We would like to thank the following for their help in assisting us in the making of this article;
Francesca Maggi (British FCO, Defence Attaché, Rome)
Michele Seri, Simone Antonetti, Morgan Brighel (HQ Italian AF, Rome)
Col Enrico Pederzolli (Commander, 4º Stormo)
Lt Gaia Mauloni (PIO, 4º Stormo)
Capt Walter Pacini (9º Gruppo)
Following many changes and during the pre and post-World War II period, a new era dawned for the Italian Air Force when Italy joined the NATO alliance in 1949; and in 1951 the unit acquired their first jet-engine aircraft, the De Havilland Vampire. In August 1953, 12º Gruppo was re-established within the unit and in June 1956, along with the Air Force's re-organization, the wing changed into an Air Brigade equipped with the North American F-86E Sabre, moving at the same time to Practica di Mare air base near Rome.
The unit moved to Grosseto in November 1962, with 9º Gruppo replacing their obsolete F-86Es in favour of the much improved Lockheed F-104G Starfighter and thus becoming the first 'supersonic' unit in the AMI. At the same time, 12º Gruppo moved to Gioia del Colle and transitioned to the F-86K. In 1964, with 10º Gruppo also having joined the wing, the unit had received its full complement of aircraft and once again became a Stormo. The F-104G was later replaced in 1970 by the F-104S version of Lockheed's Starfighter; and in 1985, 20º Gruppo equipped with the F-104G and TF-104G joined 4º Stormo.
The current era dawned for 4º Stormo on 16th March 2004 with the honour of being the first unit to fly the Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon in AMI service. Designated the F-2000A (single-seat) and F-2000B (twin-seat) by the Italian's, it is worth noting that the aircraft assigned to 4º Stormo are actually owned and managed by the GEA (904º Gruppo Efficienza Aeromobili, or Aircraft Efficiency Group), who maintain the fleet and make the aircraft available for the gruppi operations.
9º Gruppo's kit room
A Typhoon basks in the glorious August weather at Grosseto
Colonel Enrico Pederzolli took over as the Wing Commander of 4º Stormo on 21st July 2014. An Afghan and Balkans veteran with over 3,000 hours on more than 40 types, Col Pederzolli is 44 years of age. After graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1993, he completed his flight training during 1994 in Texas under the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Programme, before moving to the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE) at RAF Cottesmore, UK. He then took up his first frontline post with 154º Gruppo/6º Stormo at Ghedi for a period of 3.5 years, before he was selected for test pilot training.
The Aeronautica Militare Italiana's (AMI) 4º Stormo is the oldest wing in the Italian Air Force, with more than 80 years of effective continuous activity from 1931 until the present day. Currently operating the Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon in the air defence and pilot conversion roles at Grosseto air base, 4º Stormo has two gruppi (squadrons) equipped with the Typhoon, these being 9º Gruppo CIO and 20º Gruppo AO. Jetwash Aviation Photos had the honour of embedding itself with the unit in August 2014 to report on the current state of play with the Typhoon in AMI service; and the differing roles that the two associated gruppi conduct.
904º GEA (Gruppo Efficienza Aeromobili) was formed at Grosseto in April 2005 in conjunction with the arrival of the Typhoon fleet. The Typhoons at Grosseto are actually 'owned' by the GEA and not the respective gruppi, with aircraft being pooled between the two units. A huge advance in capability was taken on when Grosseto transitioned from the F-104S to the Typhoon; and this resulted in a big learning curve as the maintenance crews moved from the days of the spanner and screwdriver into the computer era. All Level 1 maintenance is conducted by the GEA, with aircraft requiring major overhaul being sent to Alenia-Aermacchi at Cameri. Colonel Enrico Pederzolli (Commander, 4 Wing) told us that the AMI are "very happy" with the performance and reliability of the Typhoon, with this being borne out by the fact that the fleet has now achieved over 30,000 flight hours.
Taking a rest in the scorching Italian sun, these maintenance engineers await a tug to tow this Typhoon into the 904º GEA hangar
Located on the west coast of Italy between Rome and Firenze, 4º Stormo forms an integral part of the Italian and NATO air defence system. Along with Trapani and Gioia del Colle, Grosseto provides the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) for the defence of Italian airspace. Having taken on the QRA for central and northern Italy in December 2005, 4º Stormo has subsequently taken on the role of providing air defence for Albania and Slovenia since early 2010, as well as providing support to Switzerland's limited QRA mission. In addition to the QRA responsibility, 4º Stormo is also involved in NATO's Air Policing role involving Iceland and the Baltic states.
9º Gruppo CIO (Caccia Intercettori Ognitempo), which translates to All-Weather, Fighter-Interceptor in English, was formed on 10th April 1917 in Villaverla, Vicenza as part of the 6th Divisione Aerea. After being assigned to 1º Stormo in 1923, 9º Gruppo later became part of 4º Stormo in 1931 at Merna. Since then, apart from a couple of brief spells when the unit was assigned to other Stormo's, 9º Gruppo has spent the majority of its service life within the realms of 4º Stormo. As previously mentioned, 9º Gruppo joined the 'jet age' in 1951 and subsequently flew both the De Havilland DH.100 Vampire and North American F-86E Sabre, before it became the first 'supersonic' unit within the AMI, flying the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. 9º Gruppo continued to operate Lockheed's legendary Starfighter, with both the F-104S and F-104S-ASA versions being flown, before the unit transitioned to their current mount in 2004, the Eurofighter Typhoon. The AMI has a long tradition of specialising in specific roles; and as such 9º Gruppo CIO continues to operate in the air defence role.
Undergoing maintenance in the 904º GEA hangar is #MM55131, a two-seat trainer version
20º Gruppo AO (Addestramento Operativo, or Operational Training) was first formed on 26th March 1918 at Castenedolo, Brescia. However its life was initially very short, as it was dis-established in 1919. Having re-formed shortly before the outbreak of World War II as part of 52º Stormo, it later formed 51º Stormo along with 21º Gruppo at Rome-Ciampino. In 1952 the unit took charge of its first jet equipment in the form of the Republic F-84G Thunderstreak. February 1965 saw 20º Gruppo charged with the training of all Lockheed F-104 Starfighter pilots joining the AMI; operating all of the twin-seat TF-104Gs flown by the air force. 20º Gruppo continued with the ubiquitous Starfighter until the very end of its career with the AMI, having the honour of flying the last F-104G version in June 1994. It continued to operate the two-seat TF-104G alongside the F-104S-ASA until 2004, when the Eurofighter Typhoon started to enter AMI service. As the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), 20º Gruppo has the responsibility for the training of future AMI Typhoon pilots; and as such operate all of the twin-seat Typhoons in AMI service other than one or two that are sometimes loaned to 311º Gruppo of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (RSV, or Flight Test Unit) at Pratica di Mare. The OCU vary their conversion programme subject to the experience of the pilots on each course. For example, student pilots from the flight training school at Lecce (Italy also trains student pilots in the USA and Canada) will take the 'Full Course' over a period of 24 weeks, with around one third of the training being conducted in the simulator. For pilots converting from another fast-jet and with previous air defence experience, the sorties flown would be drastically reduced and the training completed in less than 15 weeks.
The Plane Captain watches on as his steed taxi's out of Box 5 and head's to Grosseto's runway
A 4º Stormo Typhoon rests inside one of the climate-controlled 'boxes' at Grosseto
Parked outside the 904º GEA maintenance hangar is #MM7271
#MM7326 carries a "30,000 FLIGHT HOURS" slogan
Painted to commemorate the milestone achieved by the Italian Air Force Typhoon fleet
The Typhoon above illustrates the large dorsal air brake atop the fuselage
Part of a 2-ship afternoon sortie, #MM7235 takes off from Runway 03 at Grosseto
The Typhoon above illustrates the standard overall grey colour scheme applied to the aircraft at Grosseto
The two-seat Typhoon above is seen taxying out of 'Box 2' for a 3-ship mission flown by 20º Gruppo
After conducting his training in California, he joined the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (RSV) at Pratica di Mare, where he spent the next 11 years. During his time at the RSV, Col Pederzolli took charge of the Tornado Mid-Life Update programme and also flew the Eurofighter Typhoon. After leaving Pratica he was assigned to 'Air Staff' in Rome for a period of four years, before taking up his current post as commander of 4º Stormo.
The Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon; The AMI's Typhoons were the first of any of the partner nations to establish a QRA facility, the first to get the NATO Quick Response Force certification and the first to provide air policing for NATO nations lacking such capability. Replacing both the F-104 Starfighter and LMTAS F-16 Fighting Falcon in AMI service, the Typhoon provides a huge advance in capability over its predecessors. The AMI Typhoons are dedicated air superiority fighters and unlike the Royal Air Force Typhoons, they will not incorporate a 'swing-role' capability.
The delta-wing, canard configured Typhoon is primarily built of advanced composite materials designed to deliver a low radar profile and strong airframe, with only 15% of the aircraft’s surface being made of metal. Capable of Mach 2.0 performance and a surface ceiling of 65,000ft, the Typhoon is powered by two Eurojet EJ200 afterburning turbo-fan engines; each producing 23,000lbs of thrust on full re-heat. The Typhoon's sensor fit includes the PIRATE Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST), which provides passive air-to-air target detection and air-to-surface operations in the Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) mode; and the Captor-M mechanically scanned radar. Development aircraft have already flown with the SELEX Captor-E, Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar as shown during the Farnborough Airshow this year. The 'Glass Cockpit' features a Martin-Baker Mk.16A zero-zero ejection seat, three full-colour Multi-Function Display (MFD) screens, inertial and GPS navigation; and an integrated Instrument Landing System (ILS). The self-defence suite consists of a Laser Warning Receiver (LWR) and Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), as well as a Missile Approach Warning (MAW) system and chaff & flare dispensers.
Grosseto has a variety of shelters and hangars, including four assigned to the QRA jets. Of note are ten modern flight line hangars or 'boxes', similar to those used by the German Air Force at Laage for their Typhoons. Their construction not only provides excellent space for the maintenance personnel to service the aircraft in a clean, temperature controlled environment, but also benefit from front and rear doors, which allow the Typhoons to taxi in and out of them without assistance from a tug.
4º Stormo History;Tracing its heritage back to the First World War, the 'Prancing Horse' emblem is among the oldest traditions of what is now 4º Stormo. Having been applied to the Spad aircraft of Francesco Baracca, one of the earliest Italian aces, who scored a total of 34 victories, the unit badge took on more significance and replaced the original official unit insignia in 1933 when 9º Gruppo began applying a white horse on a black background, with 10º Gruppo applying a black horse on a white background.
A flight of three Typhoons perform a run and break over the Grosseto runway
A single-seat Typhoon recovers at Grosseto
4° Stormo Caccia
Aeronautica Militare Italiana
20º Gruppo operates all of the twin-stick Typhoons in the AMI
Note the Iris-T missile under the port wing
A single-seat Typhoon from 4º Stormo departs Grosseto's runway on 6th August 2014
Gear-up as a single-seat Typhoon powers out of Grosseto on an afternoon mission
No restrictions here; get as close as you dare!