The Frecce Tricolori (English: Tricolour Arrows; official name: 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico, Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori) are the official aerobatic team of the Italian Air Force. Flying ten MB-339s, they are the joint largest aerobatic team in the world, along with the Silver Stars from Egypt. Based at Rivolto, the Frecce Tricolori are regarded as one of the world’s top aerobatic teams, and were also involved in training the pilots of Al Fursan.
Home base: Rivolto Air Base
Operator: Air Force
Size: 13 aircraft (10 in display)
F-86E Sabre (1961-1963)
G.91 PAN (1964-1981)
AT-339A PAN (1982-present)
The Frecce Tricolori were formed in 1961 to replace Italy’s many unofficial aerobatic teams. The first displays comprised a four-ship of F-86 Sabres and an additional solo aircraft, with the main formation gradually increasing in size to nine aircraft. The team transitioned to the Fiat G.91 in 1964 and the MB-339A/PAN in 1982. The MB-339 will soon be replaced by the M-345HET.
The Frecce Tricolori only fly with ten aircraft in formation for the first manoeuvre of the show. From then on, manoeuvres alternate between the solo pilot and the main formation, although the two elements do sometimes interact with each other.
The main formation often break down into a four-ship and a five-ship for spectacular opposition manoeuvres. Indeed, most 9-ship formation manoeuvres end with the team splitting into two or more sections, requiring some very rapid rejoins before they return for the next manoeuvre. The team has a finely-tuned, well-rehearsed display routine which has barely changed for decades, allowing these rejoins to be completed with exceptional speed and precision.
The solo pilot is probably the most famous member of the Frecce Tricolori, known for manoeuvres such as the negative-G Schneider turn, the lomcevak, tailslide and crazy flight.
The unusual intricacy of the Frecce Tricolori’s display is made possible by very slow pilot turnover. It is quite normal for a Frecce Tricolori pilot to fly with the team for five or more years, and to fly in exactly the same position within the formation for several seasons back-to-back. Furthermore, incoming Frecce Tricolori pilots spend at least one season shadowing the outgoing pilot who they will replace, including flying in the back seat for dozens of Frecce Tricolori performances, helping them to understand the nuances of their role within the formation long before they take the controls.
The Frecce Tricolori obstensibly use green, white and red smoke throughout their display, representing the colours of the Italian flag, although the red smoke appears as orange in colour. The routine is accompanied by famously flamboyant commentary and bursts of Italian operatic music – most famously, a renditionof Nessun Dorma by Luciano Pavarotti, played loudly during the final manoeuvre.
- Ten-ship upwards split into five-ship, four-ship and solo and five vs. four cross
- Five vs. four heart (drawn bottom to top), solo inverted pass, and 9-ship cross
- 9-ship barrel roll in Diamond formation
- Loop in Triangle formation, downwards split into five-ship and four-ship, reversal and 9-ship cross
- Nine-ship formation arrival, rollbacks to Wedge formation, loop, downwards bomb burst, reversals and 9-ship cross at show centre
- Solo tailslide
- Solo lomcevak
- Solo “crazy flying”
- Solo negative-G schneider turn
- Tricolour Sparks: Nine-ship on-crowd bomb burst
- Fan Rolls and Apollo 313: 9 aircraft arrive from left, four pitch up for twinkle rolls, then the formation breaks into two sections for simultanious loops
- Grand finale: Nine vs. one opposition pass and Big Vic wingover with coloured smoke
Ramstein Airshow disaster
The Frecce Tricolori have had 16 fatal accidents and 11 non-fatal accidents. This includes the Ramstein Airshow disaster on the 28th August 1988, in which 67 spectators and three pilots were killed. It was the deadliest airshow accident ever at the time, and remains the second deadliest to this day. The accident occurred when the solo jet, flying towards the crowd, collided with the four-ship and five-ship formations, which were flying in opposite directions down the display line. The solo jet crashed on the runway, sending a fireball into the crowd and killing the pilot. A second jet disintegrated on impact and the pilot also died. The pilot of a third aircraft ejected but did not survive. His jet crashed into a US Army helicopter on the ground, whose pilot also died. About 500 people were injured. The situation was worsened by the botched response by the US military, which did not cooperate with local authorities and emergency services.
The disaster descimated the German airshow industry; to this day, very few major airshows are held in the country, and visiting aerobatic teams fly heavily-modified display sequences to comply with strict national regulations. The Frecce Tricolori have modified the manoeuvre which caused the accident to make it safe; the solo pilot no longer crosses the other two formations. This means that, in the event of a collision, there is no longer a debris vector towards the crowd. Since the disaster in Ramstein, the Frecce Tricolori have not endured a fatal accident during an air display as of February 2024.