Good Clean Hunting
Michael Balter looks back at 'Clean Hunter 2001'.
- 29 June 2001, during the Northern European NATO exercise 'Clean Hunter
2001', 10° Gruppo/9° Stormo from the Aeronautica Militare Italiana
deployed four F-104S-ASAMs to participate. After a non-stop flight
from Grazzanise the four 'rockets' arrived in Germany for the two-week
deployment carrying six pilots and accompanied by twenty-seven ground
personnel (in a German Air Force C-160). The Italians were deployed to
Wittmund, home of the 71 FW and their phaboulus F-4F Phantoms! The four
'Stars' were MM6778/9-40, MM6929/9-43,
MM6776/9-46 and MM6930/9-53.
In Italy the F-104 usually flies a Combat Air Patrol in some specified 'Fighter Area Of Responsibility' (if they are Defensive Counter Air) or as escort fighters in packages (if they are Offensive Counter Air). During the exercise the F-104s flew Air Defence missions, protecting a certain airspace for a determined time window. All missions lasted between 90-100 minutes, and were flown both in the morning and afternoon from Wittmund, which is only twenty minutes from the North Sea coast by car....guess how long it takes in a F-104!! Air Defence missions were mostly flown over the North Sea and northern Germany, but also ventured over the Dutch coast and parts of Poland (for a few minutes!).
Missions were flown against all types of fighters that participated in the exercise. The '104s saw and 'hit' two CF-188As from the Canadian Detachment at Eggebek and also two Tornados.
The deployment commander for this exercise was the Squadron Commander, Lt. Colonel Bruno Strozza. I spoke to Captain Ferrara, who has more than 900 hours on the Starfighter. He graduated at TLP 99-5 course as Force Protection Leader in Florennes, Belgium and has served four years in Grazzanise. During Operation 'Allied Force', "Cheero" (his nickname) participated in some scrambles with 9° Stormo and was actually the first Italian pilot to take off on a scramble for a war mission in the legendary F-104 Starfighter!
During the two-week deployment in Wittmund the four F-104S-ASAMs had no problem with the typical German weather, so no mission was cancelled....as Captain Ferrara said: "Not at all, we never cancelled a mix for wx!!" Exercise Clean Hunter provided the F-104 jockeys with more fights than they expected - the opinion of all the pilots from 9° Gruppo who participate in TLP courses was that this exercise is much better from that point of view.
In the near future "Cheero" hopes to be posted to Tucson in the USA to become an instructor pilot for conversion to the F-16 ADF which the AMI is leasing from the Air National Guard to replace the old and evergreen F-104 in 2003. For this reason 10° Gruppo will be transferred to Trapani AB, together with 18° Gruppo. "Cheero's" squadron will be the last to fly the F-104 in the history of this legendary aircraft. It is likely Grazzanise will become an civilian airport in the future.