Happy Birthday, Frecce!
Dave Eade looks back at the big birthday party of the year held in Italy. All pictures by the author
It would be fair to say that many of the spectators at the Rivolto show on 4 September were looking for an upstage on the Swiss show at Payerne in 2004. Both held to celebrate significant birthdays for the respective national aerobatic teams, it was natural to expect something special from the Frecce Tricolori, celebrating its 45th birthday. Memories of the 'Team of Teams' flypast to celebrate the Patrouille Suisse's 40th birthday were still strong in the memories of those that saw it - so bring on the Frecce!
It is interesting to compare the difference in the national perspectives of aerobatic teams. The Italians put the Frecce on a par with film stars - they know all their names and recognise, cheer and wave at them immediately they appear (compare that with the relative anonymity of the Red Arrows). At their RIAT appearance this year, the commentator had thrown out the invitation to all the British Frecce fans to attend the birthday celebrations at Rivolto, but it seemed that few British did. They missed a treat!
Rivolto is a relatively small airfield just to the east of Udine in a beautiful part of Italy, south of the Dolomites. Ryanair from Stansted saw to it that your scribe got to the region, awaiting the arrival of the ten (!) predicted aerobatic teams. Present were Frecce Tricolori - Italy; Red Arrows - UK; Patrouille de France; Patrouille Suisse - Switzerland; Team 60 - Sweden; Team Aguila - Spain; Breitling team - Private; Jordanian Falcons - Jordan and the Red Bull team - Private. No-shows were the rumoured Team Iskra from Poland and the Turkish Stars.
The public-to-pilots relationship was given more emphasis than seen at any show recently. With the teams parked in front of the crowd it was possible to see start-up and pre-flight checks in detail. The added bonus was that after each team had performed, the pilots all walked the crowd line, and posed for photographers - nice touch!
It goes without saying that all the teams performed with their usual panache - leaving every spectator to pick his favorite. The Reds lost out a little in catching the only cloud cover of the day forcing them into their rolling show.
Interspersed with the teams were some excellent solo displays including the last, last, last display of the 'Red Draken' from the Austrian Air Force. While taxiing back in front of the ecstatic crowd, Captain Michael Kirchner swung the Draken nose-on to the crowd, stopped, opened the canopy and waved his final delirious goodbyes. Great performances were also given by the pilots of the Italian RSV in the AMX, Tornado, Avanti, Typhoon and MB339. Accolades for best solo display of the day should go to the Dutch F-16 complete with flares, the Hungarian Mil-24 (hardly without flares) and the first appearance, for me anyway, of the new Aeromacchi M346 trainer.
An excellent static line-up included examples of all the previous Italian teams' aircraft from F-84 to Fiat G-91, suitably adorned in their team colour schemes. A nice touch this, rarely if ever seen before.
It was very evident that the Italians interpret the display rules that tend to take the thrill out of UK shows today differently, with the aircraft seeming to perform much lower, nearer and with more flamboyance than we are used to. Full performances by the G222 complete with barrel rolls, F-16 and Mil-24 both with the aforementioned flares, lay testament to this.
Sadly no 'Team of Teams' this year, but in a final flourish as the Frecce taxied back to dispersal at the close of the show was the lineup of all the pilots from the other teams present adding to the rapturous applause with an impromptu Mexican wave! Whichever team is your favorite, nobody can deny the charisma that is the Frecce Tricolori. Nobody can deny their panache and style, even down to their Latino commentator - who knows his commentary so well that he never refers to a crib-sheet. Here's looking forward to another 45 years - Happy Birthday Frecce!