No patrol is like us

“No patrol is like us”

RIVOLTO AIR BASE (UDINE) – Heaven can wait while the angels, stuck on the ground by the fog, devote themselves to more prosaic activities such as planning stages, supplies and logistical reservations for the upcoming American tour.

“We hadn’t been there since the Columbus mission in 1992. This time we were invited by the Royal Canadian Air Force, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary,” says Lieutenant Colonel Massimiliano Salvatore, 42 years old, a wife, two daughters, an abused dog, and for three months commander of the Frecce Tricolori, an elite unit of the Italian Air Force. Pony 0 of the aerobatic formation, always at the forefront of trips like the one that will take them on June 10 for three months, first to Canada – with technical stops in Holland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland – and then to the United States with mandatory flyovers over New York, Washington, Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and the main cities where thousands of emigrants will greet you with their noses in the air.

The morning briefing

The day is gloomy and begins like any other with the meeting at 8:15 a.m., assigned seats, absolute silence and standing at attention when the commander enters. Aviation Safety Technical Report Weather Update Massimiliano Salvatore's face relaxes and breaks into a smile as he announces two promotions. Applause and off to the attic, the “leisure” plan of the selected pilots of the 313th aerobatic training group at the Rivolto military airport, twenty kilometers from Udine. Standing at the coffee machine is Emanuele Bernuzzi, the new recruit who, in the first months of training for the role of Pony 7, flew in the “sack” position, i.e. behind another pilot. He will make his official debut with the patrol on May 1st, when the final exercise for the families of the Arrows and the clubs will take place (there are 136 of them in the world, the coordinator's name is Bruno and he is the taxi driver). who took us to the base in Codroipo).

– Children's dreams

“I have dreamed of becoming a military pilot since I was a child,” says Bernuzzi, 30 years old from Reggio Emilia, who moved to a boarding school in Forlì after middle school to attend a high school specializing in aviation. He's also a “victim” of Top Gun, seen I don't know how many times. “Fortunately there is now a second one, so you can switch from one film to another.” He’s not the only one. Federico De Cecco, 37 years old, Pony 10, i.e. the soloist of the group, imagined being on an airplane since his father took him to the Air Force History Museum in Vigna di Valle, near his home. Franco Marocco, Pony 6, 39 years old from Orbassano, is the first to bring up the rear, that is, the one who is responsible for separations, crossings and reunions in flight (“No patrol in the world makes these three phases “public” before , he says proudly): He developed his passion through a series of video cassettes that he bought at the kiosk.

In the attic

Seeing them doing an encore with the brioche that arrived from Udine, joking about Sanremo or team leader Pierluigi Raspa's water purifier, Pony 1, next to a foosball table and memorabilia accumulated over 62 years of honorable career (the Udinese jerseys) , spoke and from Juventus are clearly visible next to Zola's Cagliari) conveys a feeling of family. That is the crucial point of this Corps of Excellence, where on average people join at the age of 30, have 800 hours of flying time, and stay for just over five years. Salary between two thousand and three thousand euros, depending on seniority. Pony 1, Pony 6 and Pony 10 are those with the most experience (they have 2,600, 3,100 and 2,400 flight hours under their belt; the commander has 3,400) and the greatest specific gravity (the three express their preference in the choice of commander). , along with the outgoing one).

While the other Arrows decide on the new driver, the following applies during the selection week, which always takes place between February and March: One is worth one, as with the 5 stars. “Statistically there are fewer women. Last year there were three out of 13 candidates,” explains the commander. The choice does not follow the logic of taken-for-granted requirements. “We are not looking for the best, but rather the one who fits best into the group, because the group comes first.” However, a team of psychologists from Guidonia comes and supports us: their assessments agree with ours.”

– An arrow in the equipment room (photo by Elvira Serra) Team spirit

Having team spirit means putting ego aside. Just like Federico De Cecco did in 2023. He had been training as a soloist throughout the year, but after the untimely death of Alessio Ghersi, on April 29th in an ultralight aircraft, shortly before the presentation of the new line-up, he took his place as Pony 5. He will finally debut in May and it will give meaning to the special training of these two years. He explains: “I'm the only one who reaches 7G, ​​which means my weight multiplies seven times in flight.” To avoid fainting, I wear anti-G pants like everyone else, but I'm trained to to tense the muscles of my legs and buttocks to slow down the outflow of blood.” The maneuver he likes the most is the slow roll and then the lomcovák, which takes place on three axes and is very spectacular.


It's difficult to empathize with the emotions in flight, and the simulator available in the museum area doesn't do justice to what it can be like to view cities from above, crash onto the shore and resurface just in time with a twist of the yoke. “The emotions are different and varied, but you think about it later because in flight you are too concentrated,” says Simone Fanfarillo, who is the oldest wingman in terms of experience with Oscar Del Do' (he is 33 years old). But for everyone, the moment when you land and raise the roof is something very special: you can finally devote yourself to the people who are waving the tricolor and applauding. “I am the only one who can look at the ground during flight to keep the parameters under control, unlike the others who have another pilot as a reference point,” says Raspa, the training manager. “Usually we enter when the Mameli anthem ends. “It always thrills me to see thousands of people singing with their hands on their chests,” he adds. The performance includes 18 maneuvers: his favorite is the cardiac maneuver, created to win the 2006 World Cup.

– An aerobatic maneuver by the Italian Frecce Tricolori aircraft

The entire core of the 313th Acrobatics Training Group consists of around a hundred people. The hangar manager Paolo Bellina tells us this while revealing the secrets of the MB339, a mechanical aircraft designed and built in Italy by Aermacchi (now Leonardo) with a Rolls-Royce engine and also assembled in Italy on behalf of the English automobile group became. Your destiny is retirement, perhaps as early as 2030. “Many professionals are involved in the maintenance of a jet: the gunsmiths of the exhaust gases and the ejection seat, the assemblers of the structural parts, the on-board electromechanics, the engine engineers, the quality control managers. Before each flight, the aircraft is checked for 50 minutes, and the same applies when we return: one of us takes care of the care.”

A little sadness

Now, for example, they are replacing a sticker on the tail of Del Do's plane, and the pilot himself retrieved the old one to stick on the doors of a closet at home. From the photo I remember he's the only one not smiling at the end. And it's easy to associate the veil of melancholy with the Caselle accident on September 16, in which a five-year-old girl died and the pilot saved himself by ejecting his car seat. Only the commander speaks on this topic: “There is no zero risk, but we are training to eliminate it.” An investigation is ongoing, but we know that the pilot followed the procedure.” Regarding the victim's family, he only adds: “The Bundeswehr is in contact with them.”
Little privilege at Freccia: Skip the line in the canteen. “But that’s only because we’re an operational department!” Heaven won’t wait any longer.