The Ansaldo A 1 Balilla ("Hunter") was the first aircraft fighter design of Italian origins. In the early part of World War 1 (1914-1918), Italian forces consistently relied upon French-designed combat aircraft, leading the local Italian concern of Ansaldo to design, develop, and produce the "A.1" as a fighting biplane. The resulting aircraft offered exceptional performance (one of the fastest biplanes of the period) for its time in the air but reportedly held suspect handling qualities that did not endear the machine to its pilots. The A.1, named the "Hunter", appeared in the final stages of The Great War which helped to limit its availability and subsequent use - Italy becoming its sole primary operator for lack of anything better. Some of the stock did, however, find their war into American hands where they were converted as air racers and carried Curtiss D-12 engines (American World War 1 Ace Eddie Rickenbacker netted a national airspeed record in 1920 flying such an aircraft).
The Ansaldo A.1 Balilla was arranged as a basic biplane fighter design which relied on an over-under wing mainplane configuration. Struts were parallel installations at each member. The lower section ran into the lower fuselage with the upper section suspended over the aircraft. The engine was installed at the nose in the usual way but its oversized nature meant that views to the front were severely restricted. The engine drove a multi-bladed wooden propeller in typical fashion. The pilot sat in an open-air cockpit ahead of midships and the fuselage tapered towards the rear. The tail unit was made up of a single vertical fin and low-set horizontal planes. The undercarriage consisted of two wheeled main landing gear members under the forward mass of the aircraft and a simple tailskid at the rear.
Power was from an SPA 6A water-cooled inline piston engine outputting 220 horsepower and driving a four-bladed propeller. Flight time for the platform amounted to 1 hour and 30 minutes and reachable speeds neared 140 miles per hour. Its service ceiling was a useful 16,400 feet, the aircraft making about 520 feet-per-minute to get there. Range was listed at 410 miles.
As was typical of fighter aircraft of the period, the Balilla carried the usual armament of 2 x 7.7mm (British) Vickers Machine Guns in fixed, forward-firing mounts over the nose. These were synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades.
Beyond the Corp Aeronautico Militare (Italian Air Force), operators icluded Argentina, Belgium, Greece, Latvia, Mexico, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Uruguay. Production totaled 307 units with 250 manufactured by Ansaldo and a further 57 by Polish-based Lublin under local license.
The Polish models were a post-World War 1 initiative begun in 1919 but these arrived to late to be used in the Russo-Polish War of 1919-1921. In 1920, the Russians also contracted for the same aircraft but these were not on hand in number until April of 1922 and served only until the middle of 1928.