During the last Avio Aero Global Leadership Meeting held in Rivalta in January, we were honored to have as our guest one of the most distinguished pilots in the Italian Air Force.
Colonel Vito Cracas, a native of Rome, joined the Air Force in 1988 and trained at the Accademia Aeronautica in Pozzuoli, near Naples. Since then he has had an extraordinary career marked by outstanding achievements and many memorable experiences. A qualified NATO pilot, he was assigned for a period to the British Royal Air Force and for several years served as commander of one of the most famous and highly decorated Italian Air Force units, the 36th Wing of Gioia del Colle. He completed operational assignments in the Balkans, Scotland, the Falkland Islands and Afghanistan, receiving the bronze medal for aeronautical merit for this last mission.
Colonel Cracas has clocked up more than 3,600 flight hours piloting aircraft such as the Tornado F3, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the F104 Starfighter. In particular, he is a specialized and qualified pilot for the Eurofighter Typhoon, whose engine has for many years featured the technology and active contribution of Avio Aero.
For this reason we were especially pleased to welcome him to Avio Aero Global Leadership Meeting, where he gave an inspiring speech that focused on important messages and concepts. We discussed these with him during an interview given to our magazine.
Colonel Cracas, could you tell us about your current role in the Italian Air Force?
I am an Air Force Colonel specializing in air defense. In the past I have piloted aircraft such as the F104, the Tornado F3 and the Eurofighter, which concluded the operational part of my career. I now have a staff role planning the operations of Italian Eurofighter Wings at the combat force Command Centre in Milan.
For years our company has been designing, building and maintaining the EJ200 engine mounted on the Typhoon. From a pilot’s viewpoint, what is the most interesting and useful characteristic of this engine?
Based on my previous experience with the J79 and then the RB199, I would say that the EJ200 combines their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. What I like about it is that it is a powerful and reliable engine. These are two very important characteristics because the entire aerodynamic performance of an aircraft depends first and foremost on the thrust provided by the engine.
How important for you – and indeed for all pilots – is reliability and maintenance support for the engine? The kind of support that our specialists provide at Italian bases.
The engine in-service maintenance stage is crucial. We all have to make an effort to keep maintenance to a minimum so as to ensure flight safety at all times, which means not just the aircrew but also the people on the ground whose security we are working to protect. It is important to find the right balance between maintenance – during which time the engine is out of service and the aircraft grounded – and the assurance of reliable and efficient engines. I’m very optimistic because the EJ200 engine is currently at the leading edge of European technology so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the best solution.
The 36th Wing based at Gioia del Colle, which you commanded up until September 2014, is one of the oldest and most decorated wings in the Italian Air Force. How many pilots and aircraft does it have at present?
The aircraft are still being delivered, with around three quarters of the scheduled consignments completed. Bearing in mind that this is sensitive information, I can say that we have received a total of 95 machines which we are deploying at our two main bases and at a secondary base in Trapani. At Gioia del Colle we have reached three quarters of the consignments, which means we already have a large enough force to be fully operational, both outside our borders and at home.
So would you say that the partnership with our technicians and engineers brings benefits for the pilots in terms of expertise and enhanced capability?
All the pilot sees is the aircraft available for the mission: he checks that it is in perfect working order then carries through his mission in accordance with his training. Clearly, behind the pilot there is an enormous team of people and equipment, from the air force personnel through to what I like to define as our partnership with industry rather than a customer-manufacturer relationship. It is an enormous chain of people whose work – even the seemingly simplest task – is crucial for the success of the entire operation, right up to the last and perhaps most visible link, the pilot.
What message do you have for the people working at Avio Aero?
All work must be performed with the utmost professionalism, because the quality of that work may make a real difference. When you put your life in the hands of other people who have built something for you, when the lives of people on the ground depend on what you are doing and on the efficiency of your equipment, you really become aware that quality means far more than a congratulatory slap on the back for a job well done. It is the certainty that what doesn’t happen is our merit. Because unfortunately an aircraft hits the news when it crashes, not when it flies normally. It’s precisely this lack of attention that we must be proud of.