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MH169A: The Latest Addition To The Air Section of the Guardia di Finanza

Posted 33 days ago ago by Admin

The Guardia di Finanza, translated to English; “Guard of Finance,” is a law enforcement agency under the authority of the Italian Minister of Economy and Finance. The agency is a militarized police force and is essentially responsible for dealing with financial crime and smuggling; it has also evolved into Italy's primary agency for suppressing the illegal drug trade. The Guardia di Finanza maintains over 600 boats and ships and more than 100 aircraft to serve in its mission of patrolling Italy's territorial waters. The agency also has the role of border police and customs duties at Italian airports.

The Air Section of the Guardia di Finanza of Venice was founded at Padova airport in 1956, two years after the birth of the Guardia di Finanza air service in Italy. Over the course of its history the Section has had various locations including Rimini, the Island of Sant'Andrea and subsequently the Venice Tessera Airport, its current headquarters, thus becoming an autonomous department of a territorial nature, dependent on the 7th Legion of Venice.

The department's barracks is named after the specialist Major Marshal Ferdinando Zorzutti, who died in service on 12 July 1991. At 05:40 a.m. on that tragic morning, Marshal Zorzutti took off aboard the NH500 M.M. helicopter for a reconnaissance mission aimed at intercepting motorboats suspected of perpetrating international smuggling of weapons and drugs, which had escaped a naval enforcement unit the previous night. Flying over the area east of Caorle, the poor visibility forced the crew to reverse course and at around 06:25 the helicopter crashed into the waters near Brussa Beach in the municipality of Caorle.

For the Venice Air Section, as well as for many other Italian military units, the first helicopter used was the AB-47G, an iconic helicopter with its characteristic front plexiglass bubble and a lattice fuselage built with metal tubes. Powered by an air-cooled Lycoming 6-cylinder opposed engine, the performance was not even comparable with the most modern vehicles. However, what made this machine special  (let's remember that the Bell 47 was the first certified helicopter for civilian use in 1946) was the versatility and possibilities of use for the armed forces and police.

After the AB47 in the G and J versions, the Venice Air Section used the NH-500 M, NH-500 MC, NH-500 MD, A-109 A II and the MCH-109° “NEXUS” aircraft. In 2023, they  reached an important technological breakthrough with the in-service of the MH169A helicopter.

Today the Venice Air Section is placed under the Venice Air-Naval Operations Department and together with the naval departments dependent on the latter, they constitute the coastal air-naval component available to the Veneto Regional Command, cooperating with the naval component of the Friuli Venezia Giulia Regional Command.

Q&A WITH Guardia di Finanza

Question: What tasks are carried out by the Venice Air Section?

The Venice Air Section, part of the air-naval component of the Corps, constitutes a fundamental defense of the territorial and contiguous waters to protect the legal economy and combat illicit activities by maintaining operations within 24 hours; as the Guardia di Finanza is the only Police Force operating at sea, the Venice Air Section fulfills the pre-eminent role of "Sea Police,” both preventively and repressively, ensuring a constant presence and adequate control activity.

The legislative decree of 2001 establishes "The Guardia di Finanza, making use of its air-naval device, exercises at sea...exclusive economic and financial police functions". Last but not least, the search and rescue activity at sea and other activities to safeguard human life during calamities and disasters, in support of the national Civil Protection system, should be underlined.

Question: What has changed from an operational standpoint with the arrival of the new helicopter?

The assignment of new helicopters (first the MCH109A Nexus and then the current MH-169A) to the Venice Air Section represented an impressive step forward for increasing the operational effectiveness of the Department.  In fact, in addition to enhancing its flight-time capabilities, the new aircraft have allowed the extension of the Department's operations, moving from the previous daytime activity to operational coverage even in the night-time slot. This has meant a requirement for specialized personnel (pilots, maintenance workers and on-board system operators), both in terms of training and technical expertise relating to the new systems in order to maintain a high level of availability 24 hours a day. There’s no doubt that the new aircraft have increased operational readiness and have revolutionized the technical aspects of flying. Specifically this has happened with  the automation and redundancy of the systems that improve performance, safety, and crew comfort.

Question: What’s the difference between the MH-169A and UH-169?

The differences are visible at first glance and without getting on board, with the provision of skids for the new MH-169A compared to the previous version with wheels of the UH-169A. A structural difference also involved the replacement of the stabilizer plates on the beam tail. The new version consists of substantial improvements of the systems already present in the previous version. For example, the new autopilot system (Automatic Flight Control System - AFCS) now equipped with functions for search and rescue operations, as well as optical systems including three cameras for both clear and infrared.

Question: What does it mean to have such a technologically advanced vehicle available in the Venetian lagoon?

A vehicle as technologically advanced as the new MH-169A allows the Department to enhance its day-to-day operating performance. In particular, the new aircraft allows carrying out night missions with the aid of night vision goggles (NVG) and enhances discovery capabilities in search and rescue missions using the IMSI Catcher, a system capable of intercepting and locating the signal emitted by a mobile phone.

Question: What are your areas of operation?

The operational zones of the Venice Air Section are divided into areas of "exclusive" and areas of "overlap,” in which missions are executed in conjunction with other Air Sections of the Corps. They embrace three regions in total: Veneto (the territories of the provinces of Venice, Padua, Rovigo, Treviso, Verona, Vicenza and Belluno overlapping with the Air Section of Bolzano), Fruili Venezia Giulia (the territories of the provinces of Gorizia, Trieste, coast of the province of Udine and Pordenone overlapping with the Air Section of Bolzano) and, to a minimal extent, Lombardy (specifically the geographical area of Mantua overlapping with the Air Section of Varese).

Question: How has the crew on board the new helicopter changed compared to the past?

The assignment of the new helicopter required a more capable crew, especially with the introduction of the new position of the on-board system operator (OSB). The complexity of the missions to be carried out along with the new surveillance systems has led to a necessary division of tasks among the crew members. Without the OSB, the crew would not be able to fully utilize the mission systems and associated sensors on the aircraft, which are required to successfully complete missions.

Question: What are the tasks of the OSB and what tools does he have at his disposal?

The OSB plays a fundamental role in the missions that the Air Section is called upon to perform on a daily basis. Specifically, he manages particular and sophisticated mission sensors, such as the search radar, an elaborate optical system that includes three cameras and three lasers, as well as a powerful search light. Furthermore, he is responsible for preparing the exploration and navigation scheme for the type of mission to be carried out, carrying out radio communications with the Operations rooms and drawing up the relevant report once the mission has been carried out.

Question: What is the meaning of the logo of the third Venice aerial section?

The drawing, on a Venetian red background, contains not only the name of the Venice Air Section, but also the number 3, as the 3rd Air Section created in chronological order after that of Naples and Palermo.
In the center, the famous lion of San Marco, symbol of the Maritime Republic of Venice which rests on four golden and silver turreted wings, which recognize the pilots and helicopter specialists. Additionally, a laurel branch and an olive tree that form the frame are symbols of glory and peace.

Question: What are the specifications of the new Hybrid patrol boat?

The V.A.I.300-class boats are in operational service specifically in the Venetian lagoon. Within this class of naval units, the V.A.I. deserves particular mention with its hybrid propulsion, built by the “Effebi S.p.A.” shipyard of Viareggio. They are designed to perform police functions in the urban area of Venice, with consideration to the delicate Venetian lagoon ecosystem.

The patrol boat, among the first of its kind in Italy and Europe, supplied to organizations operating at sea - is characterized as a “green” boat with electric propulsion for it emits no exhaust fumes and a reduced acoustic emissions. The design used in the vessel not only keeps it operational up to eight continuous hours, but reduces the wave and wake production from the boat - another critical factor for the urban planning system of Venice - thanks to the peculiar shape of its hull.

With the Guardia di Finanza embracing new technology in both the air and at sea, not only can the organization reduce its carbon footprint, but enhance the protection and safety of the Italian communities (and their visitors) that it serves.


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