Alenia Aermacchi MB-339-A/PAN

Alenia Aermacchi MB-339-A/PAN, Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori, International Air Show Radom 2018.

Certainly, the Frecce Tricolori (English: tricolour arrows) aerobatic group, being the subject of our current ´Photo of the Week´, does not need to be especially introduced to any aviation enthusiasts – especially those who are the air show regulars. Nevertheless, it is still worth to write a few words about the history of this team.

The world-famous demonstration team of the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare), officially named Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori (National Aerobatic Team Frecce Tricolori), is an integral part of the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico (313th Aerobatic Training Group).

That unit was established on 1st March 1961, with the purpose to train pilots of the Italian Air Force in aerobatics. Yet the same day, six North American F-86 Sabre fighter jets arrived to Rivolto Air Base, located in the province of Udine – the home of new unit.  And these F-86s were not only the first aircraft the unit was equipped with, but also were the first used during the initial flying display of the Frecce Tricolori team, only a few months later.

The Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori made its official debut performing a high program aerobatic display with five (4 + 1) Sabres over the Trento – Gardolo airport, during air show organized by the local aero club on 1st May 1961. In this way, the group became the first official aerobatic team of the Italian Air Force.

At this point it should be mentioned that, certainly, even before the creation of Frecce Tricolori, the country had other aerobatic teams. There were several active military aerobatic groups in Italy since the early 1930s but sponsored by various organizations within the Italian Air Force and none of them was officially recognized.

The Frecce Tricolori flew their F-86s until 1963, when it was decided to enlarge the group to 10 aircraft (9 + soloist) – the final number of aeroplanes in which the team can be seen until nowadays. In 1964, not only the F-86 Sabre aircraft used by the team were succeeded by Fiat G.91PAN fighter-bombers, but the Frecce Tricolori also implemented the characteristic and well-known smoke system in three Italian national colours: green, white and red.

Finally, in 1982, the group was equipped with another type of aircraft – Aermacchi MB-339 A/PAN MLU, that is being operated by them until today.

The MB-339 is an advanced trainer and light attack jet aircraft manufactured by Alenia Aermacchi company (on 1st January 2016 merged into Leonardo’s Aircraft and Aerostructures Division). This aircraft was developed in response to the need of replacing the ageing fleet of Italian Air Force Aermacchi MB-326. However, instead of developing a completely new aircraft it was decided to base the new MB-339 design on construction of its predecessor. The first flight of the new trainer took place on 12th August 1976 and only two years later the first aircraft of serial production were delivered to the Italian Air Force.

Until today, roughly 230 examples of Aermacchi MB-339 in sixteen variants were built. About half of them is being operated by the Italian Air Force. In addition, they are, in smaller numbers, operated by Eritrea, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and the USA; with Argentina, Dubai, Ghana, Peru, New Zealand and Nigeria being the former users of MB-339.

Although, in general, these aircraft have been and are being used for training purposes, it is worth mentioning that the MB-339 has also a few combat episodes in its history, being used operationally at least twice – by the Argentine Naval Aviation during the Falklands War (1982) and later by the Eritrean Air Force during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War (1998 – 2000).

In 2013, it was announced that the Aermacchi MB-339 will be replaced by a new aircraft – Alenia Aermacchi M.345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer), expected to be introduced in 2017. This was, however, put on hold a year later but re-announced again in 2016. The first examples of the new aircraft were expected to be delivered in 2020, but the matter still remains open.

Nowadays, the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori with their ten Aermacchi MB-339 A/PAN aircraft is one of the biggest jet aerobatic groups in the world. Every year, spectacular and dynamic displays performed by the team attract tens of thousands of spectators. The Frecce Tricolori are also very appreciated by aviation enthusiasts around the globe. Arguably, it can be said that Frecce Tricolori are, for a long time, among the best and most popular aerobatic teams in the world.

This year, the team planned to celebrate their 60th anniversary with a special air show at their home base in Rivolto. Regrettably, the event was cancelled because of the Covid-19 outbreak and protective measures that followed.

And… if you take a look at Frecce Tricolori formation pictured above… Doesn´t it look a bit like a Christmas tree? Because for us it does! Most probably because we are now completely absorbed in the preparations to Christmas – and we are in the holiday mood today!

And that´s why the editorial staff of Afterburner – The Aviation Magazine, would like to use this opportunity and wish you a peaceful, merry and, most of all, a healthy holiday time. Let all your wishes come true!