Savoia-Marchetti SM-55 / S.55 flying boat
With the development of the wildly successful S.55 twin-hull catamarans flying boat, Savoia-Marchetti arrived on the aviation scene as a dominant manufacturer. The first version of the SM-55 was introduced in 1925. This was a long-range flying boat with twin hulls like those of a catamaran. The arrangement made the plane stable in heavy seas—and provided ample room between the hulls for mines or torpedoes.
The SM-55 became one of the airplanes that crossed the Atlantic before Lindbergh's flight in May 1927. One of the world's greatest air tours was made rather unostentatiously in February 1927 by Commander Francesco de Pinedo, Captain del Prete and crew in a Savoia-Marchetti seaplane named Santa Maria. Starting in Italy under the eye of Mussolini, they flew southwest to Rio de Janeiro, , Brazil, with stops along the way in Morocco and Dakar, on Africa's west coast, north through the United States and thence from Trepassey to Lisbon with the greatest ease. In contrast to Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the Santa Maria could land safely on the water. It came equipped with a seawater distiller, a life raft, and fishing equipment.
Air Marshal Italo Balbo, who developed the esprit de corps of the Italian Air Service, made aviation popular throughout the nation by organizing famous mass air flights, seemingly in an effort to realize the prophecies of his more doctrinaire colleague, General Douhet. As described by a group of journalists in Passeggiate aeree sul Mediterraneo (Milan, 1929), Balbo took 61 flying boats on a circuit of the Western Mediterranean, stopping in Spain and in France, and led another mass flights to the Eastern Mediterranean in 1929. General Italo Balbo soon was flying the Atlantic not with single airplanes but with entire fleets. Again these were SM-55s, which could refuel en route in the Azores. Balbo led twelve Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flying boats on a 6,500-mile (10,461-kilometer) flight from from Orbetello, Italy to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil between 17 December 1930 and 15 January 1931 [hence the fact that is flight is variously reported as having taken place either in 1930 or 1931].
Then, in 1933, he took 24 Savoia-Marchetti S-55 flying boats of the Italian Air Force manned by nearly 100 officers and men on what was to be the greatest mass flight in aviation history. The flight began 01 July 1933 with 25 aircraft leaving from Orbetello, Italy. On the west bound flight they lost one seaplane and a member of its crew while landing at Amsterdam, the first stop on the trip. The remaining 24 aircraft made several more refueling stops via Iceland and Labrador before arriving in Montreal on 14 July 1933. The triumphant mission then flew to Chicago, which was was hosting a world's fair. From Chicago, General Balbo flew his armada from Chicago to New York in perfect formation and, several days later, flew on to Shoal harbor, Newfoundland. During the departure from Ponta Delgada another seaplane was wrecked, and 23 the planes returned to Rome via the Azores.
Benito Mussolini (Il Duce) and other Italian Fascist leaders shielded their eyes as they watched out for the return of the Italian fliers. Crowds standing of the banks of the River Tiber looked up and waved. With the return of the Italian Air Armada, General Balbo and 100 airmen marched triumphantly through Rome, where they were welcomed by Signor Mussolini. This ceremony creates Balbo the first Air Marshal of Italy. This flight was the climax of his career for, upon his return he was also named governor of Libya and removed from active duty with the Air Force, apparently because of Mussolini's resentment at his popularity. He lost his life on June 28, 1940, when the Italian airplane in which he was flying was accidentally shot down by anti-aircraft batteries of the cruiser San Giorgio anchored off Tobruk.
In the course of its career, the SM-55 held 14 world records for speed, altitude, load, and distance. It also proved rugged enough to survive being towed for 200 miles (322 kilometers) across open sea to the Azores, when one of them had to set down in mid-ocean.
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