ON FEBRUARY 13, the first Tornado F.3 for the Italian Air Force’s 21° Gruppo was handed over at RAF Coningsby. Appropriately, the aircraft involved, MM7226 (ex ZE911/’GA’ 43 Sqn), wore the code ’53-21′ since 21° Gruppo is part of 53° Stormo. It departed the following morning for its new home at Cameri to join four 11 Sqn examples detached there for a few days to train ground technicians.
The Italian Air Force is in the process of receiving 24 Tornado F.3s all to the Stage 1 + standard — which includes four dual-stick aircraft — on a ten-year lease in an effort to improve its air defence systems. With the first 12 Tornados now operational with 12° Gruppo (they gained Full Combat Ready [FCR] status during mid-1996), 21° Gruppo expects to have its full complement of crews and aircraft (MM7225-7234 and MM55060-55061) by mid-1997 and will reach FCR status by spring 1998.
Meanwhile, all the Italian Tornado IDS aircraft are being resprayed in an all-grey finish at the Camera-based 1° Reparto Manutenzione Velivoli (RMV – Main Maintenance Unit) at the end of their major overhauls. Three former desert-camouflaged examples (MM7038, MM7063 and MM7035) have already received the new scheme, with the first, MM7038, being subsequently delivered to 156° Gruppo of 36° Stormo at Gioia del Colle. However, the 1 ° RMV will not prepare more grey examples for some time to come, until the paint shop complies with new safety standards. The soon-to-be delivered Tornado IT-ECR, to be converted from IDS, are to be in the grey finish too and will be the only examples repainted by Alenia.