Spotlight on the 36th Wing Eurofighters

Gioia del Colle (Bari) Air Base. It is a very quiet morning when the alarm goes off in the Control Room: immediate take-off order, scramble! The two pilots on alert are already wearing their anti-G suits. They rush towards the shelters housing the "pre-flighted" Eurofighters.

Leonardo   02 September 2018

Gioia del Colle (Bari) Air Base. It is a very quiet morning when the alarm goes off in the Control Room: immediate take-off order, scramble! The two pilots on alert are already wearing their anti-G suits. They rush towards the shelters housing the “pre-flighted” Eurofighters. A few minutes later, the two fighters take off in a mere 500 meters under the thrust of the afterburner, swiftly reaching and intercepting their “target”. Once identified, the intruder aircraft do not answer calls, so both Eurofighters are forced to escort them to landing. This is what happened a few months ago during an exercise which took place in Puglia at the Gioia del Colle Air Base, home of the 36th Wing of the Italian Air Force.

Take-off with maximum engine thrust provided by afterburner

A Wing constantly on the move

The National Airspace Surveillance Service (Servizio di Sorveglianza dello Spazio Aereo nazionale, SSSA) is ensured 365 days a year, 24/7, by the aircraft of the Italian Air Force. “The Unit is engaged in seamless operational and training activities in Italy and abroad”, Col. Emanuele Spigolon, the new Commander of the 36th Wing, explains “first and foremost to ensure alert response services from Gioia del Colle, and on a rotation basis also from Istrana, as well as to provide technical support for aircraft that are deployed to Trapani.”

The “Baltic Eagle” operation to secure the airspace of the Baltic countries
(Copyright Italian Air Force)

In recent months, the Wing’s Eurofighters crossed the Atlantic to support the cross-ocean flight of the first Italian F-35B and they took part in the complex test and evaluation “Blazing Shield” campaign at China Lake in California which focused on the aircraft’s self-protection capabilities too. After Iceland and Bulgaria in 2017, this year the Wing was engaged in Operation “Baltic Eagle” to secure the airspace of the Baltic countries with aircraft deployed to the Amari air base in Estonia until April. “We worked 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, with 120 men, also in very difficult weather conditions”, Col. Spigolon adds

During the first few months of 2018 the Italian Air Force ensured air defence for 6 countries: in addition to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Italy, the Eurofighters in fact also guarantee the coverage of the airspace of neighbouring Slovenia (permanent) and Albania (in rotation with Greece), as NATO members without autonomous air defence. “The platform is very effective, the fleet’s operational availability can reach 75%”, Col. Spigolon confirms, thus reiterating that the Eurofighter has now reached an excellent level of maturity.

Leonardo and Eurofighters for Poland

Leonardo has been awarded leadership of the Eurofighter business campaign in Poland. This is an extremely interesting opportunity for the Company, in view of recent successes in the trainer sector (M-346) and also in consideration of Leonardo’s well-established presence in the country.

With the so-called "Harpia” program, the Polish Air Force expressed its need to replace the obsolete MiG-29 and Su-22 of Soviet production with modern multi-role aircraft. Should the Eurofighter be chosen, Leonardo will be able to offer Poland industrial cooperation, work packages and participation in development programs, including integration of specific weapons, if required. Poland would also benefit from the continuing evolution and constant updates provided by the current 9 Eurofighter customers.

The Typhoon Eurofighter in flight

The over 540 Eurofighters in service - out of the 623 ordered - have now logged almost 500,000 flight hours and they regularly take part in real operations.

Within the work-sharing framework of the complex European collaboration program, Leonardo is 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 (loads management, navigation, flight controls, cockpit displays) and worked to integrate the aircraft with the entire weapon and propulsion system. 

“The aircraft cockpit is very comfortable” an expert instructor pilot of the 36th Wing confirms “indeed, there are no limitations on mission duration and this is a very important factor. Compared to previous generation aircraft, the Eurofighter allows you to fuse mission data automatically, providing the pilot with full situational awareness so that the pilot can focus better on the mission”.

Leonardo’s Airborne & Space Systems Division contributed significantly to the development and production of the aircraft’s avionics and main sensors - with the support of the various production sites in Italy and the UK - in particular of the Captor-E radar, the passive infrared PIRATE system, the DASS auto-protection system (Defensive Aids Sub-System), and the communication and IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) systems. 

Joint training with M-346 aircraft

The M-346 constantly supports Eurofighter pilot training; thanks to its on-board tactical simulation system, it allows to simulate beyond visual range intercepts. It can work via data link with Eurofighters thanks to specialized pods which record and monitor all flight parameters in real time.

With a fleet of 18 aircraft based at the 61st Wing of Lecce and consolidated syllabuses for advanced and pre-operational training, the M-346s are perfectly integrated with the Eurofighter units, effectively covering the role of simulated “adversary”, as confirmed by 36th Wing pilots. By logging a good number of flight hours on the M-346s, training efficiency is maximized and costs are significantly reduced.

Expert instructor pilots of the 61st Wing in Lecce employ the M-346 for the role of opponent

With Poland’s renewed trust thanks to the second order for the M-346, which entered into service at the Training Academy based in Déblin, the integration between the two aircraft produced by Leonardo will certainly represent an important element in support of a possible choice by Poland in favour of the Eurofighter.

Top-level simulation

There are two FMS ASTA simulators (Full Mission Simulator - Aircrew Synthetic Training Aids) with data link connection at Gioia del Colle, and further E-ACPT trainers (Enhanced Aircrew Cockpit Procedure Trainer), where it is possible to simulate every emergency procedure and much more. This is where the Italian Air Force and Leonardo personnel work closely together. 

Eurofighter Simulator (copyright Eurofighter/Geoffrey Lee)

As Col. Spigolon explains “We have started to 'federate' flight simulators: it is therefore possible to fly joint missions using the simulators located at Gioia del Colle, Grosseto (Eurofighter) and Lecce (M-346) with simultaneous data link connection, in order to achieve maximum training results, as during the recent NATO exercise Spartan Alliance 2018”.

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