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SIAI Marchetti / Savoia-Marchetti

The Societ Idrovolanti Alta Italia (SIAI - Seaplane Company of Upper Italy) was founded in 1915. Following the Great War, it acquired the Societ Anonima Costruzioni Aeronautiche Savoia [Savoia Joint-stock company for Construction of Aeronautics], another Italian aircraft company founded by Umberto Savoia, also in 1915. Savoia was one of Italy's earliest aviators, having taken his first flying lesson from Wilbur Wright.

By 1922 the Savoia Co. was the best seaplane and flying boat constructors in Italy. Their interpretation of hull construction evidenced marked superiority of design and craftsmanship and entitles them to rank high among the world's best air-boat constructors. Their seaplanes are also very good, and the performances attained with their different models have been comparable with best results attained anywhere. In their hull construction they employ walnut longerons, ash ribs, and poplar veneer covering. The workmanship is excellent and the care exercised in the detail work is remarkable. Their wings did not differ from other wings in design or construction. However, the fin is built integral with the aft end of the hull and is very thiclv to provide a good mounting base for the empennage proper.

The tail control countershaft was located in the fin. The entire tail plane, which is generally very wobbly on flying boats, in this case is very rigid. An interesting feature in their tail plane construction is the way the two spars in the stabilizer are supported by one steel tube brace. To the usual steel tube which runs from the fuselage to the rear spar is welded another tube in Y fashion to support the front spars. This provides a rigid brace for both longerons without the necessary addition of a second tube. This idea could be utilized on all planes.

The engine was mounted in such a way that four struts can be removed and then the engine and entire mounting structure removed in short order. The engine mounting is very simple and permits great accessibility to the engine. The gas tanks in all Savoia models are suspended from the engine mounting. They employed nose radiators in all of their types. The hull bottoms were all concave. Ailerons were provided on the top planes only. Four-bladed propellers of their own manufacture were used. Adequate provision was made everywhere for inspection. In front of the pilot is a single cockpit for the navigator or the gunner. Provision was made to transform their ships into bombers by the addition of bomb racks on the underside of the wings.

The company was renamed Savoia-Marchetti, after chief designer Alessandro Marchetti joined the company in 1922, in the same year that Mussolini seized power. Marchetti came to the company with a design for a high-speed biplane. As soon as the Savoia firm acquired the services of Mr. Marchetti, it set out to construct 12 Marchetti land pursuit airplanes for the Italian Air Service. No examples of this machine had been constructed other than the two officially tested out by the Army Air Service in 1919. This machine was credited with a speed of 270 kilometers per hour. Thereafter, the company developed a reputation for very fast, high-performing aircraft. Marchetti quickly showed his technical strength as his first design, the SM-51 racing seaplane, set a speed record of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). 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 seasand 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. This happened in February of 1927, when Francesco de Pinedo took one named Santa Maria to Pernambuco, Brazil, with stops along the way in Morocco and Dakar, on Africa's west coast. 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.

Mussolini's air marshal, 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. In 1930, Balbo led 12 of them on a 6,500-mile (10,461-kilometer) flight from Rome to Rio de Janeiro. Then, in 1933, he took 24 of these flying boats on a triumphant mission that arrived in New York and in Chicago when Chicago was hosting a world's fair. 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.

Another of Marchetti's designs, the SM-64, also set distance records. In 1928 it covered 4,764 miles (7,667 kilometers) along a closed course that resembled a big racetrack while staying aloft for over 58 hours. This was a warm-up for a nonstop transatlantic flight to Brazil a month later. When French aviators took the world closed-circuit distance record, the Italians were not dismayed. Using another SM-64, they won back the record by covering 5,088 miles (8,188 kilometers) in 1930, taking 67 hours.

In 1934, the firm of Macchi brought out its MC-72 racing seaplane. Fitted with two engines set back to back that together produced 2,800 horsepower (2,088 kilowatts), it set a speed record of 440.5 miles per hour (709 kilometers per hour), which stood for five years. In 1935, Mussolini hosted an important conference on aeronautics. The attendees included Germany's Adolf Busemann, who proposed that swept wings would permit flight beyond the speed of sound. Italy also built one of the world's first supersonic wind tunnels, near Rome. Its director, Antonio Ferri, emigrated to the United States in 1944 and rose to leadership in the field of high-speed propulsion. Savoia-Marchetti's prestige flights brought luster to Mussolini's regime, but he was a man of war and he wanted bombers. As a prelude, Savoia-Marchetti built the three-engine SM-73 transport, which carried 18 passengers. Entering production during 1934, it established the three-engine layout that became standard for the bombers.

The first such bomber, the SM-81, served as a front-line weapon until it gave way to the more capable SM-79, beginning in 1937. The SM-81 particularly helped Mussolini during the mid-1930s, when he invaded Ethiopia. He did it because he wanted to build an empire, and in an era when most of Africa was ruled by the British and French, Ethiopia was one of the few territories that had held its independence. Flying out of Italy's colony of Eritrea, SM-81s used wings that were painted with bold red stripes to make these planes easy to spot from the air when they went down in desert.

Following his conquest of Ethiopia, Mussolini intervened in the Spanish Civil War. This was a prelude to World War II, with Germany and Italy supporting the victorious Nationalists, who defeated the Republicans that were allied with the Soviet Union. The Italians flew in Spain with both the SM-81 and -79. As the latter became available in substantial numbers, it emerged as Italy's main bomber in that war. The historian Walter Boyne writes that the SM-79 compared well with wartime twin-engine bombers such as Britain's Bristol Blenheim and Germany's Heinkel He 111. It had a top speed of 270 miles per hour (435 kilometers per hour), a range of nearly 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers), and a bomb load of 2,750 pounds (1,247 kilograms). The Regia Aeronautica, the Italian Air Force, quickly adopted the SM-79 as its principal bomber. When Italy entered World War II, in June 1940, it held nearly a thousand bombers. Close to 600 of them were SM-79s.

Boyne describes it as "probably the best torpedo bomber of the war, in any Air Force." Italy thus used it to good effect against Allied convoys. Still, while Mussolini had won easy victories in Ethiopia and Spain, he now faced the far more formidable armed forces of Britain and America. His men fought gallantly, flying SM-79s against such heavily defended targets as Malta, a key British naval and air base in the Mediterranean. By then, however, Italy was sending warplanes dating to the 1930s against enemy aircraft that were considerably more modern. Italy surrendered as early as 1943, and thereafter stayed in the war only through direct support from Germany.

The end of the war also brought an end to Italy's independent aviation industry. Savoia-Marchetti stayed alive for a time by building trucks and railway coaches, but went bankrupt in September 1951. The firm emerged from bankruptcy two years later and began crafting light aircraft, often in partnership with other firms. Silvercraft Italiana and SIAI-Marchetti jointly designed an all-metal three-seat helicopter, the SH-4, the prototype of which made its first flight in March 1965. The SH-4 went into production at Silvercraft's works at Sesto Calende in basic form. After 1977, this company worked increasingly on helicopters in association with the firm of Agusta. In 1983, Agusta took it over as a subsidiary, erasing its name a few years later. Even so, as part of Agusta, it continued to remain in business. As of 2001 Agusta S.P.A., Agusta Aerospace Corporation, Sesto Calende Works of Agusta, and Siai Marchetti Corporation were owners of Marchetti.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:22:36 ZULU