On March 28, 2023, the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) celebrated the 100th anniversary of its foundation as an autonomous and independent armed force. The ceremony for the anniversary held in Rome saw the participation of the Italian President Sergio Mattarella, the Italian Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Luca Goretti, the government’s highest authorities and high-ranking officials from all armed services.
A 72-aircraft flypast further emphasized the importance of the event, with a first formation of six F-35s, eight F-2000s and eight T-346s drawing the number 100 in the sky, followed by formations representing all components of the Italian Air Force. It was the first time in more than two decades that combat aircraft of the Italian Air Force took part in a flypast over Rome: the last one was on June 2, 2005, when 32 fixed-wing aircraft and 37 helicopters flew for the once traditional Italian National Day and Republic Day military parade.
The formations flew in the following order:
4x HH-139 + 2x HH-212
6x HH-101 (3+3)
2x C-130J + 4x C-27J + 1x P-72
1x G550 CAEW + 1x SPYDR
1x A-319 + 1x Falcon 50 + 1x Falcon 900
8x Tornado (4x IDS + 4x ECR)
4x F-2000 + 4x T-346
1x KC 767 + 1x F-35B + 2x F-2000 + 2x T-346
“Since 1923 our strength has been to look ahead and dare, to never stop,” said Gen. Goretti. “I am firmly convinced that this is the best result we could achieve and that we should hand over to the new generations who will follow us in order to maintain, in the wake of our glorious tradition, the necessary innovative drive.”
General Goretti then expressed his sincere gratitude to all the personnel who wore the blue uniform today and in the past, to the crews, to the specialists and to the personnel of all ranks and specializations. An important mention also went to the two tragic incidents that cost the lives of three aviators in the last few months.
The ceremony in Rome was just the culmination of the celebrations for the 100th anniversary. Many initiatives, in fact, were planned as part of the celebrations, with many continuing throughout the year. One of these initiatives was the “Air Force Experience” exposition in Rome, open to the public from March 24 to 29, with aircraft on static display, experiential itineraries, entertaining events, promotional stands, simulators and much more. Among the displays were an HH-139 helicopter, an MB-339 trainer and a Tornado IDS bomber, together with the mockups of the F-35 and F-2000.
“We celebrate our 100 years to thank those who supported those who have trusted us, those who took an active part in the Air Force and those who supported us,” said Gen. Goretti at the opening of the exposition. “It is a way of thanking the people and giving a message to the youth. What you see here is just a small example of what we are capable of, sometimes we do it silently, but we are at the service of the Country 365 days a year”.
Other initiatives include a touring exhibit that retraces this first century of the Aeronautica Militare and will move throughout the country, around 500,000 postage stamps with the anniversary logo and the most iconic aircraft both in present and past service, three million circulating celebrative coins and 33,000 celebrative coins for collectors, books and much more. All air bases and installations of the Air Force opened their gates to the public on the day of the anniversary, with both static and flight displays, exhibitions and promotional stands.
The first recorded use of flying vehicles by Italy dates back to 1888 when Italian forces in Eritrea used balloons to control the movements of enemy forces. After the first flight of the Wright brothers’ “Flyer” in 1903, the aircraft experienced a rapid evolution that led to its first-ever use in reconnaissance and bombing actions in 1911, during the Libyan war. Only three years later, World War I resulted in a bigger role assumed by aviation, with the first Aces such as Francesco Baracca, whose prancing horse insignia is still used today by many fighter squadrons in Italy.
War accelerated the development of aviation, considered the weapon of the future, and General Giulio Douhet developed the philosophy for the use of airpower which will demonstrate its validity up to the present day. The post-war years were the era of daring flights that pushed the limits of aviation, like the Rome-Tokyo flight in 1920. On March 28, 1923, the Regia Aeronautica (Royal Italian Air Force) was born as an autonomous armed force.
This gave a new impulse to the development of aviation, with even more daring flights across the world and new technology. In those years the Regia Aeronautica obtained as many as 33 of the 84 records up for grabs from the International Aeronautical Federation.
With Italy’s entry into World War II alongside Germany on Jun. 10, 1940, the Regia Aeronautica entered the conflict already exhausted by the Ethiopian campaign and its participation in the Spanish war, with aircraft that showed flight characteristics and armament clearly inferior to those of allied and enemy aircraft. Despite the courage and skills of the pilots, the difficulties proved to be enormous and the results of the conflict are heavily conditioned by the technological gap and the insufficiency of resources.
After the Allied landing in Sicily, many units flew towards the airports of southern Italy to continue the war alongside Anglo-Americans. The war activity of the Italian Air Force continued until May 8, 1945, and in 1946 the Regia Aeronautica gave way to the new Air Force. Italy’s accession to NATO in 1949 produced immediate benefits and, just over ten years after the disastrous outcome of the Second World War, the Air Force was completely regenerated and perfectly inserted in the Atlantic Alliance, thanks to the assistance programs initiated by the United States with which it is possible to renew and modernize the flight lines.
With the entry into active service of the first De Havilland DH-100 Vampire, the Air Force started the epochal transition from the propeller to the jet, although the supersonic breakthrough of the service took place in the 60s when the F-104 Starfighter became the spearhead of the Italian Air Force and would dominate Italian skies for 40 years. The renewal process also affected the Flight Schools which saw the induction of the Italian trainer Aermacchi MB-326 and the introduction of the “jet ab initio” method.
The Italian tradition of collective aerobatics was reaffirmed with the establishment in Rivolto, in 1961, of the National Aerobatic Team, better known as the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico (Aerobatic Training Squadron) “Frecce Tricolori”, intended to represent the Air Force and our country in all air shows in Italy and around the world. Throughout the years, many aircraft, designed and built in Italy, was inducted into service, like the G-91, the MB-339, still used today by Frecce Tricolori, the Tornado bomber, developed with UK and Germany, the AMX light fighter-bomber and the G-222 tactical cargo aircraft.
The new millennium brought a new impulse in the technological renovation of the Air Force, with the fielding of the Eurofighter F-2000 Typhoon and the F-35 Lightning II, resulting in Italy becoming the first nation outside the US to field operational F-35 5th generation fighters, as well as many new capabilities. The rapid change of the operational scenarios is now leading the service to the era of net-centric, multi-domain operations and all the new advanced capabilities acquired in the last few years put the Italian Air Force at the top levels in the international arena.