Profile Publications No. 89 The Savoia Marchetti S.M.79

A pair o f S.M .79 s o f the 10 Squadriglia Jlying over the Libyan desert. (Photo: R. Ward Collection) Shortly after sundown in the evening of 15th August 1940 there appeared low over the waters of Alex­andria harbour two formations of S.M.79 Sporviero torpedo-bombers—their target British warships anchored in the port. No damage, however, resulted from this raid, the torpedoes fouling the shallow mudbanks in the harbour. Unsuccessful though this attack proved to be, it was significant as being the first inaction W.W.1I by these Italian torpedo-bombers—extremely efficient aircraft and considered by many as among the most successful land-based torpedo-bombers of the war. To the Italian nation the Sparviero was as the Spitfire was to the British, or the Mustang to America. Its name was to become associated with many of Italy's most honoured wartime pilots, Faggioni, Marini, Buscaglia, Di Bella, Cagna, Aramu and Aichner, while the achievements of Sparviero-cquipped squadrons are almost legendary. Designed by Alessandro M archetti and developed from the S.M.81, the S.M.79 began its career in 1934 as an eight-passenger commercial airliner intended for the MacRobertson England-Australia air race. How­ever, the prototype was completed too late to partici­pate, its first flight taking place at Cameri airport (Novara) in October 1934. The three-engine con­figuration was selected principally for reasons of flight safety—in those years when passengers had not yet learned to complain of vibration from a fuselage- mounted central engine! As thus stated, the S.M.79 commenced life as a civil aircraft, the full designation being S.M.79P (P for passenger). The first prototype, I-MAGO, with excep­tionally sleek contours and continuous panoramic windows, was powered by three 610-h.p. Piaggio P.IX Stella RC2 nine-cylinder radial engines driving three- blade SIAI Marchetti metal airscrews until it received its Certificate of Airworthiness on 20th July 1935. During the early trials, flown by chief test pilot Com. Bacula, the S.M.79P achieved a maximum speed of 220 m.p.h. at sea level with a normal payload of 2,515 lb., and on 14th June 1935 I-MAGO flew from Milan to Rome in 1 hr. 10 min., at an average speed of 254 m.p.h. Shortly afterwards the engines were replaced by three 750-h.p. Alfa Romeo 125 RC35 (distinguished by larger, smoother cowlings), with a consequent improvement in performance. Within a year of its first flight, on 24th September 1935, with Colonel Biseo at the controls, the S.M.79P established world records for 1,000-km. and 2,000-km. closed circuits with 1,100-,2,200- and 4,400-lb. payloads at an average speed of 242 m.p.h. (380-952 km./h.). The limits of the airframe had not however been reached and the following year I-MAGO was rc- engined with the new 780-h.p. Alfa Romeo 126 RC34, going onto better its own records by achieving an average speed of 260-9 m.p.h. over the 1,000-km. closed circuit with a 4,400-lb. payload. At this point development of the fast three-engine aircraft took a decisive turn, for the high performance now obtained suggested to the military authorities that a bomber conversion could usefully be achieved. It was averred that the addition of two or three machine guns would render the aircraft virtually invulnerable. The second prototype was therefore completed as a bomber from the outset, but did not differ materially in structure from its civil predecessor. The central engine posed some problems for forward defence and bomb aiming, and this was overcome by adding a faired ventral nacelle for the bomb-aimer and a gun for undertail defence. A fixed forward-firing gun was also added in a fairing over the pilot’s cabin, and in The S.M .79P prototype after the installation o f Alfa Romeo 125 R C 35 engines. (Photo: R. Ward Collection) The Savoia Marctietti S.M.79 by Giorgio Apostolo 3
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