The 50th anniversary of the F-104 Starfighter and the last year of active service within the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militaria Italiana – AMI) were the reason for an axcellent airshow at Pratica di Mare during the Pentecost weekend.
Many enthusiast travelled the long way to the airbase that is located just south of Rome and is the home of the test facilities of the AMI.
Where? Pratica di Mare – Italy
Besides the hardcore enthusiats (some even came from Japan to Italy) and the families and visitors that just wanted to have a nice day out, a lot of former One-O-Four pilots gathered as well to celebrate their famous plane.
The AMI is the only airforce that is still flying the Starfighter in the F-104S ASA-M version, nicknamed “Spillone” (great sting). However the number of airworthy jets is decreasing rapidly as October, 31st 2004 will mark the day of the last flight of the Spillone.
Today about 20 F-104 are still flying and the AMI did their best to bring as many Starfighters in the air as possible during that week-end.
The Air Show
Of course not only F-104s could be seen in the air that week-end. A lot of aircraft of the AMI were performing a flight display (Eurofighter, Tornado IDS, F-16A, AMX, C-130J, Piaggio Avanti) as well as jets from other countries (Belgian and Dutch F-16, Swiss F-18 Hornet and the Patrouille Suisse) but the main focus of interest was for sure on the Starfighters:
An impressive line-up of 9 Spillones on the flightline was a sight that might never be seen again. When all of them started up their engines and the good old J-79, especially of the TF-104G-M began howling, one felt being taken back in time. But that was already after the first highlight of the day: a formation fly-by consisting of a F-104, an F.3 Tornado, an F-16A ADF and a Eurofighter, representing past, present and future of the Italian Air Defence.
Shortly afterwards the 9 F-104s took-off and left a smoketrail on the horizon that could still be seen quite a while afterwards. 2 fly-bys in a diamond formation followed with the 3 special colored Starfighters in the middle (the red one in Ducati colors of the 9° Stormo, he blue TF-104G of the 4° Stormo and the elegant black one). But the Starfighter had also twice the possibility to show what they can: fast fly-bys and sheer climb capability. Very interesting to see the Eurofighter display in contrast to this!
To conclude the show the Frecce Tricolori took of and filled the blue Italian sky with smoke in the national colors green-white-red. As a final surprise the escorted the red 9-99 Starfighter after their display along the flightline, which zoomed off into the sky after the second fly-by. In order to perform a really fast fly-by, that caught many by surprise. Including me…
STARFIGHTERS: F-104S & TF-104G
Flight Display Demonstrations of the Italian Air Force and Navy, the highlights beeing the Harriers and the Pelican, but also the Tornado IDS, F-16A ADF and Eurofighter Typhoon, AMX, the Navy’s Harrier and Merlin as well as the C-27J and C-130 Hercules aircraft. Furthermore the Agusta A109 and HH-3F Pelikan performed a flying demonstration. Sadly, those demonstration were severely backlit due to the layout of the airfield, therefore I did not take too many photos of it. I preferred concentrating on the Spillones when they were returning on the taxiway:
Flight displays of visiting Air Forces and national Display Teams performing at Pratica di Mare 2004, including the Frecce Tricolori, Swiss F-18C Hornet, Belgian F-16, French Mirage 2000 and Austrian Saab 105OE.
The Static Display
In addition to this fantastic flight display a lot of colourful Italian helicopters were in the static display, as well as nearly all aircraft of the AMI from the AMX to the Breguet Atlantique. Foreign participation was sparse, but included nevertheless interesting examples like Turkish RF-4E, the German s/c MiG-29 and a Hungarian Mi-17 and Mi-24.
A good start of the year, many of the following shows in 2004 will have difficulties to outperform this show!!