Text: Philippe Decock - Pictures: Philippe Decock - AMI 212 Gruppo
Š sbap 2019
 
History

The Italian Air Force airport located in Galatina (Lecce) was established on March 31st, 1931 by act of the Minister Italo Balbo, as "Campo di Fortuna" (makeshift camp) and was named after Captain Pilot Antonio Ramirez who died in a flight accident in Capua on April 28th, 1930.
Since 1936, the base assumed the structure of "Second class Royal Airport" and in 1938 it was named after the Military Valor Honor Medal Fortunato Cesari. He was born in Galatina and died during the war in Ethiopia on November 8th, 1936.
In the first phase of WWII, the airport became a strategic base for the operations over the Balkans and the Mediterranean Sea. After September 8th, 1943, several cobelligerent Wings of the "Regia Aeronautica" were deployed to Galatina Base, alternating their presence, waiting to be deployed over the freed Italian territories. This period of time is called "Rinascita Aeronautica" (the Revival of the Air Force). The aircraft were regrouped in two big systems : Bomber and Transports with logistic duties and Fighters with escort, reconnaissance and close air support duties.
On November 1st, 1945, the airbase was designated as Flying Training School and organized with three Squadrons :
- 1st Flying Squadron, consisting of 1st and 2nd Flight (moved afterwards to Gioia del Colle Airbase) appointed to Flying Training - 1st Phase;
- 2nd Flying Squadron, consisting of the 3rd Flight (deployed at Brindisi Airbase) and the 4th Flight (based at Galatina Airbase) appointed to Flight Training - 2nd Phase;
- 3rd Flying Squadron, consisting of 5th and 6th Flight (based in Galatina Airbase) appointed to Flight Training - 3rd Phase.
On September 1st, 1946, the base was named "Scuola di Volo delle Puglie" (Apulia Flying Training School) and from November 1st, 1948, it was placed under the command of the "Ispettorato delle Scuole dell'A.M." (Air Force School Inspectorate) located in Guidonia (Rome).
On March 28th, 1954, the school received the italian flag, symbolizing the acknowledgement of the institute, with D.P.R. (Presidential Decree) no. 181 dated March 2nd, 1954. From May 1st, 1955, to November 1st, 1957, Galatina Airbase was named "Flying Training School 2nd and 3rd Phase".
Galatina military airport was then called "Scuola Volo Periodo Basico" (Basic Phase Flying Training School) on November 1st, 1957.
On October 25th, 1960, Galatina Flying School was appointed with the duties previously assigned to Alghero School, becoming "Scuola Volo Periodo Basico Iniziale" (Basic Phase Initial Flying Training School).
The jet aircraft Aermacchi MB-326 took over the propeller North American T-6 Texan on January 15th, 1962 for "jet ab-initio" training; therefore the school became "S.V.B.I.A. - Scuola Volo Basico Iniziale Aviogetti" (Basic Initial Jet Flying Training School).
In 1982, after 20 years of MB-326 flying activity and more than 400.000 flying hours, the school started the operational transition on the new Italian jet aircraft, the Aermacchi MB-339A (designated T-339A in Italian Air Force service), still in use today with the new MLU (Mid Life Update) version. In the meantime the Flight Instructor School in Grottaglie closed and the duty of qualifying new Instructor Pilots was assigned to "S.V.B.I.A.".

On September 14th, 1986, the flying school, focal point for the professional training of the Italian Air Force pilots, becomes the 61st Air Brigade before taking the present status of 61st Wing on December 1st, 1995.
From August 1997, the 61st Wing employs the MB-339CD (T-339C), the new version of the former MB-339A.
From October 30th, 2003, the 61st Wing is dedicated to the memory of Second Lieutenant Pilot Carlo Negri.
On October 2nd, 2014, the first T-346A took off for its first training mission with two 61st Wing instructor pilots. This flight operation marked the beginning of the Italian Air Force new advanced Integrated Training System (ITS).
On May 8th, 2015, the Wing's insignia was changed. The new one had already been used in the 1930's by the "Scuola Caccia" in Castiglione del Lago, and shows an eagle which embraces Diana's bow and arrow.
Lecce-Galatina uses a single 2000 meters long 14-32 runway.

 
 
Mission

The 61st Wing mission is to train student pilots to achieve Military Pilot Wings "Fighter Track" (Tornado, AMX, Eurofighter and F-35) and "RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) Track" (Predator); introduce military pilots to fighter fundamentals; support with own assets the operational activity of the Armed Force upon request.
The flight training is divided as follows :
- phase II : common to all student military pilots, is aimed at selecting the flight tracks on which the students will be employed (Fighters, Remotely Piloted Aircraft, Helicopters, Transport)
- phase III : directed esclusively to the student pilots selected for Fighter Track and RPA Track, is finalized to achieve Military Pilot Wings
- phase IV : preparatory to the introduction to fighter fundamentals training (Lead In to Fighter Training)
- to qualify Instructor Pilots (Pilot Instructor Training - PIT).
The Lead In Fighter Trainer used by the 61st Wing is the Aermacchi M-346 " Master " (T-346A).
A student will " fly " the aicraft in extremely realistic simulators before flying it for real.
The " Master " is a very powerful aircraft with impressive performances, it is equipped with a glass cockpit, HOTAS (Hands On Trottle And Stick), VCI (Voice Control Input), HMD (Helmet Mouted Display), it can replicate the flight characteristics of other aircraft like the Tornado and the Typhoon and, last but not least, it can simulate a wide array of sensors (radar, targeting or reconnaissance pods) and weapons (guns, free fall and guided bombs, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles) as if they were physically present on the aircraft.
For example, a two-ship mission can be flown with only one aircraft taking to the air while the other aircraft is " flown " from the Full Mission Simulator. Both aircraft will be linked to each other by the system so that each pilot can " see " what the other pilot is doing.
The T-346A is also able to carry training and live ordonance like bomb rocket dispensers, gun pods, AIM-9L and IRIS-T missiles.
In the near future, both versions of the MB-339 will be replaced by the Aermacchi M-345A. This new aircraft is a bit less powerful than the MB-339 but it should not be a problem as the MB-339 is almost never flown at full power.
The 61st Wing's training is addressed to both Italian Air Force personnel and Allied and Partner Countries Air Forces in all Phases of training.
The Italian Air Force is currently increasing its flight training output through the "International Flight Training School" project (IFTS), wherein the 61st Wing plays the leading role. The IFTS makes use of the international acknowledgment towards the 61st Wing excellence in flight training and is set to gather the interest and student pilots of many other International Air Forces.
At the time of my visit, in August 2018, the countries having sent instructors and/or students to 61st Stormo were Argentina, Austria, France, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Singapore, Spain and the USA.
To accomplish the mission, three flying Squadrons and the Crew Traning Center operate at the 61st Wing in a typical organization that covers all technical, logistic, financial and medical support aspects in order to accomplish the assigned tasks.

The three Flight Training Squadrons are :

- 212th Flying Squadron with the mission of training the military pilots assigned to fighter squadrons with the introduction to fighter fundamentals. At the present time Phase IV training is carried out on the new integrated training system T-346A. The Phase IV training is extremely important to ensure an appropriate training quality level achieved before starting operational conversion to the different air defense, attack and reconnaissance roles and is specifically designed to prepare 4th and 5th generation aircraft military pilots.

- 213th Flying Squadron with the mission of training the young student pilots selected for "Fighter" and "RPA" Track to achieve the Military Pilot Wings on FT-339C.

- 214th Flying Squadron with the mission of training the student pilots to complete the Phase II. Qualify the military pilots as Instructor Pilots (Pilot Instructor Training - PIT) on T-339A.

The 61st Wing also participates to the National Air Defense against low speed/low altitude flying aircrafts, technically called Slow Movers. Properly selected and qualified 212th Squadron crews are employed to accomplish this operational task, called Slow Mover Interceptor (SMI), using the aircraft appropriately equipped for the mission and used in accordance with National Authorities directives.

Equipments: T-339A, FT-339C, T-346A

 

61 Stormo welcomes you
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Medal of Honor recipient Carlo Negri
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 The flags of the participating nations
(Philippe DecockŠ)
The nice carpet at the entrance of the HQ building
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 61 Stormo unit commander
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 
 61 Stormo HQ welcomes you
(Philippe DecockŠ)
  
  
Simulations...
 212 LIFT squadron
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Basic simulator
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Intermediate simulator
(Philippe DecockŠ)

 Full mission simulator
(Philippe DecockŠ)
FMS cockpit
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Ready for departure
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
High above the Puglia region
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
 
Operations...
 
 Flying gear
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Preparing the G suits
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 A student preparing for a training flight
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Ready for the flight
(Philippe DecockŠ)


 61 Stormo maintenance "flight line", MB-339CD flight line line and M-346 shelters
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Face to face with the M-346A
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Inspection before a training flight
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Everything is checked
(Philippe DecockŠ)
The Master awaits
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 USAF instructor pilot attending the Pilot Instructor Course
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Back end of the Master
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Another M-346 awaiting
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Close up on the nose and the unconventional refueling bay location
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Close up on the nose of a MB-339CD
(Philippe DecockŠ)
MB-339CD being prepared for its next flight
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Don't be scared, it's not that high
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Team work
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 A lot of things to check
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 The beautiful lines of the MB-339CD
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Another MB-339CD
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Flight line under the Italian sun
(Philippe DecockŠ)
A legacy MB-339A
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Close up on the nose of a MB-339A
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Fire extinguisher always nearby
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 A beautiful Italian aircraft
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 MB-339A awaiting maintenance
(Philippe DecockŠ)
MB-339CD also awaiting its turn
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 MB-339A taking off…
(Philippe DecockŠ)
...for another training sortie
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 M-346A departing from runway 32
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Going around
(Philippe DecockŠ)
(Philippe DecockŠ)
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Retracting the gear
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Powerful Master
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
M-346A upon landing in a clean configuration
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
Master taking off
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
All three aircraft types operated by 61 Stormo
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
Above the Puglia coastline
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
The Master has the lead
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
 M-346A at the break
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Airbrake open
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Landing
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Are you looking at me ?
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 M-346A going around
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Sleek lines
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Touch down
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Slowing down
(Philippe DecockŠ)
On short final for a touch and go
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
Lecce city in the background
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
M-346A upon landing with the shelters in the background
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
 A pair of MB-339CD taxiing in
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Close up on the nose of a MB-339CD
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 View from the rear
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Thanks for waving !
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Side view of the MB-339CD
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Mission accomplished
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Back to the squadron building
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
 Refueling time
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Team work again
(Philippe DecockŠ)
MB-339A being prepared for its next flight
(Philippe DecockŠ)
M-346A at dusk
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
Dusk formation flying
(AMI 212 GruppoŠ)
 
10° Reparto Manutenzione Velivoli...
 
 MB-339A in deep maintenance
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 MB-339CD undergoing maintenance
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Close up on a MB-339CD
(Philippe DecockŠ)

 Working on a MB-339A body
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Dismanteled MB-339A and MB-339CD
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 Frecce Tricolori MB-339PAN in maintenance
(Philippe DecockŠ)
M-346A Master
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Do you like puzzles ?
(Philippe DecockŠ)
 
Wrecks and relics...
 
North American TH-6-4M Harvard IV
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Aermacchi MB-326A
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Aeritalia F-104S ASA-M
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Aermacchi MB-339A
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Aermacchi MB-339A with 212 Gruppo 60 anniversary scheme
(Philippe DecockŠ)
Aermacchi MB-339A with 10 RMV (Reparto Manutenzione Velivoli)
25 anniversary scheme

(Philippe DecockŠ)
 

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