Interview: Insight into the Frecce Tricolori Virtuali
Updated: Mar 16
This is part two of the interview we had with the Frecce Tricolori Virtuali (FTV). This time the FTV will give us unprecedented insight into their history, the way the operate as a team and a glimpse on the challenges that they have had to face to get where they are now.
Outside of their modules and mods that have been made throughout the years, the FTV are a group of passionate Italians that strives to represent their nation's acrobatic team in the virtual world to the best degree possible. Their most recent efforts involve their in-house creation of the MB-339 module that is available for free to everyone that has DCS: World installed.
Their journey has not been an easy one as their history spans longer than a decade. Members coming and going but even through all that they have managed to prevail as one of the oldest virtual acrobatics teams out there.
FTV-Duke, Frecce's EFM developer, was our main point of contact during these interviews, so I want to extend my gratitude towards him for his great disposition while coordinating the interview.
What was the motivation for forming Frecce Tricolori Virtuali?
The passion for aviation the founders had at the very beginning and for the real team combined with the love for flight simulation was the spark that ignited the birth of the team.
The precision, discipline and synergy are fundamental characteristics of each display or aerobatic teams. Those features are very well represented by our national display team, Frecce Tricolori, which also has a long heritage making us proud in trying to transpose all of this into DCS.
When was the team formed? What were the early years like?
The Frecce Tricolori Virtuali were born in April 2003. The idea of founding the FTV birth from a small number of passionate friends, all Italians, coming from different simulation experiences, gathering together and studying the possibility to make this simulated flight activity. Everything was born out of pure passion and also a bit of a challenge, as most of the FS users said that it was practically impossible to carry out a similar project because FS9 badly tolerated the flight in formation of more airplanes at close distances. So we got in contact with a software developer “Ibirdsoft” who compiled a very pioneer peer to peer connection system called iBnet that worked definitely well enough to allow the tight formation activity on flight simulator 2004.
Today the team uses Digital Combat Simulator to do their flying. DCS was not released
until 2008. Where did you fly before DCS was released? (What was that like?)
It is a long story, take a beer and sit down.
Like I said, we started very early in the early flight simulator 2004 era and everything was simply, definitely DIFFICULT. Anyway, there was so much to do and so much effort has to be put in that each obstacle was a new test and a challenge that we had to solve “not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard”. We started to study the Frecce Tricolori basic maneuvers and gathered more and more friends into training and developed the first complex maneuvers of the real team, “small steps for a few passionate nerds... giant leaps still to come though”.
Then we contacted the software team Cloud9, that was developing an advanced model for FS2004 of the MB339 (and the Rivolto airbase, home of the real frecce tricolori team), and we offered our collaboration in order to promote their products to the sim community, thru our first real fair events where we brought our computers and gears and flown together in one place.
FTV during their FS2004 era.
It was all very difficult though, FS2004 was very ahead in terms of requirements related to the available hardware of that time, and making tight formations in ten Cloud9 MB-339 was almost all the time a 15 to 18 fps nightmare during training, but we kept on training harder and harder through the years. Showing to the community that, after all, such activity was possible and with more than interesting results.
This was 2004-2008 era, we started to use the early head tracking system TrackIR, computer hardware was becoming more powerful and we went on participating to a number of real and simulated events like the annual Modelexpo in Verona or the IVAO Malta aerobatic event, with full flight transfers to the Island and back to Rivolto airbase on IVAO.
Then the group noticed that the international flight community was moving towards different platforms like Lock-on and we decided to try this new challenge. We migrated to Lock-on basically due to the better multiplayer code, it was a turning page but unfortunately we suffered a lot in terms of the aircraft we flew. As a matter of fact: Lock-on's code did not allow us to recreate the real performances of the MB-339, thus we were flying our aerobatic maneuvers with an aircraft exterior skin looking like a 339 but with the flight envelope of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, which is basically 4000 lbs heavier than the MB-339!
Every loop was a close call, and forget Lomcevak, it was pure madness. Simply imagine that in order to have white smoke during the show we were forced to dump fuel!! Very frustrating, the show must go on, but we were not new to getting used to incredible challenges after all.
The year was 2009 and the few last original active members of the team gathered together with another Italian real-related Frecce Tricolori team which was training on Lock-on (Stormbringers) and a collaboration was inevitable; “bringing a storm” of fresh technical boost and new amazing skilled pilots. We decided to move to IL-2 1946, that was again a turning page, but for the best. 2 years in the making and we developed our own IL2 MB-339 PAN that finally performed all flight envelopes like the real aircraft. We made it and we offered the mod for free to the Lock-on community, it is the italian style, we’re proud of it.
In 2011 It was the time for the big show and that year we decided to release our first official video excerpted from our VFAT exhibition: “Frecce Tricolori Virtuali EVOLUTION remastered”
Then again, we turned page another time, and here we are on DCS. Almost 20 years after, wearing an Oculus and spawning on our brand new EFM MB-339 aircraft that we developed with blood and tears, makes me think that little things changed after all: we are still making small steps for few passionate nerds, but looking back... we definitely did Giant leaps during this time.☺
How many members does the flight team have today?
The team today is made up of pilots (either “rated” and trainees), developers, directors (also known as “biga”), and streamers.
Each official training evening sees at least from 8 to 10+ pilots who can fly the routine for the next show or focus on trainees. In additions, should it be required, the streamers or few developers could join to share information. Below our current roster:
PONY1 - Lucone
PONY2 – Randy
PONY3 – Aracno (also 3d Developer)
PONY4 – Zanco
PONY5 – Paolo
PONY6 – Giulio
PONY7 – Fox
PONY8 – Sabba
PONY9 – Wolf (also C++/lua Developer)
PONY10 – Yeager
PONY6 – Michele (currently on a backup position as a second section leader)
Biga/streamer – FTV.Depy
Biga/Training mission voice over - Gianluigi Zanovello
FTV.Extra - Trainee
FM Developer/Streamer/PR – FTV.Duke
Coding – FTV.Erik
Engine Model Assistant – FTV.Robby
Skinner/MOD Structure/lua coder - FTV.Automan
Mission Editor – Beppe_goodoldrebel
Any trainees? Are any of the original members of the group active?
Trainees represent the future for FTV, special care shall be brought to them, sometimes outside of the official training evenings. Few of the group are the founders of the original Frecce Tricolori Virtuali (former named “PANV”), in fact the leader “Pony 1” Lucone and current “Pony 6” Giulio are two of the founders.
What type of training does it take to become a DCS aerobatic pilot? What does a month of team training look like?
Becoming proficient in aerobatics takes years of training, mental strength and dedication. Pilots within Frecce Tricolori Virtuali have from 2 to 15+ years in aerobatics and/or combat simulator. The Team meet to fly at least 8 times each month when on normal training period, whereas even 12+ evenings when within 2-3 months from a live event. This is not taking into account the effort outside of the official training times to progress with trainees or adjusting as required.
There is no magic trick, every person is completely different. Everyone has different backgrounds, learning curves and skills that makes it almost impossible to standardize a training, and after all, no one “becomes” an aerobatic pilot because a pilot is always in training... always.
Also, doing simulated aerobatics is such a different environment compared to real live aerobatics with a lack of physics on your body, lack of real speed sensation, lack of field of view (just to mention a few) are such a handicap that the approach to the training becomes substantially different from the real aerobatic skills. You have to develop different senses in order to compensate real physics, so you have to use your eyes and your brain to “feel” and imagine tridimensional maneuvers. This is a philosophy that takes more than simple time, it takes steps, and every step is different from trainee to trainee to become a member, depending by the position in the formation, depending on the maneuver, sometimes it may be a matter of days, often a matter of months, but definitely, more often, years.
It is exactly like a ballet where every single aircraft is an element of a mass choreography. Every aircraft is part of a movement together with the other ones and every pilot needs to gain the same skill level in order to look alike in the formation. We are talking about 10 different pilots, 10 different heads, each one with his life, his age, his personal problems, dedication and his different approach to the final goal. Some times it is more a matter of psychology than of simple training, a very advanced state of mind, a kind of mental sport that adds stress on top of your life, instead of being an activity that is supposed to be a “hobbie” ☺
How closely does the virtual demonstration team follow the routine of the real world Frecce Tricolori? Has the team talked to the real Frecce Tricolori to receive some
feedback on your maneuvers?
The Frecce Tricolori Virtuali strives to replicate the real routine by matching as close as possible the maneuvers, performances and best practices. The current real team does actually know and appreciate what FTV are making-up. In addition, one of our group members (Gianluigi Zanovello) actually is a former real Frecce Tricolori pilot and that became the commander of the group later on. This is a privileged channel for us in acquiring all the little features and the tricks of the trade, and for that the virtual group thanks him for this opportunity.
What is the most complex maneuver to perform in the team's demonstration?
Several actually. The “Doppio Tonneaux” (double tonneaux) is one of those. Presented before the “Bomba” (Low bomb burst) where the first section keep a close line abreast until the leader calls for the “Interni via” and “esterni via” where number 2 and 3 first, and 4 and 5 just after few seconds, perform an almost canopy to canopy barrel rolls one after the other. Precision in controlling the barrel roll is critical to keep the symmetry and not to run over your wingman.
Many people have seen Frecce Tricolori Virtuali performing in the Virtual Festival of Aerobatic Teams (VFAT). What is it like coordinating for VFAT events and what kind of practice goes into preparing for one?
First of all, the gratitude goes to those who actually coordinates between all the teams for the three-day show (the amazing team of “Virtual Aerobatics”). Each teams put its effort in sticking with the tight schedule and being prepared to show off at their best.
Typically, an intensive training starts 3 months before the show, increasing the training evenings as the show closes in.
Also, a great deal is put in developing an ad-hoc soundtrack, and setting up the streamer “routine” to keep the right pace while the demonstration progress.
The team's official YouTube channel has videos of aerial displays at VFAT events. Which video best represents the team?
The team is very well represented on every VFAT we have taken part of. Blood and tears were put on those events and, as I like to say, we express the quality we have put during the months of training in just the 40-ish minute live stream !
Was the flight demonstration team a part of testing the Aermacchi MB-339A as it was
Yes, the large formations, and different ways of handling the aircraft between each pilots, constitutes one of the fundamental characteristics of our development process.
Will we see the G.91 in future shows? Will it perform alongside the MB-339 or will it perform on a separate flight?
Our group will likely be keeping the G91 in the development status for some more time, works needs to be done to reach the same level of our MB-339. Our group strive to keep the representation of our routines as real as it gets. We might want to re-create the Frecce Tricolori G.91-era routine (which is one of a hell of a ride…), but it is still too soon to say with certainty.
We would like to once again extend our thanks to the entire team of the FTV that treated me kindly and were really attentive and generous with this interview, specially FTV-Duke. Photos by Kirby, FTV-Duke and the FTV team.
About the Interviewer
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
A longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer, translator and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034