21 July 2021 – Airport “Jerome octopus” – Frosinone

After the service on the 72 ° Stormo (you find it which) It seemed almost natural to complete the experience with what is the sum of the Department's tasks: the training flight.
The General Staff AM has therefore authorized AviaSpotter.it to participate in a very special flight: a training activity.
And so here I am again in Frosinone: the places are beginning to be familiar to me.

It is the end of July and the appointment is for 09:00. The weather, Finally, he decided to give me a chance: the sky is clear and the visibility almost unlimited. The flight is scheduled at 11:00 and we immediately go to the building of the 208ottimo Group.
The welcome is the best: while we pass an AB at the edge of the square 206 of the Fire Brigade approaches and prepares for landing. I do not miss the opportunity to "canonize" him from all angles. The instructor of the 72nd Wing and the Attendant of the National Fire Brigade are perfectly distinguished from the large front windows, engaged in their respective roles.

We continue towards our destination and enter it. The activity inside is very intense with instructors and students crossing each other in the corridors. It is the third time I have come here, but I still can't get used to all the colored flight suits and it always amazes me.
I immediately meet Major Rocco Z., pilot of the 672nd Squadron of the 80th Group of the 15th Wing. Until recently he flew over the skies of the wonderful Sardinia with the AB 212, but now he is here and the Instructor course is about to end. Today he will be sitting in the right seat of the TH 500B that will take me to the air.

The activity will consist of a training flight where a senior Instructor simulates being a trainee who tests the correction skills of his colleague.
First of all, however, I am informed in detail about the emergency procedures on board and about the evacuation methods in the event of an accident. In a helicopter it must always be taken into account that above your head there are five high-speed rotating wings that it could carry, in case you got hit, to serious consequences. These wings have great inertia and continue to spin for a long time even with the engine off (remember that the TH 500B is not equipped with a rotor brake).
Completed the part of the safety procedures, I am given the headset with which I will keep in touch with the crew during the flight: the noise on board is very loud and headphones are the only effective way to talk to each other.
We meet the second crew member (perhaps the first should be said: after all, the real Instructor, on board, it will be him), he Ten. Col. Fulvio E. and, after introductions, we head towards the beating heart of the Volo Group: the SOR (Department Operations Room).

Flight plans are managed in SOR, the missions, emergency situations, ground and in-flight communications with aircraft. This is where pilots go before the flight to receive instructions, the latest weather conditions and all the information you need to fly.
From here you have direct access to the equipment room where the pilots have their lockers with helmets and everything needed for the flight.
Today I too have equipped myself with suitable equipment and to be sure not to waste photographic equipment around the cockpit I wear a Survival Vest SRU-21 / P where in the capacious pockets I have stowed everything I could need in flight: on the faithful Canon I mounted the wide-angle zoom and in the pockets I have the normal zoom and the tele 70-300.

We head to the car assigned to us e, once arrived, pilots can start the usual check-lists.

When they authorize me, I get on board and settle down. The climb on the TH 'is not very easy and the passenger compartment, especially behind, it's really cramped. The rotor transmission shaft crosses the rear cabin at the height of the passengers' heads and these must then be inserted into the cavity between the outer wall and the shaft containment box. From behind, forward visibility is also heavily compromised by the presence of the pilot's head: I have a small space left to put the camera in and try to take back the dashboard and the front view, even if partially covered by the helmet.
The specialist helps me to fasten the seat belt a 4 points, insert the headphone plug into the intercom panel located above the seat on the opposite side to mine and adjust the volume.
When I hear the voices of the pilots communicating with each other and with the Control Tower, I raise my thumb: I'm ready.
A few minutes and I hear the engine starting to come to life and the rotor, first slowly and then faster and faster, begins to beat the air.
A few more moments to stabilize the parameters and conclude the last check lists and we are in flight, directed to the area of ​​operations located north of the airport.

I hear the conversations between the instructor and the student through my headphones (I remember that the latter is the "real" instructor who tests the student instructor). Let's try autorotation descents, offsite landings (until hovering at a safe distance from the ground) and various other maneuvers. At a certain point the student instructor is forced to obscure the trim indicator and rotor / engine tachometer because the simulated student insists on pretending to perform the maneuvers looking only at the instruments without keeping his eyes out of the cockpit and thus covers them. with gloves: virtue of necessity.

It is very interesting to see (and hear in headphones) the pitfalls that the senior instructor tends to the one in training: certainly it is all experience that comes from years of experience and hundreds of students seen and followed during training. For the new instructor, a return to the recent past, when he was the student and he made those same mistakes.
Now it is on the other side of the cockpit: it is up to him to find every mistake, imperfection or insecurity, even the most hidden, to correct pupils and allow them to fly safely.
Time passes quickly and now I am 40 minutes that we fly: it's time to head home. We make several circuits with some landings on the dispersed airfields, always to test the ability to grasp the most hidden imperfections in the way of flying of this very special student (I will later discover that he has assets over 6000 flight hours!!!! In the face of the student).

Eventually we take the landing and the engine is turned off after just over an hour of operation. When the rotor stops, I unfasten my seat belts, I pull out the headphone plug and jump to the ground (literally .... the skate is really very high).
Together with the pilots I go to the Group to return the headset. They have a long debrief to attend to.
As soon as I arrive at the Group they tell me that we must hurry up to go and eat: in the very early afternoon I will attend an off-program: 2 helicopters will be engaged in special training activities.
One will simulate activities with the winch while the other will fly with the fire basket e 2 specialists will be engaged in hooking and unhooking the load to the barycentric hook.
After lunch then we head back to the square where the fire-fighting bucket is ready.
This is a Tower T-140 rigid fiberglass bucket, equipped with twelve holes with a diameter of 102 mm, located on four levels, that allow you to vary the capacity of the bucket itself by installing special caps. The achievable capacities are 190 l, 265 l, 340 l, 415 l up to maximum capacity, with all caps installed, of 530 l. Considering that the maximum capacity of the TH 'barycentric hook is 907 kg, the bucket can be used at maximum capacity. The water is discharged from a hole with a diameter of 460 mm placed in the lower part. The sealed valve can only be partially opened and it is not necessary to perform the complete opening and closing cycle, thus allowing to dose the release where and how much it is needed. The bucket is connected to the helicopter by means of steel slings with a length of 4 mt equipped with anti-twisting plate. The slings are so short to limit the swinging effects of the load.

At the scheduled time, Captain Francesco C., that I had already met this morning in SOR, begins the usual checks and starts up. Having to fly with the center of gravity load, the helicopter is also equipped with a lower external panoramic mirror on the right side.

The agile "Samba" moves slowly at low altitude towards the already prepared bucket e, guided by the confident gestures of the Specialists, it is placed at the right distance for coupling which takes place in a few seconds. The take-off is also guided by the Specialists to position the helicopter at the right distance and altitude above the bucket and thus avoid dangerous swings on take-off.

The actual exercise will take place on one of the off-center pitches so we drive on the internal perimeter to get closer.
We just have time to arrive to photograph the first approach: all maneuvers take place by carefully taking into account the inertia of the load placed at 4 meters below the helicopter that, even without water, however, it has considerable weight. The bucket, thanks to the precious indications of the Specialists, it is gently placed in its place and unhooked. The helicopter starts again, takes a short turn and lands for a new hook and take off. The mode repeats several times and I'm so focused on the shot that I don't realize the weather is changing. A storm is approaching and big gray clouds are the background to the scene I am photographing.

In the meantime, the helicopter that must simulate the work on the winch with Major Vincenzo P on board also reached us. (Instructor) and GM Carlo M. (Frequent member of the Port Authority).
The second machine works in an adjacent stand, but in some moments the aircraft cross each other, allowing me to photograph them together.
I also resume work on the winch, made up of continuous approaches, hovering and restarts.

The maneuvers of the helicopters follow one another quickly: in some moments it even seems to me that they are more than 2. Meanwhile the sky behind the helicopters has turned leaden but, Luckily, the sun shines above us.
Time passes very quickly. I take the last passage at low altitude with the SD card almost completely full (I didn't think I would get there but the escort was in my pocket, ready for any eventuality).
Finally the helicopters return to land and we follow them.

The experience at the 72nd Wing ends here. I had the privilege, in the three visits carried out, to document from all points of view the activity of a Department that carries out a very important and irreplaceable job in silence, away from the spotlight but with great efficiency and responsibility.
Pilot training is the main task but, if it were needed, what we saw this afternoon shows that the instrument is ready for any eventuality.

Proud of their motto: "MUCH IN LITTLE".

The rest of the photographs can be found below

AviaSpotter.it would like to thank: The Air Force General Staff for having authorized the activity, the Commander of the 72 ° Stormo Col. Pil. Davide CIPELLETTI, the Maj. Stefano HEAD (the Chief of General Office, 2° Office), the Maj. Massimiliano D’ELIA (Official P.A.O..  72° Stormo), the instructor pilots with whom I flew, all the crews of the helicopters resumed in flight, 1 ° Av. That. Francesco MINOTTI (P.I employee. 72° Stormo), and all the staff of the 72nd Wing for the welcome and constant support during the creation of the articles.

Photo by / images by Fabio Tognolo.