«The charm of flying, I don’t think it has an age» says Giulia, an F-35 pilot, but the Italian Air Force has an age, 100 years. On March 28, 1923, Vittorio Emanuele III decreed the constitution of the Royal Air Force, making it independent from the army. After a century, «I think people are still fascinated by flying, which is something that doesn’t really belong to us. I think it represents a sense of freedom, strength, agility, and therefore it is current and will remain so forever».
At Piazza del Popolo, in the center of Rome, one of the Tricolour Arrows has landed and there is a queue of people waiting to board the blue aircraft with the green, white and red tail. It is a reproduction, and it is not the only one available, accompanied by a silver F-35, an Eurofighter combat aircraft, a yellow Tornado, and an HH-139 helicopter.
Visitors who want to experience the thrill of feeling like Tom Cruise in the film Top Gun can pilot an Eurofighter or a PAN with one of the three simulators. Those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground can walk in three blue domes that retrace the history of the Air Force from 1923 to the present day. The entrance is dedicated to the past and shows small reproductions of the first airplanes and the original uniforms of those years. Crossing a corridor lined with photographs showing the evolution of airplanes and pilots, one arrives at the dome of the present, where the current role of the Air Force—air defense and rescue—is explained. It is possible to see the evolution of the pilots’ helmets, up to the «flagship», as the guide refers to it, «the helmet of the Tricolour Arrows, personalized for each pilot» next to «the Guinness World Record, obtained this year for the largest aerobatic display team in the world. We are the only one to have ten aircrafts together». The last dome contains the future: the helmet of an F-35, which, worn, allows the pilot to become one with the aircraft: lowering the head while flying, it allows to see the ground the plane is flying over and not the floor of the cabin.
The Air Force Experience, available from 24 to 29 March in Piazza del Popolo and visited by adults, children and schools, is just one of the events organized to celebrate the centenary of the Air Force. On the 28th, there is an open day with the possibility of visiting the bases, while in the morning a ceremony was organized on the Pincio terrace with an air parade over the city of Rome.
Captain Giulia says that she «chose this career because it was my dream as a child to be a pilot. I applied for the Aeronautical Academy, I did the public competition and I entered, I did five years of the Academy and the flight schools. I was initially assigned to the Tornado ECR and I spent four years in the 155th group, after which I had a small parenthesis in the Air Force Academy as a supervisory officer and then I switched to the F-35 aircraft» and she reveals that being in the air is a wonderful feeling. «Our work requires a lot of concentration, we are busy in every moment of the flight and there are few moments in which we can relax, but in some situations I was able to admire very beautiful landscapes. Plus, there’s some fun in operating such high-performance aircraft».
Captain Giovanni, from the ninth group of the fourth fighter wing of Grosseto, has «always wanted to be a pilot, ever since I was eight years old, ever since my father took me to see an air show and I fell in love with the Tricolour Arrows. I enlisted in 2012 with the Aeronautical Academy and ten years later I arrived at the Eurofighter». For him, getting into the cockpit is a job he enjoys. «The Eurofighter is an all-round machine, very performing, it is very exciting, it takes a lot of passion and energy—it requires a lot of it as a machine—it is absolutely a thrill to fly it. And it is an honor to serve the country, to serve the Italian state and to be useful in something you believe in».
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Samuele pilots the HH-139, a helicopter that the Air Force uses for search and rescue, and he «chose to join the Air Force to do this job. I knew about search and rescue and that’s what I felt like doing, contributing to the rescue of people in distress, missing people, all those people who would not have been able to go home one day without us». For the pilot, being in the air «is an indescribable emotion, anyone who has experienced it can confirm it, it is something that changes you, once you have flown for the first time there is no turning back, it is a wonderful thing». On why choosing the Air Force after one hundred years, he says that «the Air Force really gives us so much, it allows us to gain enormous experiences and to be able to serve the nation in a special way, by flying, thus combining the passion for flying with the service of the country and the citizens».
Captain Roberta, Tornado pilot at the sixth wing of Ghedi, «entered the Aeronautical Academy in 2011 with the Orione V course, from there I took my master’s degree in Pozzuoli and then I left for flight licenses up to the Tornado aircraft, currently employed in Ghedi. This passion for the aeronautical world was born when I was very small, in elementary school, I was seeing planes flying near my house and this world intrigued me. I cultivated this passion that led me to specific high schools for the aeronautical world and to enter the Academy». For her, it is difficult to describe in words the emotion she feels when she is flying: «After so many years of study, sacrifices, commitment, finally setting foot on an airplane that you have seen from afar… It is really difficult to convey emotion and it is something beautiful because it is the achievement of a dream that has lasted for years, it is a very intense experience». For her, the Air Force should be chosen because «it gives you the opportunity to have unique experiences in your life, not only in terms of piloting, but also as a person, carrying out activities that give you a lot of experience and a lot of emotions. I absolutely recommend it to everyone».