|A SF.260 of the Libyan Air Force|
|First flight||15 July 1964|
|Introduction||April 1966 (FAA certification)|
|Primary users||Italian Air Force|
Libyan Air Force
Philippine Air Force
Belgian Air Force
|Number built||870+ (2005)|
The SF.260 was designed by Italian aircraft designer Stelio Frati, while production work originally performed by Milan-based aviation manufacturer Aviamilano. On 15 July 1964, the first prototype performed its maiden flight (then designated F.260). Shortly thereafter, responsibility for production was transferred to SIAI Marchetti, who had purchased the rights to the design; manufacturing continued to be performed by this firm until the company was bought by Aermacchi in 1997.
The SF.260 has been largely sold to military customers as a trainer and light combat aircraft. In addition, there have been limited civil sales to private operators; during the late 1960s, the type was marketed in the United States under the name Waco Meteor. Armed military versions, sold as the SF.260W Warrior, proved to be popular with smaller air forces, which could arm the type for use in the close air support role. Both piston-powered and turboprop-powered models have been developed.
During the early 1960s, Italian aircraft designer Stelio Frati commenced work upon a new three-seat aerobatic design, which was primarily intended to serve as a sport aircraft. Unlike many of its peers of the era, it was developed to possess aerobatic capabilities akin to contemporary combat aircraft, as well as being equipped for instrument flight rules (IFR) flight. This design drew heavily upon his previous projects, including the jet-powered Caproni Trento F-5 prototype trainer and the Sequoia Falco twin-seat aerobatic aircraft, sharing the same wing and a similar structure to the Falco. The envisioned aircraft, initially designated as the F.250 due to the horsepower of its engine, was Frati's first all-metal aircraft.
On 15 July 1964, the type performed its maiden flight. In the aftermath of the maiden flight, prime responsibility for the type's manufacture was acquired from Aviamilano by SIAI Marchetti, which had purchased the rights to the design outright. Shortly after entering production, the SF.260 found itself in high demand by military customers, who often adopted it interchangeably as a military trainer or as a lightweight ground-attack aircraft. Between 1964 and 1984, the majority of customers for the type were military, while a small number of private pilots had been able to obtain a few, although supply in this respect was constrained.
During the late 1960s, the aircraft was marketed in the United States market as the Waco Meteor, although it had no connections of any form with the Waco Aircraft Company; the venture was relatively unsuccessful. During the late 1970s and 1980s, American airline pilot Frank Strickler became a major reseller of the type, being credited with re-launching civil sales of the SF.260 in the region, acquiring them from SIAI Marchetti in small batches and individually selling them on to US-based customers.
During the late 1970s, an improved model of the SF.260A, designated as the SF.260C, had replaced it in production. This model featured various improvements, including redesigned tabs on the ailerons, a strengthened wing, a re-profiled aerofoil for improved low-speed handling, and an elongated tail/rudder. The SF.260C was designed for compliance with the requirements of military specifications. The only structural difference between the SF.260C and its armed brethren, the SF.260W Warrior and SF.260SW Sea Warrior, is the presence of underwing hardpoints for attaching equipment and armaments.
During 1980, SIAI Marchetti performed the first flight of a turboprop-powered SF.260TP, powered by an Allison Model 250 engine flat-rated at 350 shp. This variant was marketed towards the military trainer market, which soon adopted the type. In August 1986, Gates Learjet was approached by SIAI Marchetti to modify the SF.260TP for it to be compliant with the requirements of Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) FAR Part 23, thus allowing it to be certified for civil use. Modifications were made in order to achieve lower stall speed and greater payload capacity, these performance improvements were principally achieved through aerodynamic alterations, such as the adoption of 'shark's teeth' along the wing's leading edge.
During 2005, a batch of thirty SF.260EA were delivered to the Italian Air Force for a total price of €33 million ($40 million). This model, which had been specially developed to meet an Italian Air Force requirement for an advanced piston-engine aircraft, is used for screening and principal training activities.
The SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 is a low-mounted cantilever wing monoplane, complete with a retractable tricycle undercarriage. It has been often praised for its sleek lines and sporty aesthetic appearance, while maintaining function as well, possessing jet-like handling as a result. The construction is typically known for having a high level of workmanship, while exterior is extensively flush-riveted to reduce aerodynamic drag, except for a few locations such as the flaps and some fairings. The SF.260 has a compact, dense structure which possesses ballistics similar to a jet aircraft, and is approved to perform aerobatic manoeuvres. In comparison to most single-engine aircraft, it possesses superior power loading and above average wing loading.
The original model of the SF.260 was powered by a single Lycoming O-540 engine, capable of providing 260 hp. The standard engine made use of a carburetor, while a fuel injected engine was available as an optional extra. The SF.260 has been described as having the power to be immune to the gyration-like effects of turbulence and possessing a high rate of climb. During the 1980s, aerospace publication Flying Magazine stated the SF.260 to be: "the fastest normally aspirated piston single in production". The SF.260 holds the airspeed records for aircraft in its class over the 100 km (62 mi) and 1,000 km (620 mi) closed circuits. Later-built models often made use of turboprop engines; the initial model to be equipped as such, designated as the SF.260TP, was powered by a single Allison Model 250 engine, flat-rated at 350 shp.
The pilot and up to two passengers (or pilot and one student in trainer versions) are accommodated under a broad, extensively glazed canopy. The pilot, who accesses the aircraft via purpose-built walkways along the wing, would be typically seated on the right-hand side of the cockpit; military pilots are trained to control the aircraft using their right hand on the stick and their left on the throttle.
While being a fully aerobatic aircraft, it possesses favourable handling qualities, including relatively tame stall characteristics. Controllability during stalls is augmented by vanes located on the wing tip tanks which accelerate airflow over the tips and ailerons. The SF.260 is a relatively fast aircraft, complete with responsive controls; as a product of the latter, pilots need to maintain awareness of speed dips, although ample aerodynamic warning is typically present. Piston-engined and turboprop-engined SF.260 models generally share similar handling and flight performance. Speed limitations on the landing gear has been highlighted as a negative attribute. In order to safely perform aerobatics, the rear seat has to be unoccupied and the tip tanks must be empty of fuel prior to commencing any such manoeuvers, reducing the SF.260's flight endurance to roughly one and a half hours.
This small air force operated six Warriors with marks BF-8421 (c/n 049), BF-8424 (c/n 254), BF-8431 (c/n 116), BF-8451 (c/n 206), BF-8477 (c/n 134) and BF-8479 (c/n 136); these Warriors were sold from the Philippines via Belgium in 1986, and were complemented by other four new Warriors coming directly from Italy, and employed during the Agacher Strip War with Mali in 1986. These aircraft were in service with Escadrille de Chasse ("Fighting Squadron") in the Force Aérienne de Burkina Faso (FABF), the Burkina Faso Air Force.
Chad informed the United Nations that, during the conflict with Libya, it had destroyed eight Libyan Air Force SF.260WLs and captured nine others, besides destroying and capturing other equipment. As many as six former Libyan SF.260WLs may have been pressed into service with Chad's Air Force. By 1988, four SF.260Ws were identified as being in service, two of them were overhauled one year later in France.
In November 2006, Libya supplied Chad with four SF.260W aircraft, including crew, due to tensions between Chad and Sudan over the Dafur area. One newly supplied SF.260W was shot down on 28 November – its first mission in Chad – by rebel forces, killing the crew.
Libya was a major customer of the SIAI Marchetti SF.260 with an order of 240 Warriors, partially to be assembled in a new plant near Tripoli. How many SF.260W's were actually delivered is unknown. Deliveries started in 1977 or 1978, but problems arose from a US embargo on avionics. Reportedly, the US-made avionics were replaced by French-made, which caused delays in delivery. In the late 1970s large numbers of SF.260's were parked on Vergiate awaiting delivery.
The SF.260WL was intended for use by the Air Force Academy for pilot training, but was also used for ground support of army troops during the border war with Chad. Little is known about the service life of the aircraft. The Libyan government supported friendly countries with arms, and several SF.260Ws were handed over to air forces such as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Nicaragua, Uganda and possibly others. In 1987 Chad reported to the United Nations the destruction of eight F.260s and the capture of nine others during its border war with Libya; some of these secondhand Libyan aircraft may even have found their way onto the US market.
Alenia Aermacchi refurbished twelve SF.260 primary trainers for the Libyan Air Force; the work was performed jointly by Alenia Aermacchi and Tripoli-based Libyan-Italian Advanced Technology. The work included overhaul of the airframes and systems, including propellers and engines. Work began in late 2007 and ran through 2008.
During the civil war, on May 7, 2011, this aircraft (along with a formation of pro-Gaddaffi planes) was probably involved in a successful air raid over the rebel-held fuel depots at Misrata, setting them on fire. NATO failed to intercept the flight, despite the introduction of a no-fly zone over Libya in March. At the beginning of the uprising, one aircraft was crushed under a tank during a rebel attack on Misrata air base.
As of 2013, at least six airframes are still in service with the new Libyan Air Force and are involved in patrols and possibly airstrikes against smugglers in the porous and remote borders.
Between four and six SF.260W's were received by the Fuerza Aérea Sandinista as support from Libya. They may have been used in the COIN role against the Contras and in the pilot training role. No further details are known. Three SF.260s surfaced in the USA on the secondhand market, a fourth is slowly being rebuilt in Guatemala. No longer in service.
In the early 1970s, an order was placed for 48 SF.260s (32 SF.260M; 16 SF.260W). The first six were delivered in May 1973, replacing the Beech T-34A Mentor with 100th Training Wing at Fernando Air Base.
The 15th Strike Wing on airbase Sangley Point received the SF.260W Warrior as an addition to the North American T-28 Trojans. They were possibly used in combat against rebel forces in the south of the Philippines. But little is known about its service life. In the early 1980s, the surviving Warriors were disarmed and transferred to the training role with 100th Training Wing.
The Philippines Air Force signed with Agusta a contract for the delivery of 18 SF.260TP turboprops on 31 December 1991, replacing the SF.260M/W in the training role. The first SF.260TP was noted in country on 1 July 1993.
Under "Project Layang" the Philippines Air Force plans to upgrade 18 SF.260M/W aircraft to the SF.260TP standard, by replacing the Lycoming piston engine with the Allison 250-B17D turboprop engine and newer avionics. The first upgraded SF.260 was delivered in 1996, no further details are available.
The Philippines has finalized a deal with Alenia Aermacchi for 18 new-build SF.260F primary/basic trainers. All 18 were delivered by Aermacchi Italy which was locally assembled by Aerotech Industries Philippines by April 2011.
Six Warriors were sold to Burkina Faso via Belgium in 1986.
Despite an arms embargo, two batches of SF.260 aircraft were delivered in 1977. Because of the embargo several buying teams were travelling the world looking for suitable equipment. Through various routes, 17 SF.260C and 14 SF.260W aircraft arrived. The former to be used in the training role, while the warriors were being used for light attack duties and escort of convoys. In 1984–85 reportedly eight SF.260Ws were converted to SF.260TP standard by replacing the piston engine with a turboprop engine.
Six SF.260TPs were delivered to the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) in 1985, to be used in the pilot training role, although they were later brought into the government's effort to subdue the Tamil Tigers. Two former factory demonstration aircraft were delivered in 1986 to replace lost aircraft, added by three new built aircraft in 1988. All SF.260 aircraft are based with No. 1 Flying Training Wing on the airbase SLAF Anuradhapura. The SF.260TP fleet was expanded in 1990–91 with the delivery of twelve former Myanmar SF.260Ws. The SF.260W fleet was withdrawn from use in 2001, being replaced by Chinese Nanchang PT-6 aircraft. The SF.260TP fleet was also retired a few years later.
In 1990, the Turkish Air Force placed an order for 40 planes. The first six were produced in Italy and the remaining 34 were produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries in Turkey, under licence. All of the planes are used in training and are deployed at the 123rd Basic Training Squadron stationed at İzmir.
It was announced at the 1997 Paris Salon that the Air Force of Zimbabwe had ordered six F.260F aircraft, thus becoming the first operator of this new model. All six should have been delivered in 1998.
Out of about 860 SF-260s produced, around 180 have been sold to civil users. Most of these are in private hands, although at least four airlines, Alitalia, Sabena, Royal Air Maroc and British Midland Airways purchased the aircraft as a trainer for airliner pilots. Air Combat USA operates 9 SF-260s.
Data from Jane's all the World's Aircraft 1988–89
|Footage of SF260 Aerobatic Team Breitling Devils during training at Thiene Airport, Italy|
|Mock combat involving an SF260 in a Hollywood movie|
|In-cockpit view of a SF260 inflight|
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to SIAI-Marchetti SF-260.|