English translation by Frank McMeiken
In the seventies, the airfield at Guidonia, around twenty kilometres north east of Roma, was a mythical place for the Italian enthusiasts as, being the base of the Reparto Volo della Seconda Regione Aerea, it inherited the last flying examples of aircraft such as the North American T 6 Texan, the Beechcraft C 45, and the Douglas C 53, at the time approaching the end of their flying activity and scheduled to be finally grounded.
The air base at Guidonia, named after the pioneering General Alessandro Guidoni, was inaugurated in 1935 as the home of the flight test unit, equipped with a sloping asphalt runway to assist aircraft to gain speed when taking off on world record breaking attempts at maximum take-off weight. It was a centre of aeronautical construction, with infrastructure which, at the time, was state of the art, utilised for testing the resistance of construction materials and for the wind-tunnel testing of aerodynamic profiles. It was, furthermore, a global centre of excellence for aviation medicine.
In 1978 an announcement came as a shock to the enthusiast community: the Reparto Volo della Seconda Regione Aerea was to be disbanded, and replaced by the 303° Gruppo Autonomo. The based aircraft would lose their RR- prefix codes and assume those of the 303°, also adopting the new insignia on their fins. It was also decided that on this occasion the older aircraft mentioned above would be, in all probability, finally grounded. This led me to quickly send off a request to the Stato Maggiore for permission for a photographic visit, and, receiving a positive response, I set off by train to visit the Lazio city and to capture this final historic phase in the unit’s history, and to immortalise those aircraft flying with the RR- code prefix, as well as listening for a final time to the sound of some mythical piston engines. I was met by the Deputy Base Commander, who took us to a very diverse flight line, boasting some very interesting aircraft which were, unfortunately, in the final days of their operational service.
The final operational C 45 with the unit, MM61862, was there, wearing the code RR-11, and was one of the few aircraft modified in Italy to perform aerial photo-mapping, featuring a glazed nose which housed the camera operator, and a hatch in the floor for taking vertical pictures from mid-fuselage. Only two years earlier this aircraft had been utilised in Friuli to conduct a photographic survey of the damage caused by the earthquake, and to direct the efforts of rescuers.
Another Beechcraft C 45 MM61714, coded RR-18, was parked out on the grass, having just completed its final missions.
The T-6 fleet comprised just two still operational aircraft, both H4M versions, the longest serving. Of the other two versions, the H2 and the G, only piles of scrapped airframes were present. The “gialloni” MM53825 RR-55 and MM53815 were, in those days, still fully operational.
My sadness at seeing just one single Dakota on the ramp was lightened by the fact that I noticed that it was MM61765, coded RR-03, the famous “pinocchio”, the aircraft being modified with a lengthened nose to contain the airborne radar used in the De Havilland DH113 “Vampire” all-weather interceptor, and which had served for a few years as a flying classroom for the radar operators posted onto the British fighter. When the F86K entered service, the C 53D “pinocchio” retained its modified nose, and was transferred out, continuing its service with the Scuola Plurimotori. It was, however, the final Dakota to fly with the Seconda Regione Aerea, and was scheduled not to be passed on to the 303° Gruppo Autonomo, being destined to be finally retired from the ranks of the Aeronautica Militare.
A different fate awaited the numerous Siai 208M, amongst which MM62005 RR-41 and MM61983 RR-83, which would continue to fly for many years with the 303° Gruppo on a variety of duties, amongst which being the facilitation of continuation flying for those officers posted to desk-bound duties at the Ministero or other offices in Roma.
Three Piaggio P 166M were present on that day, MM61887 RR-35, MM61921 RR-33 and MM61929, which carried no codes.
The “piaggioni”, however, would continue to grace the skies with their presence flying missions with the 303° on behalf of the Istituto Geografico Militare, two aircraft being modified for aerial photo mapping, replacing the two photographic C 45 while inheriting their individual aircraft numbers (11 and 12).
That was everything I saw on the old apron at Guidonia on that September morning almost forty years ago. I didn’t look into the hangars, as at that time it would have bene considered as a minimum indiscreet, and probably if I had asked, I would never have been given permission.
Images and text by Elio Viroli
Produced by Giorgio Ciarini