First experimental flights for an Italian Air Force aircraft powered by a fuel mixture containing up to 25% biofuel. The tests were conducted on an AMX fighter by pilots and specialized personnel of the Air Force at the Aeronautical and Space Experimentation Division (DASAS) located in Pratica di Mare (Rome). The project came from a preliminary study and experimentation activity carried out in collaboration with researchers from ENEA and three institutes of the National Research Council (CNR), the Institute on Atmospheric Pollution (IIA), the National Institute of Optics (INO) and the Institute of Sciences and Technologies for Energy and Sustainable Mobility (STEMS).
The experimentation is part of a trilateral agreement signed by Italian Air Force, ENEA and CNR launched in 2017 thanks to a loan provided by the Italian Ministry of Ecological Transition (MITE) for biofuels and their use in the aeronautical domain, a successful collaboration that led to the achievement of important objectives in a project called “aero-traction with biofuels”.
This collaboration gave the opportunity to run several ground engine tests to verify the performance of fossil fuel mixed with biofuel at different percentages (from 20% to 25%). It also made possible to compare the emissions at the different mixtures, as well as, to carry out several tests using pure biofuel, at different concentrations, to verify the compatibility with aircraft materials, to exclude possible issues with the engine or plastic parts.
In order to run the experimental flights, skilled personnel from Aeronautical and Space Materials Technologies Department (RTMAS) and from Technical Control Laboratories of the Support Service of the Logistic Command conducted preliminary chemical-physical qualification and certification analyzes of both the fuel of biogenic origin and the fossil fuel specifically selected for the mixtures.
Finally, with the contribution of the Technical Operational Support Department at DASAS, the biofuel mixture used to refuel the AMX aircraft during the tests was created. The two flights carried out – the first with 20% mixing and the second at 25% – were planned and conducted by the Flight Experimental Department, which also collected the engine performance data.
ENEA carried out the preliminary study in order to identify the most suitable plant matrix for the production of aviation biofuels. In addition, they took care about the characterization of aircraft emissions in the air during the flight together with the toxicological assessment for the estimation of economic sustainability.
All the study and experimentation phases of the project, which represents a milestone in the path towards the ecological transition in the military field, were conducted according the guidelines provided by the Directorate for Aeronautical Armaments and Airworthiness (DAAA) and the General Secretariat of Defense / National Armaments Directorate.