It's Part Of Me

di Andrea Costa

(Intervista al   Tenente Colonnello Andrea Costa di B. Oostmeijer per "Zipper" del 1998)

One of the long standing pilots with 22 Gruppo is Lieutenant-Colonnel Andrea "Rib" Costa. The deputy squadron commander happens to be a member ot the International F-104 Societyas well, so enough reasons to have a glance at the life and times of a Zip driver!

Having accumulated more than 1300 hours on the F-104, Andrea is a real fan of the Lockheed design. "There is no middle course: either you love it or hate it. Aircraft like the Tornado have a lower pilot workload and probably better results, but what lacks in the feeling, the spirit of the machine." On the question to describe his relation to the 104 in three words, Andrea leans back in one of the chairs in the briefing room, thinks two seconds and replies resolute. "It’s a part of me! The cockpit is small so when you strap into it you become literal a part of the aircraft. But also figurative is the 104 a part of me. And in the way it responds to you, the pilot.There is no fhase in the flight in which you can sit back. You are in an uninterupted dialogue with the aircraft. You have to do everything yourself. No computers to control your behaviour, like in an F-16. You have to check the flaps in relation to the speed, check the amount of g.forces. The lot, all by yourself. The aerodynamics of the plane are critical : it’s hard to fly in the beginning, but even an experienced pilot always has to be careful. You have to be prepared for about everything. When you for example lose the TACAN, you must be able to continue the flight by just using your compass and chronometer. In short: I love it!"

How does a monday-to-friday week look like for a 104 pilot? "Most of the time i fly 2 or 3 times every week. The remainder is filled with paperwork and planning. A lot of paperwork…. As an "older" member of the squadron I have more paperwork than younger colleagues. The planning concerns all operational flying of the squadron – that’s my responsability – and of course the planning of my own flights. Planning a flight in a 104 takes a lot of time. You don’t simply set coordinates into computer, but have to calculate everything in advance and plot it on the map. When you are participating in for example a TLP, this means a disadvantage compared to computerized aircraft like Tornados and Mirages. As a Starfighter pilot you have to hurry a lot! We sometimes fly against US, Belgian and Duch F-16s that are stationed in Italy, or we fly escort missions with AMX bombers. Besides this, so called MFFOs are flown. This stands for Mixed Forces Fighter Operations: Aircraft with different air defence qualities are teamed up, like Tornado and 104 or F-16 and 104. We sometimes participate in international exercises. Recently we participated in "Distant Thunder" in Turkey. We went there each year we visit the ACMI range at Decimomannu. Now and than long distance navigation flights are made into Europe. My last one was to Bodo in November 1996. This was quite an adventure, because we are not allowed to land on or take-off from snow covered runway…"

"The 104 is one of the oldest jets in the AMI inventory, but the best pilots in the air force only are selected for the Starfighter! They don’t go to the Tornado or AMX. It’s a demanding aircraft, but I love all parts of its flight envelope. Except when it becomes a brick while flying at very low speed, hahaha! The 104 is an aircraft for real pilots!