Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 Pipistrello (Bat) Medium Bomber / Transport Aircraft
The Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 survived World War 2 and continued in service until 1950.
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The Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 Pipistrello ("Bat") served primarily with the Regia Aeronautica throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The aircraft played an effective role as both a troop transport and a bombing platform, taking part in the 1935 Italo-Abyssinian War, the 1936 Spanish Civil War, the 1939 invasion of Albania and the 1943 evacuation of Axis forces in Tunisia. The aircraft was nicknamed the "Slug" by its pilots on account of her slow performance by 1940s standards. Some 535 examples were produced in whole.
Roots of Savoia-Marchetti
Roots to the Savoia-Marchetti firm were laid down in 1915 during World War 1 (1914-1918). At this time, the company operated under the name of Societa Idrovolanti Alta Italia ("Seaplane Company of North Italy") under the initials of "SIAI" with a concentration on seaplane design and production. In the post-war world, the firm absorbed Societa Anonima Costruzioni Aeronautiche Savoia, an aircraft bureau begun by Umberto Savoia (also founded in 1915), and added the Savoia name. In 1922, chief designer Alessandro Marchetti joined the ranks of Savoia and the company name changed once more, this time to the more well-known "Savoia-Marchetti".
Savoia-Marchetti went on to develop quite an esteemed name for themselves as they focused their talents on fast aircraft that could offer good overall performance. The firm's standout product became the SM S.55 flying boat of 1926, quickly cementing Savoia-Marchetti as a top-flight aircraft producer. The bureau would also develop several platforms to ultimately set several world air speed and endurance records. Before World War 2, Italian Air Marshall Italo Balbo looked to the company to begin developing products with a war mindset and, as such, the Savoia-Marchetti firm responded with prototypes and evaluation models, ultimately being responsible for both fighter and large aircraft production for much of the Regia Aeronautica through the war. By 1943, the firm changed their name once more to SIAI-Marchetti. Most of the company's production facilities were damaged or outright destroyed during the war.
In post-war Europe, SIAI-Marchetti eked an existence out by producing rail cars and service trucks for civilian use. However, this was not enough to stave off bankruptcy, which eventually found the company in 1951. The firm re-emerged in 1953 and began concentrating on design and production of helicopters. By the mid-1980s, the company was absorbed into Italian helicopter maker Agusta and the SIAI-Marchetti name was no more.
Origins of the SM.81
The SM.81 was originally designed as a bomber by Alessandro Marchetti with roots in the SM.73 civilian airliner. The SM.73 was first unveiled in 1934 and went on to see extensive commercial success in the airliner market. Generally, civil airliners made for good starting points in bomber designs thanks to their focus on speed, weight loads and range. The three-engined SM.81 proved this as such and was developed into a very capable military platform during the latter portion of the inter-war years. First flight was recorded in 1934. The militarized SM.81 underwent extensive evaluation by the Regia Aeronautica before being accepted into service in 1935 with large-scale production soon following. As planned from the beginning, the SM.81 (like the SM.73 before it) would be able to take on a series of powerplants as needed to help define required roles within the Italian Air Force.
Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 Walk-Around
The SM.81 took on a most utilitarian role, resembling the German Junkers Ju 52/3m in many ways. She featured a smooth fuselage with a certain 1930s interwar flare to her, mounting three engines along her design and sporting both smooth and slab-sided contours. One engine was fitted to the extreme forward end of the fuselage while the remaining pair were each fitted to the leading edge of each wing. Viewports dotted the fuselage sides and the canopy was glazed. Wings were low-set monoplane cantilever designs with wide span and large surface area. These assemblies were held well-forward in the design as was the flight deck, this fitted slightly ahead of the wing leading edges. Vision was adequate for flying, less so for when taxiing on the ground. The fuselage gradually tapered off into the empennage to which rounded tail surfaces were affixed. There was a single vertical tail fin with a shallow leading edge and applicable stabilizers to each empennage side. The main landing gear legs were generally spatted for improved aerodynamics with a diminutive tailwheel set at the rear. The undercarriage was fixed and non-retractable. Standard crew was six personnel.
When used in her militarized role, the SM.81 took on several defensive machine gun positions about her design. This was usually made up of 5 to 6 x 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns. Two were fitted into a retractable ventral gun position while two were mounted on the rear-facing deck above and behind the cockpit. The remaining pair were split into two beam positions along the sides of the fuselage. For offensive sorties, the SM.81 could field varying stores of internal munitions ranging from several 1,100lb bombs to over fifty 33lb bombs. Total bombload was limited to 4,415lbs of ordnance through 2,000lbs was usually the standard operating load.