Eurofighter Number 500!
It’s a quiet afternoon in April when, at the Flight Squadron Control Room of Gioia del Colle Air Base (Bari Province), the alarm sounds: the two on-duty pilots, already prepared and equipped with anti-G suits, immediately run to the shelters housing the “pre-flighted” Eurofighters, pilot slang meaning that the aircraft have undergone pre-flight checks in advance.
This is not a drill. The mission is real. The two Eurofighters on alert have just received the order for immediate take-off, the ‘scramble’, from the NATO agency in charge of the area.
A pair of Eurofighters of the Italian Air Force in flight over the Mediterranean (Copyright – Luca La Cavera)
After take-off, the two Air Force fighters climb at high speed to reach their target in just a few minutes. In this instance, the objective is to check for a possible threat, posed by a failed radio contact with a civil Airbus A-320. They reach the aircraft and intercept it under the supervision of the operations room of the Radar Squadron in charge. Once the “intruder” aircraft is identified and normal contact is restored with Air Defence, the fighters return to base.
This is just one of many missions that the Eurofighter undertakes as part of everyday operations, ensuring the constant security of monitored airspaces. In 2017, the Eurofighter reached an important milestone that no other new generation aircraft of its class has achieved: the delivery of the 500th aircraft.
The 500th Eurofighter
A powerful and efficient multirole jet, the 500th Eurofighter was delivered on 11 April 2017 to the Italian Air Force as part of a special ceremony at the Leonardo Aircraft Division’s Torino Caselle plant.
Just over ten years ago, in September 2006, the 100th aircraft was delivered to the British Royal Air Force; three years later, the 200th became part of the German Luftwaffe and, in 2011, the 300th was decorated with the colours of the Ejército de l’Aire, the Spanish Air Force. In December 2013, the 400th Eurofighter also went to stand in the ranks of the Luftwaffe.
Eurofighter number 400 delivered to the German Luftwaffe (Copyright –Eurofighter Gmbh)
The 500th Eurofighter was flown in mid-February by Captain Mario Mutti, Project Test Pilot of Combat Aircraft for Leonardo’s Aircraft Division. Once the production and customer acceptance test flights were completed, the aircraft was specially decorated in celebration of reaching this prestigious milestone.
Aircraft number 500 takes off for its first flight from Torino Caselle
The Eurofighter Typhoon Consortium and Leonardo’s involvement
Today, Eurofighter Typhoon is the biggest military aerospace programme in Europe, with just 599 aircraft ordered by the four Partner Nations (Germany, UK, Italy and Spain) and four foreign customers (Austria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman).
The work sharing of the complex European partnership programme sees Leonardo in charge of producing all the left wings, complete with installed systems; all the rear sections of the fuselage, designed together with BAE Systems; some mobile surfaces and underwing pylons for loads; wing-fuselage joints and titanium engine fairing. Leonardo also designed and integrated important on-board systems (store management, navigation, flight controls, cockpit displays) and worked on the integration with the aircraft of the whole weapon and propulsion system.
Final Eurofighter assembly line –Torino Caselle Nord Plant
The parts that are later assembled to make the wings are produced at the Aerostructures Division’s Nola (Naples) and Foggia plants and at the Aircraft Division’s Venegono plant, whilst the rear sections are produced at the Torino Caselle Nord plant. The Torino plant is also the location of the final assembly line of full aircraft destined to the Italian Air Force and export customers (currently Kuwait).
Structural parts, systems and sensors produced by Leonardo on board the Eurofighter
Leonardo’s Airborne & Space Systems Division, with the support of the various production sites in Italy and the UK, contribute significantly to the development and production of the aircraft’s avionics and main sensors ; in particular the Captor-E radar, the passive infrared PIRATE system and the DASS auto-protection system (Defensive Aids Sub-System), and communication and IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) systems. Finally, at the Venegono Superiore plant in the Varese province, Leonardo designs and produces Ground Support Equipment (or AGE), such as air start and auxiliary power units.
In service with the Italian Air Force
In 2005, the Italian Air Force was the first Air Force to achieve Final Operational Capability (FOC) in the air defence role with the Eurofighters that have been permanently engaged in the continuous and timely national Airspace Surveillance Service, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
The Italian Air Force’s aircraft are periodically redeployed abroad for Interim Air Policing missions that over the years have seen aircraft produced at the Leonardo Aircraft Division’s Torino Caselle plant plowing through the skies over Iceland, Slovenia, Albania and Lithuania. Air Policing, which consists of a single NATO air and missile defence system made up of member nations’ respective and similar national systems, has been undertaken since peacetime and involves the continuous surveillance and detection of all NATO airspace violations, which are dealt with by taking appropriate preventive action, such as the rapid response take-off of interceptor fighters, known as ‘scramble’.
One of the Italian Air Force Eurofighters in Keflavik, Iceland (Copyright – Italian Air Force)
In the past few days, in fact, six Eurofighters belonging to all three Wings of the Italian Air Force have been redeployed to Iceland’s Keflavik air base (Task Force Air – Operation Northern Ice), reinforcing the surveillance of Iceland’s airspace, which does not possess autonomous air defence capability and structures.
Italy’s Eurofighters also regularly take part in numerous international training exercises, such as the complex and realistic Red Flag in the U.S. in 2016, or the more recent DACT 2017 (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) at the Gando – Las Palmas air base on the Canary Islands (Spain).