Cover photo by @anderson_aviation
60 years ago, on March 1st 1961, the first six F-86E Sabres arrived at Rivolto Air Base to establish what became the Italian Air Force’s aerobatic team.
In their proud 60 years of service, the Frecce Tricolori (Italian for Tricolor Arrows) have visited 48 countries, operated three different types of aircraft, and represented the Italian Armed Forces as well as engineering.
The Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (National Aerobatic Team) currently flies 10 MB339A-PAN, making the team the largest in the world. Nine aircraft fly in formation, while the tenth is the soloist, both interacting with the formation and performing alone.
Before the 1960s, many squadrons in the Italian Air Force had their own aerobatic teams, which gradually disappeared after the Air Force decided to create an official team.
The 313th Flight Squadron (313esimo Gruppo Volo) was issued to fulfil the role: the best fighter pilots in the Italian Air Force were assigned to that squadron, then commanded by Major Mario Squarcina.
Two years later, the 313th Flight Squadron was equipped with the Italian-made G.91 fighter-bombers, marking a milestone for the team. In 1982 the squadron adopted the current jet-trainer, the MB339A.
The Italian Air Force is planning to replace the ageing MB339A with the new Aermacchi M345 trainer in the next few years.
The current display features multiple maneuvers, from the most common between display teams to some characteristics ones. The show begins with a flypast of the public from behind, which is the only moment when all ten aircraft fly in formation. Afterwards, the soloist leaves the formation, while the remaining nine aircraft split into two groups of four and five jets.
At the end of the show, the Italians’ favourite maneuver, the Alona, takes place: the soloist intercepts the formation, which then releases the smoke in order to draw an Italian flag in the sky. The flag is “rolled out” for five kilometres, while the song “Vincerò” (“I’ll win”) plays.
The Frecce Tricolori is the only team in the world to fly ten aircraft, making the show extremely difficult to coordinate. The two groups of four and five planes set another record: after the separation, they perform an opposition pass and rejoin only two minutes later, much faster than other display teams.
Another peculiarity of the team is that all the maneuvers such as rejoins and separations are always performed in view of the public.
One of the team’s unique maneuvers is the Downward Bomb Burst: the aircraft dive towards the ground, before splitting and flying in nine different directions. The planes then execute an opposition pass at three different levels from nine separate headings. This maneuver has always been part of the Frecce Tricolori’s display, while it hasn’t been performed by other teams due to the difficulty in the opposition pass and rejoin.
Last but not least, the MB339A’s speciality: the Lomçovak. This very spectacular maneuver is usually performed by propeller-driven aircraft, and the MB339 is the only jet able to perform it. The maneuver consists of a 90° climb, followed by a stall, a vertical spin and a reverse; the aircraft then pitches down to recover.