The Frecce Tricolori, the Italian National Aerobatics Team, or Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (PAN) had their 60th anniversary in 2020. Due to the pandemic the event was delayed for one yearend finally celebrated in 2021. This was the only chance to give a larger audience the possibility to visit this airshow. The traditional location for this birthday party is the Frecce’s home Rivolto airbase in Nothern Italy.
Where? Rivolto, Udine, Italy
Due to the still prevailing Covid-19-restrictions, access was limited to 17.000 visitors. Entry was free, but tickets had to be reserved online. They were ‘sold out’ within about 20 minutes and showed the strong interest of hardcore enthusiasts and the general public alike.
It was the Frecce’s only show on home grounds this year, and despite the run for tickets, Rivolto airbase felt rather empty this time. This is compared to around 450.000 visitors, who visited the Frecce’s anniversary in previous years.
The showground had a clear layout this time, with the seating area separated in different blocks, and chairs rigorously set up to guarantee the required social distancing for everyone while watching the airshow.
After passing the long queue to get in – some people were unlucky and it took them two hours to get in – the static display was not far. It was well-arranged and consisted solely of Italian military aircraft and helicopters. Aircraft such as the MQ-9 Reaper, F-2000 (Eurofighter), Tornado, AMX or the Gulfstream G550 AEW platform were presented. Opposite of the aircraft, several helicopters were parked as well. It was especially impressive to see the huge AW101 parked opposite the tiny MD500.
A larger area was closed off around the F-35A, which was parked a bit aside from the other fast jets. Obviously this is the Italian Air Force’s most modern and most valuable asset. And this was it… walking around the static display was a rather quick walk, it took no more than 10 minutes to complete it.
European Display Team Congratulants
The airshow itself started around 1pm with the national anthem and an AW-139 helicopter carrying the Italian flag, before the first block of flying displays started. This was the part for several international display teams. As congratulants the Polish Team Orlik, the Midnight Hawks from Finland, Spanish Patrulla Aguilla and the Patrouille Suisse lined up. It took a while until those four display had finished their displays, and honestly it got a bit boring as well to get a non-stop presentation of formation flying. Even more the international teams obviously did not have an easy life to perform in front of the Italian public, who were already eagerly waiting for their national heroes.
Those four display teams that visited the Frecce Tricolori’s anniversary airshow were the only foreign participants. More might have been difficult in Covid times, but maybe also it was due to the fact that two other airshows, in Luxeuil and Ostrava, were running in parallel that week-end. So this event continued as a purely Italian affair.
A Legendary Formation
The second part of the flying displays was once again opened by the AW-139 rescue helicopter carrying the Italian flag. However before a formation was presented, which might have been the highlight of the event. It represented previous and current trainer aircraft of the Italian Air Force. It was called “Formazione Legend”, and consisted of a T-6 Texan, Fiat G-46, MB326K, MB326E, SF-260EA, S-208M, MB-339A, MB-339CD and finally a T-346A.
What followed was an QRA intercept of the AW-139 by two F-2000 Eurofighters. The same two jets later brought also the Italian Airbus A319 state aircraft to Rivolto. On board this aircraft was also Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who attended the festivities on Saturday.
The Italian Flight Test Centre, or Reparto Sperimentale Volo (RSV) contributed three solo displays, namely the C-27J Spartan, M346 and Eurofighter F-2000A.
Italian Air Force Airpower
What followed was an airpower demonstration of the Italian Air Force, lasting more than 20 minutes with non-stop action of (fast jet) aircraft and helicopters. It was orchestrated as a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) operation, showing the exfiltration of personnel from hostile territory. A C-130J transport aircraft landed, two HH-101A helicopters circled around, and demonstrated the rappelling of ITAF Special Forces.
Fast passes of Tornado IDS, AMX, and Typhoons fighter-bombers were also parts of the show. They were also carrying inert weapons as part of the demonstration, and one AMX even released flares. Meanwhile an F-35A was circling overhead, providing SEAD and top cover for the ongoing operation.
Also a KC-767A strategic transport and tanker aircraft took off from Rivolto directly in front of the spectators. Towards the end of the display, it also led a formation, including fast jet receivers, and a little bit behind, the Hercules and Spartan.
Rivolto saw also the first public appearance of the Italian Air Force F-35B. It is the newest aircraft to join the Italian Air Force, it is expensive, and from its demonstration it for sure makes up a great airshow asset. Of course it was presented in hover flight configuration, with swivel engine and open doors and making lots of noise.
The closing of the day was crowned by appearance of the Frecce Tricolori.
An Italian Love Affair
For their anniversary they aircraft of the team received special tail markings, representing the different Italian Air Force display teams that existed in the 1950s before the Frecce Tricolori were officially established. Those were namely the “Cavallino Rampante”, “Getti Tonanti”, “Tigri Bianche”, “Diavoli Rossi” and “Lancieri Neri”, flying the F-86 and F-84F back in those days. 5 pairs of MB-339s received the 5 liveries of those Squadrons, the eleventh aircraft, “Pony 0”, was adorned with the 60th anniversary badge.
The Frecce Tricolori were the fifth display team that day, but they were literally flying in their own league. 10 jet aircraft, on their homeground, Luciano Pavarotti’s music, or flying for the National anthem and drawing a huge Italian flag in the deep bleu sky. It was pure – Italian – emotion for the end of the day!
The airshow was completely backlit by then, but this did not matter. It was also a fitting birthday party, maybe not a great and big airshow. But most likely it was not intended to be. One could say that it was very focused, but one could also say that there was not much to see. The event clearly concentrated on the Frecce Tricolori, its 60th anniversary and the Aeronautica Militare Italiane (AMI). It was an Italian love affair!