Italian Air Force celebrates 84th year

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Gianni Spaziani
  • Italian senior national representative, Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program - executive offic
On March 28, 1923, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force) was founded as an independent service by King Vittorio Emanuele III as the Regia Aeronautica, which equates to Royal Air Force.

After World War II, when Italy was made a republic by referendum, the Regia Aeronautica was given its current name.

Italy is one of the nations that can boast some of the oldest traditions in the field of aviation. As far back as 1884, the Regio Esercito, or Royal Army, was authorized to equip itself with its own air component, the Servizio Aeronautico, based in Rome.

In 1911, during the Italo-Turkish war, Italy employed aircraft for the first time ever in the world, for reconnaissance and bombing missions. As a result of Benito Mussolini, who wanted Italy to become a world power, the Regia Aeronautica was born on March 28, 1923. During the 1930s, the Regia Aeronautica was involved in its first military operation, initially in Ethiopia in 1935 and later in Spain between 1936 and 1939.

At the same time a lot of enterprises were accomplished and many records were set. Worth noting are the De Pinedo-Campanelli raid of 1925; the Amundsen-Nobile expedition of 1926; the De Pinedo-Del Prete raid of 1927; the first Atlantic Cruise of 1930, and the second three years later; the Agello speed record of 1933, and the Pezzi altitude record in 1938 of 56,047 feet.

After a period of neutrality, Italy entered World War II on June 10, 1940, alongside Germany, in which the Regia Aeronautica could deploy more than 3,000 aircraft when less than 60 percent were serviceable.

The Regia Aeronautica fought from the icy steps of Russia to the sand of the North African desert.

After the armistice of Sept.8, 1943, Italy divided into two parts, and the same fate befell the Regia Aeronautica. The end of the hostilities on May 8, 1945, opened the gates to the rebirth of military aviation in Italy.

A referendum resulted in the proclamation of Italy as a republic on June 18, 1946, and in parallel the Regia Aeronautica was transformed into the Aeronautica Militare Italiana, the title that it holds today.

The Paris Peace Treaties of 1947 placed severe restrictions on the Italian armed forces, but becoming a member of NATO in 1949 opened the way for modernization of the AMI.

With American military aid, through the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, the AMI saw the arrival of P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt piston-engined fighters.
Later in 1952, the best aircraft of the period - F-84G, F-86E and F-84F fighters and C-119 transports - came to Italy. Not so happy to see foreign-designed aircraft serving the AMI, the reborn Italian aviation industry began to develop and produce aircraft of its own like the Fiat G-91, Aermacchi MB-326, Piaggio P-166 and the line of Augusta-Bell helicopters.

The 1970s witnessed the acquisition of the Aeritalia G-222 and Lockheed C-130, which renewed the transport fleet, and the Lockheed-Aeritalia F-104-S, a fighter-variant of the Starfighter developed specifically to meet the requirements of the Italian defense system.

In 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Italy joined the coalition forces, and for the first time in 45 years, Italian pilots and aircraft were tasked with military wartime operations.

Further crises were going to require the intervention of the Italian Air Force in Somalia, Mozambique, Eastern Africa, Timor East, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia, only a few minutes flying time from the Italian borders, saw a need to improve the future air defense.

As a stopgap and as replacement for leased Tornado Air Defense Variant interceptors, the AMI has leased 30 F-16A Block 15 Air Defense Fighters, and four F-16 Block 10 Fighting Falcons, with an option to lease some more. The coming years also will see the introduction of 121 Euro-Fighter 2000 Typhoons, replacing the leased F-16 Fighting Falcons, and the Joint Strike Fighter. Furthermore, updates are foreseen on the Tornado IDS/IDT and the AMX-fleet.

The transport capacity has already been improved with the delivery of 18 C-130Js and an upgrade program for the C-130Hs. Also, a newly developed G-222, called C-27J Spartan, will enter into service, replacing the G-222.

The aerobatic precision team called the Frecce Tricolori (Three-colored Arrows) is the precision aerobatic demonstration team for the Italian Air Force. It flies the Aermacchi MB-339-A/PAN, a two-seat fighter-trainer capable of roughly 898-km/h at sea level. The Frecce Tricolori is the largest in the world, counting 10 planes in their team. Nine remain in formation while one other flies solo during most of the air show. The team is based in Rivolto in the northeastern Italian region called Fuiuli Venezia Giulia.

The Frecce Tricolori are considered one of the best teams in the world in their specialty. In 2005, they won the award for best exhibition at the most important military airshow: the Royal International Air Tattoo, which is held in Fairford in the United Kingdom.