,000 feet of altitude (3,000 m). This summer it was announced that the F-35 Lightning II won the Air2030 evaluation program to replace the F-5 and the F/A-18 Hornet, however the Patrouille Suisse will keep flying the Tiger II for the next few years until a decision is made about the future of the team.
As tradition, the Frecce Tricolori closed the airshow with the last display on both days. The ten-aircraft display team received a new livery for the 55th anniversary, while this year all jets received special tails to celebrate the heritage of the five teams that represented Italy and its Air Force in the decade before the Frecce Tricolori were officially established: the “Cavallino Rampante”, “Getti Tonanti”, “Tigri Bianche”, “Diavoli Rossi” and “Lanceri Neri”.
The liveries were created by the renowned Italian artist Mirco Pecorari of AircraftStudioDesign, who designed hundreds of liveries for aircraft all around the world. Five MB-339s received the special tails earlier this year, while the remaining aircraft received them before the Rivolto Airshow. As a surprise, the pilots also had their helmets repainted the night before the airshow, featuring the current helmet on one side and the helmet of the historical teams on the other side.
As mentioned by the Frecce Tricolori’s commander Lt. Col. Gaetano Farina, the team is heir and guardian of the aerobatic flight’s tradition, which was born in the 1920s at Campoformido airfield, located a few kilometers north-east of Rivolto. Campoformido was the home of the 1° Stormo Caccia (Fighter Wing) and its commander, Lt. Col. Rino Corso Fougier, had the innovative idea in 1928 that aerobatic flight could be used as an essential part of a military pilot’s training to achieve mastery, sensitivity and coordination in any flight attitude, leading to the maximum effectiveness in the military use of the airplane.
The same year, three pilots flew the first demonstration with the Fiat CR.1 biplane fighters flying loopings in formation. The then Royal Italian Air Force was diffident but gave a go to this idea a year later to welcome the pilots who flew for the first from the United States to Rome. The exhibition was a triumph and Campoformido soon became the home of an aerobatic flight school. The school also created in the 1930s one of the most famous maneuvers still flown today by the Frecce Tricolori, the downward bomb burst.
With the years, the “experiment” was extended also to other units, like the 4° Stormo Caccia, and the number of exhibitions increased, together with the number of the aircraft involved in the formation maneuvers. With the threat of WW2 becoming more incumbent, 1939 saw the last Italian aerobatic exhibitions. The Italian Air Force resumed these activities in 1952 with the “Cavallino Rampante” (Prancing Horse), which flew with four DH.100 Vampire jets of the 4° Stormo.
The enthusiasm for this return led to the creation in 1953 of another team flying on four F-84G Thunderjets of the 5^ Aerobrigata (Air Brigade), named “Getti Tonanti” (Thundering Jets). A second team on four F-84Gs, this time from the 51^ Aerobrigata, was created in 1955 and called “Tigri Bianche” (White Tigers). 1957 saw the return of the “Cavallino Rampante”, which in the meantime was converted to the F-86E Sabre MK4. The team became the first to use smoke generators during their shows in Italy.
In the same year there was also a reserve team, the “Diavoli Rossi” (Red Devils) of the 6^ Aerobrigata. The team initially flew on four F-84F Thunderstreaks, which soon became six, including for the first time a solo which had the role to fill the space left by the main formation during its repositioning maneuvers away from the spectators. In 1959 the “Lanceri Neri” (Black Lancers) became the new main team, with “Diavoli Rossi” and “Getti Tonanti” as reserves. The new team flew initially with four Sabres, which were later increased to six.
The success of the five teams though the years convinced the Italian Air Force to better manage the aircraft and human resources, creating on March 1, 1961 the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico (Aerobatic Training Squadron) at Rivolto Air Base. The core of the new unit was the “Cavallino Rampante”, which moved to Rivolto with its six F-86E jets (actually Canadian licensed-built CL.13s).
The new Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (National Aerobatic Team) performed for the first time on May 1 (thus becoming the traditional day of the first exhibition every year), with the six F-86s fitted with smoke generators and painted in a dark blue livery, with a lighter diamond containing a black sword on the sides of the fuselage. A year later, the more famous blue livery with the three green, white and red frecce (arrows) and the yellow tail number was applied for the first time, leading to the name Frecce Tricolori.
In 1963, the now nine-aircraft team received the G.91PAN, a specially modified variant of the Fiat G.91 light fighter aircraft. For the first time since WW2, an Italian aerobatic team was now equipped with Italian-made aircraft, which also allowed a more aggressive display routine and a tighter space required to maneuver. A few years later, in 1966, the solo was added to the formation, with the Frecce becoming the only team in the world to fly with ten aircraft.
In 1982, the MB-339PAN was delivered to Rivolto. Since then, the Frecce begun to fly tours around Europe and the world, winning numerous prizes. Now, after 60 years of history and almost 40 years flying on the MB-339, the Frecce Tricolori are preparing for their next chapter, which will see them flying in a few years on the new M-345, which was delivered at the end of 2020 to the Italian Air Force.
Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.