The Gruppo Efficienza Aeromobili (Maintenance Squadron) at 72º Stormo in Frosinone conducts the majority of work required on the TH.500 fleet 'in-house'. The TH.500 is a fairly simplistic helicopter in modern terms and does not require any complex tooling or equipment to conduct the majority of work to maintain the fleet's airworthiness. Most of the AMI's TH.500B fleet are in operation with 72º Stormo, however a small number are also in service with a few Squadriglie Collegamenti (Liaison Flights) at various airbases around the country. As the central facility for TH.500 maintenance, the helicopters temporarily assigned to these liaison flights return to Frosinone for any work as and when required. In addition to the TH.500B fleet, the two older OH-500Bs still in operation with the AMI also return to Frosinone for required maintenance.
Seen on the main ramp at Frosinone is #72-30 undergoing some minor maintenance
The second course is the E-Learning Phase for 'Type Rating' on the TH-500B, which is completed over a four week period involving 85 hours of study. As with the MPL course, this is followed by a 'Front Phase' course of one week and 36 hours of study. Of course, the role of the GIP is not only to train the student pilots but also to facilitate the ongoing training of the Instructor Pilots, as well as managing and co-ordinating all of the training on the TH.500 flight simulator.
#72-01 formates below our photo-ship over Lago di Canterno
Despite its T-tail and the pointed nose of the cabin, the original egg-shaped lines of the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse are clear to see
#MM81304 is seen with snow skis attached to the standard skids on the TH.500B
Whilst the skis are not particularly large, they just add that little bit of extra width to the standard skids
Awarded the 'ISO 2001' Quality Assurance Certificate in February 2013, the theoretical courses run by the GIP are; the E-Learning Phase of the State and Military Helicopter Licence (MPL), which is seven weeks long and involves some 229 hours incorporating topics such as aviation medicine, navigation, Air Traffic Control (ATC) procedures, aircraft equipment & engines, meteorology and much more. This is then followed by the 'Front Phase', which involves a further three weeks and 90 hours of study, culminating in a final exam.
As mentioned earlier, the TH.500 is an extremely versatile and agile helicopter and can be configured for operations in adverse weather conditions such as heavy snow and also for waterborne operations. So, lastly we'd like to show you a few images of the TH.500B configured with snow skis and also with floats fitted for conducting waterborne operations. Being on the border of the Appennine Mountains, Frosinone regularly experiences snow during the Winter months, in fact only a couple of years ago the snow was so heavy that one of the older hangars on the base suffered a partial hangar collapse.
Two subordinate 'Flights' exist within 208º Gruppo Volo, these being 429º Flight and 430º Flight. As previously mentioned, the Squadron conducts flight training not only for the AMI, but also for the Marina Militare Italiana (Italian Navy-MMI), the Aviazione Dell'Esercito (Italian Army-AvEs), the Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard), the Arma Dei Carabinieri (Military Police), the Guardia di Finanza (Finance Police-GdF), the Polizia di Stato (Police), the Vigili Del Fuoco (Fire Brigade-VdF) and the Corpo Forestale (Forestry Corps). As the requirements for each force is slightly different, the training syllabus at Frosinone varies subject to the service that the student is assigned to. For example, the VdF, Polizia and Corpo Forestale students undergoing a helicopter type rating course (BPE) have 30 weeks of tuition and around 75 hours of flight time, which gives them a non-military pilot's licence.
#MM81285 is seen on one of Frosinone's helicopter parking pads
This TH.500 wears the standard camouflage pattern with the 72º Stormo badge on the vertical tail surface
AgustaWestland UH-139 Designed initially for the civilian market, the AW-139 as it is more commonly known, entered service with 72º Stormo in July 2012 to provide multi-engine training to the students. The two UH-139s on strength had seen previous service with the Italian Protezione Civil and are used for twin-engine/IFR/NVG conversion training of crews destined for the Italian Air Force’s HH-139A and VH-139 helicopters that are used for search and rescue and government transport duties; and also for the AgustaWestland HH-101 'CAESAR' helicopters, which are currently being delivered to the AMI for use as Combat Search & Rescue (CSAR) helicopters.
Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6C-67C engines, each of which provide 1,679HP and give the helicopter a range of 775 miles (1250km), the UH-139 has a maximum speed of 192mph (310 km/h) and a surface ceiling of 20,000ft (6,100m). The helicopter has a normal crew of two and can carry up to 14 passengers. The helicopter can also be equipped for Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) with up to four stretchers and also for Search & Rescue (SAR) duties with up to five passengers and one stretcher.
The UH-139 is equipped with both cockpit voice and flight data recorders, weather radar, Mode-s transponder, two GPS modules (GNSS/SBAS - Global Navigation Satellite System/Satellite Based Augmentation System), Traffic Collision Avoidance (TCAS), digital moving map and High Frequency (HF) radios.
Capt. Angelucci is one of 21 Flight Instructors currently on strength with 208º Gruppo; the first woman to qualify as an instructor pilot within the AMI back in May 2011. She is very proud to be the first and to date, still the only woman Flight Instructor in the Italian Armed Forces. Prior to her IP training she was assigned to 85º Gruppo SAR, flying the HH-3F Pelican.
After Carla had completed her pre-flight checks and the ground crew had gone through the short safety briefing with me, we departed Frosinone Air Base at 12.31 local time for our 1.5 hour mission, departing northwest as a 2-ship towards Lago di Canterno for some shots of our wingman over the lake. We were then returned to base where one of the UH-139s was on station to enable us to get some images of the aircraft hovering. This was then joined by another two TH.500s for us to get some shots of both types together. Finally, another TH.500 joined us before we set off to the south for some air to air of the UH-139 and the three TH.500s.
The maintenance hangar houses around ten helicopters undergoing various stages of work
A rotor-less #72-29 is seen on 21st october 2015
Although the simulator is not a full-motion system (meaning that it does not incorporate a hydraulic system that provides a more realistic motion during operations), the incorporated software reproduces a highly realistic environment for the student to operate and provides a huge cost saving to the AMI, as it enables students to 'fly' without the associated costs when operating a real helicopter, such as fuel, maintenance etc. It is also hugely beneficial in terms of enabling the student to experience emergency procedures without any risk to an airframe, plus the opportunity to operate in a variety of different weathers, some of which may not always be experienced in day to day operations from the flight-line.
72º Stormo operate two AgustaWestland UH-139 utility helicopters for multi-engine training
Both helicopters were previously operated by the Protezione Civile
72º Stormo operate both the Breda-Nardi-Hughes TH.500B (above) and the AgustaWestland UH-139 (below)
Frosinone Air Base, Italy, October 2015
Since 2014, AMI students attaining their Military Helicopter Wings via the BPM(LE) course, now have 58-weeks of training, which includes a total of 162 hours of flight instruction. This incorporates 105 hours on the single-engine TH.500, followed by 57 flight hours on the twin-engine UH-139. From time to time the Wing also trains student pilots from other nations for the BPE course, which in the past has included Afghanistan, Albania, Malta, Zambia and currently Lebanon and Djibouti.
In addition to the well documented training role of 72º Stormo the instructors, who are all qualified frontline operational pilots, conduct civil protection, Search and Rescue (SAR) missions, humanitarian & peace-keeping operations, and are regularly involved in cross-country and out of area missions. An example of this is the unit's involvement in operations in Albania between July 1999 and June 2000, the United Nations MME mission in Eritrea between November 2000 and July 2001, and KFOR duties in Kosovo between June 2000 and December 2003, where the Wing conducted force protection, reconnaissance and light transport duties.
Breda-Nardi-Hughes NH.500E Specifics Initially operating the NH.500D helicopter from 1985-1990, the unit received 50 of the more advanced NH.500E version from May 1990. Designed and manufactured by Hughes Helicopters in the United States and known as the TH.500B in AMI service, the aircraft were constructed under licence by Breda-Nardi (now part of the AgustaWestland Company) at Monteprandone. Based on the earlier Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, the TH.500B is a light, multi-role helicopter able to operate with either skids, floats (for water-borne operations), or snow skis.
The aircraft is powered by a single 420 Horse-Power, Allison 250-C.20B Turboshaft engine, giving the helicopter a range of some 267 miles (429km), a maximum speed of 175mph (282km/h) and a surface ceiling of 16,000ft (4,877m). Standard endurance for the TH.500 is two hours, with a maximum of 3.5 hours with an auxiliary fuel tank fitted beneath the rear seats.
The TH.500B has a two pilot cockpit and can carry a further two passengers in the rear seats. It can also be configured to carry two stretchers (which replace the rear seats and are placed in a 'bunk-bed' style one atop the other), together with a winch or under-fuselage cargo-hook. The aircraft can also be equipped with a 'bambi-bucket' for fire-fighting duties and a range of armament, including 50mm rocket pods and 5.56mm machine gun. Standard equipment includes VHF/UHF communications, IFF identification, a VOR, ADF and DME radar navigation fit, together with InstrumentLanding System (ILS) aids. The cockpit is compatible for NVG (Night Vision Goggles) and also has a GPS (Global Positioning System).
The bowser crew hauling out the refuelling hose to top-up this TH.500's fuel tanks
#MM81264 in formation with us during our mission on 20th October 2015
Overhauls conducted by the Maintenance Squadron are Level One, Level Two and Level Three airframe overhauls are conducted at 25, 100 and 300 hour intervals respectively, together with Level One and Level Two engine maintenance (Level Three being conducted by Piaggio) and Level One avionics overhauls (Level Two and Level Three being conducted by 6º RME at Pratica di Mare). Consistent with 72º Stormo's requirements in general, the Wing also trains all NCO technicians and engineers at Frosinone, which incorporates both technical 'hands on' training and theoretical Computer Based Training (CBT).
The individual parking spots at Frosinone are clearly visible from the control tower
The base has 35 of these parking spots, plus 11 training heli-pads on the grass area of the airfield
The best way to experience 72º Stormo's operations is of course from the air. On the afternoon of Tuesday 20th October 2015 we had the honour to fly with the unit. First up was our pre-flight briefing, where we sat down with the crews from the other TH.500s that were to be part of the mission to discuss exactly what we wanted to achieve in terms of photographic opportunities. Our main aim was to get the TH.500s in various situations and with a variety of backdrops. We also wanted 2-ship and 3-ship flights and some opportunities with one of the Wing's UH-139s.
The TH.500 for our afternoon mission on 20th October would be #MM81294, coded 72-31
72º Stormo TH.500Bs illustrate the versatility of this small but highly efficient helicopter as they work with a small waterborne craft
The display in the simulator is provided by four high resolution projectors and a semi-cylindrical screen that provides 180º horizontal and 72º vertical views. The screen mimics the 'real world' and can provide variable light and weather conditions, with the instructor able to control all sub-systems from an external station, with the functionality to record and play back the mission, which is recorded from two cameras within the cockpit. This enables the instructor and student to then sit and replay the flight module together and de-brief accordingly. In addition to the external station, instructors can access all features of the simulator whilst sitting next to the student via a tablet PC connected to a wireless network linked to the external Instructor's Station.
September 2013 saw the introduction of a Selex-Galileo TH.500B flight simulator at Frosinone, the first time that 72º Stormo had access to such a system. The flight-sim incorporates a real TH.500 airframe developed in Italy, allowing students and IPs to reduce the number of flight hours in actual aircraft, plus the opportunity to experience all types of scenarios that may or may not ever be experienced in real terms. Developed in co-operation with the AMI Command school and flight instructors from 72º Stormo, the simulator allows students to effect various flight conditions, in all types of weather, including ground operations, pre-flight and post-flight, take-off and landing procedures, together with both VFR (visual) and IFR (instrument) flying.
The Wing's motto, 'Multum in Parvo' (A lot in a Small Place), describes the activities at Frosinone perfectly, as for such a relatively small airfield and with only one active squadron at the base, there is a lot of daily activity, with the Wing being the major contributor to the Italian armed forces rotary-wing contingent. The airfield at Frosinone has 32 heli-pads for parking and an additional 11 training pads on the grass area of the airfield. There is also a short grass runway (16/34) capable of accepting small propellor driven aircraft, with dimensions of approximately 4,600 feet (1400m) in length and a width of 128 feet (39m).
Having previously been in use as an emergency landing field, construction of the air base at Frosinone in its current form took place between 1936 and 1939. It commenced its first training course for NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) pilots in November 1939 and has continued to train pilots for the AMI ever since. The training programmes at Frosinone had originally involved both fixed-wing and rotary-wing courses, however between 1954 and 1955 the fixed-wing element was transferred to nearby Latina, where ab-initio training continues to this day with 70º Stormo (70 Wing) on the SIAI-Marchetti T-260B (SF-260EA).
On the 21st June 1985, the Scuola Volo Elicotteri (Helicopter Flight School) at Frosinone took up the mantle of 72º Stormo, with 208º Gruppo Volo operating as the sole squadron under the auspices of the Wing.
With its gear up, the UH-139A shows off its sleek lines
In 2008 the Gruppo Istruzione Professionale (Professional Instruction Squadron-GIP) at Frosinone introduced the "e-Generation INS.I.A.U e-learning system". The system is a Computer Based Training (CBT) programme which enables the training courses to be completed in two classrooms at Frosinone, with 25 Personal Computers (PCs) available to the students. During the ground training element of the courses, students are under constant supervision of a qualified tutor and are able to access the e-system via the internet in either the Italian or English language, meaning that students can access and be monitored within the base environment and also from their homes if they choose to study there as well. In the case of foreign students, they can complete any course work in their own country prior to arriving at Frosinone for the flying element of the training course. The main benefit to the AMI and of course foreign countries utilising the e-Learning system is that 1) the courses can be updated far more easily than a series of books; 2) there is a huge cost reduction in not having a paper-based system; 3) there is no danger of a student being provided with out of date literature via a paper-based system; 4) the students' progress can constantly be tracked in terms of where they are to date and how many hours of study they have completed, even down to how long they have spent on each page of the study material.
Darkening Autumn skies over Frosinone's ramps
A 72º Stormo UH-139 helicopter poses for the camera on one of Frosinone's heli-pads
Courses flown on the TH.500B
BPM(LE) Part 1- which is the first part of Phase 3 of the Military Pilots Licence for AMI pilots assigned to rotary-wing (105 hours/58 weeks).
BMPE- which is the Military licence for helicopter pilots (AvEs, MMI, GdF, Carabinieri) and involves 90 hours/31 weeks.
BPE- which is the civilian licence for helicopter pilots (Polizia, Corpo Forestale, Vigili Del Fuoco and international students) and involves 90 hours/31 weeks.
CIV- which is the helicopter instructor course (65 hours/15 weeks).
ABL- which is the TH.500B conversion course for AMI pilots (75 hours/25 weeks).
Courses flown on the UH-139 at Frosinone
BPM(LE) Part 2- which is the second part of Phase 3 of the Military Pilots Licence for AMI pilots assigned to rotary-wing (57 hours)
ABL- for type conversion to the UH-139 (14 hours/2 weeks).
Flight Officer and 139 on-board operator courses.
Seen low over the water is #MM81282
The floats do not replace the standard skids, but rather bolt onto them
Looking at the training programme for military pilots in more depth, the BMPE and BPM(LE) syllabus at Frosinone with 208º Gruppo involves four different categories. Three involve a Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL A-IR) qualification for pilots destined for fighter, airlift and remote controlled aircraft (UAV); the other a CPL H-IR for rotary-wing pilots. Phase 1 involves the 'ab-initio' fixed-wing training with 70º Stormo at Latina on the T-260B aircraft. This is then followed by Phase 2, which see the pilots move to 61º Stormo at Lecce for fast-jet training on the Aermacchi T-339 trainer. At this stage (Phase 3) the students are then selected for their future roles and either stay at Lecce if they have been selected for the fighter role, 32º Stormo at Amendola for UAV training, 61º Brigatta at Pisa for airlift and to Frosinone if they have been selected for the rotary-wing role. Students selected for rotary-wing operations and having completed the Phase 3 course at Frosinone then move onto an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) to complete their SAR/CSAR training, before being assigned to a frontline unit flying the Agusta-Bell HH-212, AgustaWestland HH/UH/VH-139 or AgustaWestland HH-101.
Fast and low over Lago di Canterno
It's not just fast-jets that get 'jelly air' !
208º ttimo TH.500Bs await their crews at Frosinone
The GEA hangar at Frosinone, showing the individual bays for each helicopter undergoing maintenance
A 208º Gruppo TH.500B seen departing Frosinone towards the northwest on 20th October 2015
'Scuola Volo Elicotteri'
Aeronautica Militare Italiana
So having discussed in detail what our plans were and how we would communicate during the flight we set off for the flight-line. Our aircraft for the flight would be a TH.500 with the serial MM81294, coded '72-31' and our call-sign would be "Samba 42". Samba is the call-sign used by all the IPs at Frosinone, with each instructor having an individual number of their choice to link to it. With Capt. Carla Angelucci as our pilot for the mission, I went to work to set my gear up in preparation for the flight, whilst Capt. Angelucci went through her pre-flight checks on the aircraft.
The two images above illustrate the different rear doors required on the TH.500
and the 'bunk-bed' arrangement for the stretchers used during MEDEVAC duties
Mission over, this TH.500 takes a rest between missions
#72-14 is seen departing Frosinone on another training mission
In formation with our photo-ship, #72-01 skirts the hills close to Frosinone
The Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force-AMI) base at Frosinone is home to 72º Stormo 'Marcello De Salvia'. It is far from being one of the largest AMI bases and is probably not regarded as one of the most glamorous. However its role is paramount, not just within AMI circles, but within the Italian armed forces in general, and believe me when I say that the professionalism shown by everyone within the Wing and the pride they have in what they achieve is second to none. As the sole training unit for rotary-wing assets in the Italian military, it not only trains student pilots destined for the AMI, but for all of the Italian Armed forces and state corps. Located on the edge of the Appennine Mountains approximately 56 miles (90km) south of Rome, Frosinone opened its doors to Jetwash Aviation Photos and gave unbridled access to 72 Wing's Breda-Nardi-Hughes TH.500 and AgustaWestland UH-139 helicopters, with a view to reporting on their operations, training syllabus and also to conduct a training flight with the unit. During the course of 2015 many important events were celebrated at Frosinone, as 2015 saw the 55th Anniversary of the establishment of the Flight School, the 30th Anniversary of the establishment of 72º Stormo and the 25th Anniversary of the introduction of the TH.500 helicopter.
Nestling on the water, the down-wash from the aircraft's rotors is clearly evident
72º Stormo's two helicopter types seen in action at their home base
A number of TH.500s currently in store at Frosinone awaiting maintenance
As and when required they will be moved to the GEA hangar for overhaul prior to returning to operational service
We would like to thank the following people for their assistance in putting this article together:-
Capt. Carla Angelucci (PI and Instructor Pilot, 208º Gruppo)
Francesca Maggi (British FCO, Defence Attaché, Rome)
Seen from the Frosinone control tower, this TH.500B approaches its landing spot after a training mission on 21st October 2015
Two TH.500Bs formate with a UH-139A at Frosinone, ready to depart for our mission
Showing off the floats to good effect, this TH.500B navigates across a somewhat turbulent patch of water
The UH-139A seen skirting the Italian countryside