Flying on board of Military Aircraft is a dream for all aviation enthusiast, although the occasions to flight are very "quite rare"!
Sometimes, however, a dream can become a reality, specially for me when I have an opportunity to participate in a training mission of Air to Air Flight Refueling with the 14° Stormo based in Pratica di Mare ( ROMA ).
The 14° Stormo take the Name from Lieutenant Pilot Sergio Sartoff (Gold Medal for his Valor) and It Depends for Operational Aspects, Technical and Personnel Management from the Command of the Forces for the Mobility and Support based in Rome.
Today in the 14° Stormo there two groups: the 8° Gruppo with its 4 Boeing KC 767A used for Air to Air Flight Refueling and 71° Gruppo with its P 180 Avanti used for Flight Inspection .
My trip started in the early morning of Monday, January 30 at the "gate" of the main “Pratica di Mare” Air Base.
After a breifing with all flight staff, I had a chance to visit the ATOC (Air Terminal Operation Center) a mobile structure created to host the military staff before and after a transfer-flight with all plane of AM; the structure include an air cargo area, baggage claim and restore area.
In a second time we arrived in the main apron where there were ready two Tanker Boeing KC 767A, the 14-02 (my plane where I flight) and 14-03 that It taken off after few hours reaching our plane (14-02) for operations buddy-buddy in the training Area D54 placed over the Gran Sasso National Park (L'Aquila).
We took off from Air Base Pratica di Mare at 9.10 and landing in the late afternoon at 16.40 hours after a mission of 7 hours and 30 minutes long.
My plane "14-02" was configured in COMBI modality, and all the staff (except pilots and operators for air refueling), was positioned in the front back of the aircraft. Total of 20 passenger on board, including Photographers, Medical Staff, flight attendants, pilots and staff in training.
Our Boeing 767 took off from runway 13 (the runway is length 2500 meters), with perfect weather conditions; the KC 767 is positioned at a flight level of 18,000 feet flying over the Tyrrhenian Sea near Rosignano (Livorno Province) and started the first operation of Air Refueling in flight with three Tornado of 6° Stormo of Ghedi; to be precise arrived two Tornado ECR of 155° Gruppo and one Tornado IDS of the 154° Gruppo.
The mission of AAR (Air to Air Refuelling) lasted about 15 minutes; Tornado’s airplane in sequence engaged baskets-pod positioned at the extremities of the Stormo of our Boeing 767; these pods are called WARPS (Wing Aerial Refuelling Pods). The operation of AAR is not more long than two minutes and Tornado’s engaged the pods both "dry" and "wet" before walking away to complete their training mission. In only two minutes 3,600 liters (960 gallons) of fuel transferred from tanker to tornadoes. This operation is followed and managed by two operators located in Console RARO II (Remote Aerial Refueling Operator Station) in front of the cockpit.
When the first part of the mission is finished our “14-02” direct over the Adriatic Sea near the mouth of the river PO ( near Cervia Airport) after about 20 minutes of flight to begin the second part of the mission; in this area four AMX of 51° Stormo were waiting their turn to refuel. Also in this case the operations during not more than 20 minutes. These AMX arrived in couple of two aircraft while one restocked the other plane flying near in formation in continuous visual contact with the tanker.
Another part of mission is finished, so our “14-02” is repositioned to the third part of the training mission; around 11:30 local time the 767 came in an Area called D54 exactly over the National Park of Abruzzo at flight level about 18,000 feet remaining in that area until at the ends of our mission about 16:10pm making continuous circuit.
After a few time six fighter-plane F 2000A Eurofighter Typhoon arrived in sequence to supply fuel; four plane coming from 36° Stormo of Gioia del Colle and two of the 37° Stormo arrived from the airport of Trapani Birgi.
For the ARO (Aerial Refueling Operator) this mission was very difficult; after having supplied the Typhoon immediately they began the fourth and final part of training, perhaps the most difficult, the supplying of Boeing 767 “14-03” flying directly from Pratica di Mare Airport Base. This operation of refueling called Buddy - Buddy lasted about two hours until 4pm; the “14-03” played the role of "receiver" for all duration of exercise with continuous hooks "dry" and "wet".
ARO Operator’s used a rigid boom (High Speed ??Flying Boom) during these maneuvers that is positioned in the back (ventral) of the aircraft. Unlike KC 135 and KC 10 the KC 767 don’t allows the operator an eye contact on the "Flying Boom" and they can’t have a direct contact with the aircraft which is supplying. So the ARO operators are equipped with an helmet called System HMD (Head Mounted Display) positioned on head; this helmet allow the operator to have a three-dimensional vision and allow the operations of "refueling" most accurate.
Two cameras in the fairing of the "Flying Boom" are positioned on the rigid rod structure to allow as real as possible a best visual for ARO; there are two stabilizing fins controlled via FBW (Fly By Wire). All operations are visible through the SACS (Situational Awareness Camera System) that transfer the images directly to the ARO; in the cockpit the pilot can see the similar situation in real time used the PMD (Pilot Mission Display) monitors together the other operators.
The “14-03” and all the other three Boeing KC 767A of Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) have an inserting on the front of the aircraft, placed just above the cockpit; this inserting is called UARRSI (Universal Aerial Refuelling Receptacle Slipway Installation); the "Flying Boom" of 767 conveyed in this inserting and up to 4,091 liters per minute of Fuel (1080 US gal / min) are transferred.
As soon as the rigid boom is inside the intersection an indicator in the cockpit indicates that the "Boom" is connected and the operation of refueling can begin, while the disconnect is highlighted with a red light.
At the end of the mission both KC 767, after a short formation flight to allow the photographers to do some "shots" Air-to-Air, had repositioned to the airport of Pratica di Mare; the first plane to land has been”14 -03”, followed shortly by our “14-02”, both landing on RWY 13.
View aircraft data sheet Boeing KC 767A click here
The 8° Gruppo was formed on December 9, 1916 with headquarters in Valona (Albania), it was composed by a 11° Stormo Bombardamento, the 34° Stormo Ricognizione and a section of 85° Stormo of Defense. It took part in the First World War and after the war it was assignment to make the postal service between Italy and Albania; in 1919 the department was dissolved.
The 8th Group was again reconstituted in 1926 under the 2° Stormo with the new brand of the Regia Aeronautica, the new headquarters was in Turin with four Stormo’s, the 92 ^ 93 ^ 94 ^ and 95 ^. In the 1935 the aircraft and crews were deployed in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) for the control of country-lines.
The new assault aircraft Breda Ba.65 "Kite" in the 1938 were assigned for a short period and later it has been replaced by Fiat CR.32 again an "hunters" plane. On 3 June 1940 the 8° Gruppo entered into the heart of World War II fighting against the British Plane in Egypt with the new fighter plane Fiat CR.42 just delivered.
At the end of 1940, the unit was come back to the city of Turin to regroup and carry out patrols the skies of the industrial cities of northern of Italy.
At the end of 1941 the new Macchi Mc.200 were assigned to the 8° Gruppo and they return to the theater of operations in Libya were they carried out escort missions in favor of the Regia Aeronautica bombers and ground attack missions and one year later only three operational aircraft return again in Italy.
In 1943 the few remaining pilots carried missions in the skies of Liguria, Lazio and Sardinia to support Badoglio; in 1944 with the turn off of the Second World War, the unit was assigned to the 5° Stormo. With the end of hostilities the 8° Gruppo return to fly through the acquisition of aircraft sold by the other allies. Reassigned back under the 2° Stormo it received the new De Havilland Vampire and later the F 86E, with these new fighters, and in particular with its pilots, the department contributed to the establishment of the National Aerobatic Team.
On September of 1962, the Group was placed in the freeze-position. The last rebirth takes place June 1, 1976, together with the revival of the 14° Stormo. Now the 8° Gruppo is under 14° Stormo.