Staff Writer (Updated: 3/20/2016):
In 1933, the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) proposed a new multirole-minded monoplane aircraft. Breda then developed their Ba.64 platform to this specification based on their previous Ba.27 single-seat monoplane fighter (itself debuting in 1933). The ba.27 sported an understructure consisting of steel tubing with a metal-skinned body, wood wings and a wooden tail section. Consistent with the times, the pilot sat in an open-air cockpit - fitted well forward in the design - and the engine powered a three-bladed propeller assembly. Only fourteen of the type were ever built (of the eighteen examples originally ordered) and, while passed on by the Italian Air Force, they were used by the Chinese Nationalist Air Force during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) through 11 total delivered examples.
With experience in having developed the Ba.27, Breda designed the Ba.64 as a similar low-wing monoplane fighter, the engine powering a similar three-bladed propeller arrangement and the cockpit seated well forward in the design as before. To cover the broad Regia Aeronautica requirement, Breda progressed with two distinct prototype forms - a single-seat fighter and a slightly revised two-seat bomber form with elongated cockpit area, both intending to fit machine gun armament with the latter completed with provisions for bombs. The powerplant of choice became the British-originated Bristol Pegasus of 700 horsepower fitted to a forward compartment. Design work progressed throughout 1933 and into 1934.
Initial prototype forms were made ready in 1934 with first flight achieved that year. The evaluation did not prove the design promising - generally underpowered and not wholly fast. Despite the showing, the Italian government ordered the type into production in its single-seat fighter form. After several examples of this type had emerged, it was then settled on a hybrid version of the two Breda prototypes- this set to include the undercarriage of the fighter prototype with the two-seat cockpit of the bomber prototype. All production forms were given the locally-produced Alfa Romeo 125C radial piston engine of 650 horsepower output. These powerplants were, in fact, developed from the British Bristol Pegasus and went on to power several Italian aircraft designs of the period. All preceding single-seat examples were eventually standardized to the two-seat bomber form. Production began in 1935 and spanned into 1936 to which only 42 examples were completed. The Breda Ba.64 was formally introduced into Regia Aeronautica service in 1937.
With its crew of two seated in tandem under a heavily framed cockpit, the Ba.64 airframe exhibited a fuselage length of 31.8 feet with a wingspan measuring nearly 40 feet. The system was cleared with a maximum take-off weight reaching 6,690lbs and some 1,200lbs of bombs could be carried aloft. Fixed offense and defense was through a pair of 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT heavy machine guns and up to three 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT medium-class aerial machine guns - one fitted to the rear cockpit to protect the aircraft's vulnerable "six". Power was served through a single Alfa Romeo 125 RC.35 series radial piston engine outputting at 650 horsepower and supplying the airframe with a top speed of 217 miles per hour, a maximum service range of 560 miles and a service ceiling of up to 23,000 feet. The Ba.64 was more or less comparable to the German Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" in both form and function, though the German development saw considerably more early-war success than the Italian Ba.64, being produced in over 6,500 examples after its 1936 introduction into service.
From the beginning, the Ba.64 showed itself an outmoded and outdated design initiative compared to her contemporaries elsewhere in the world. The type still proved slow and heavy at the controls and there was little to recommend the aircraft for true frontline service - its fighter prowess eventually given up for a traditionally bomber-minded, ground attack role instead. The airframe was tricky to fly and required an experienced cool hand at the controls - green pilots were known to have been permanently weeded out by accidents and the like. Therefore, the Ba.64, already limited by its low production total, led a short frontline service life with the Italian Air Force which had moved on to the improved Breda Ba.65 - a similar-minded, low-wing monoplane debuting in 1936 and exhibited more inherent power. 218 of this type were eventually produced. This left the existing Ba.64 to languish as a second-line performer for the rest of her days. It saw little foreign interest and was formally retired by the Regia Aeronautica in 1939. Despite this, shortage of much-needed aircraft for the Italian Air Force persisted, leaving a few Ba.64 mounts in active circulation as late as 1943. In September of that year, Italy as an Axis foe had surrendered.
Beyond the Regia Aeronautica of Italy, the Ba.64 was known to have served with Spain, the Soviet Union and Uruguay. A single example was fielded in the Spanish Civil War alongside Nationalist forces in the subsequent fighting. The Soviet Union received examples via export beginning in 1938 though these led rather unassuming service lives as well. Overall, the Ba.64 was never truly a success on any level, outpaced nearly immediately after its inception due to the changing design, technology and construction methods of the period - and limited Italian aeronautical foresight when compared to the rear of the world.