The Breguet Atlantic today completed its final flight in service with the Aeronautica Militare (AM, Italian Air Force).
Previously, a retirement ceremony had been held at Sigonella on September 21, during which the 88° Gruppo (88th Squadron) of the 41° Stormo (41st Wing) of the Italian Air Force unveiled the final special colour scheme for the Atlantic. The markings on P-1150A MM40118 ‘41-03’ celebrate the type’s 45 years of service during which it completed over 250,000 flight hours.
MM40118 departed Sigonella for Pratica di Mare, near Rome. Subsequently the aircraft will be transported to Vigna di Valle, where it will be preserved at the Museo Storico dell’Aeronautica Militare.
Capable of maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare missions, the Atlantic was selected in 1968 to replace the S-2F Tracker – Italy purchasing 18, the first of which was delivered in Toulouse on June 27, 1972.
Two wings operated the type: 30° Stormo at Cagliari (Sardinia) and 41° Stormo at Sigonella (Sicily). In 2002 the 30° Stormo was disbanded, and all remaining aircraft were concentrated with the 88° Gruppo of 41° Stormo.
Between 1987 and 1997 the Atlantic fleet was upgraded under the Aggiornamento Limitato Componente Operativa (ALCO, limited update of operational equipment) programme which added new inertial navigation system, Iguane radar, acoustic sensors, identification friend or foe (IFF) and electronic support measures (ESM).
With an airframe life of 10,000 flying hours, the Atlantic was to be phased out between 1995 and 1998, but the final retirement date was constantly moved back.
As of 2003 it was expected to be replaced by the P-8 Poseidon between 2006 and 2008, but budget cuts and a reduced focus on the maritime patrol aircraft/anti-submarine warfare mission forced the AM to extend the type’s operational life to 15,000 hours. Meanwhile a first Atlantic retired in 2004 and 11 had been grounded by 2011.
To maintain a minimum capability, at least in the maritime patrol aircraft mission, in 2007 the AM began to look seriously at the ATR 72MP as a possible replacement, and the following year an order for four was signed with Alenia, with deliveries then expected in 2013-14. But development took longer than anticipated, and the final version of the contract was not signed until 2014.
The Atlantic is being replaced by four P-72A (ATR 72MP) aircraft. The AM received its first two P-72As on December 13 last year. Final deliveries are due to be completed before the end of this year.
A full report on Italy’s maritime patrol aircraft force appears in the current issue of AFM.