Manifestazione Aerea del Centenario

Pratica di Mare, 17-18 June 2023


Airforce anniversary airshows often have a tendency to be a little same-ish, usually taking the form of a large gathering of well-known international participants joining the familiar local acts. Well, none of that rubbish, thought the Italian airforce. Let’s do something out of the ordinary. And did they ever!


The run-up to the airshow at Pratica di Mare near Rome was a little out of the ordinary. While the show was free to access, one had to pre-register in return for which you received a QR-code. Perhaps for reasons of large hordes of international visitors registering for the event, or perhaps for different reasons entirely, the website got geo-fenced weeks before the airshow. That was certainly different…


Very little if anything was announced about access to the event via public transport, which as it turned out was apparently very easily accomplished with only very few people using that option. Why then did they encourage the use of cars, resulting in traffic carnage in the larger Rome area, and complete gridlock on the nearby roads? Traffic management was wholly non-existent. Ok, that was perhaps not so different for anyone coming from Belgium.


Queuing, what’s that? At several points during the wait at the gates was the queue moved around, resulting in massive queue jumps leading to a fair bit of frustration. With the huge masses flocking to the show, a wait was always to be expected, but surely longer waits due to these improvisations were avoidable.


Large masses also made it very clear that catering on the showground was insufficient and poorly positioned, which with the excessive heat was very unfortunate. Luckily some of the large airconditioned shelters offered some respite.



Why would anyone subject themselves to such an ordeal? Well, because some of the unconventional approaches were remarkably impressive and positive, and they formed the actual basis of the show. Just about every active type in the Italian inventory was displayed on the large pans at the base AND accessible for the public. Joining them were some historic aircraft, plus a lone USAF F-16C from Aviano, to serve as a reminder of the Italian F-16s from the past.


That wasn’t the best part of the showground, which contained some other activities like a jeep obstacle course, drone flying, sales stands and performance stage, though. The absolute highlight was the ‘Campo Cento’. Viewed from the air, it mimicked the Italian air force’s anniversary logo. It took visitors on a terrific journey through the airforce’s history from the early days to the current times, with wonderful scenes, dedicated structures, reenactors and countless period aircraft and vehicles. This was no doubt one of the most impressive things to be seen at any airshow in recent memory and the amount of effort put in must have been phenomenal. Also, the reenactors went out of their way to interact with visitors. This was a living exhibition and will be the gold standard that may never be matched again, let alone exceeded. The organizers were rightly proud of that achievement.






In the air, it was all about the Italian air force and its history too during two blocks, one in the morning from 10 tot 12, and then in the afternoon from 14:00 until 18:30. No foreign military acts, but there were several international historic aircraft that played a role in Italy, and there was certainly a significant buzz around the F-104 Starfighter that was brought over from the United States and the restored G-91 that flew for the first time post-restoration a few short days before the event, and they were certainly wonderful to see. It would be amiss though to brush the Spad XIII and Caproni Ca5 replicas aside so casually as they were actually more prominently used in the show. An enormous air parade formed the highlight of the afternoon flying display, which was repeated on three days!


Yes, the show was unconventional in many ways, but would we expect anything else, or less, from the Italian air force? Warts and all, it was an unmissable spectacle!