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Savoia-Marchetti S.55 — due Italiano and the Balbo

28 August 2012

Savoia-Marchetti S.55 — due Italiano and the Balbo

Balbo was a slang term at times in the 1930s and 1940s for any large formation of aircraft — not just several, more than a handful. The term came from Italo Balbo’s early 1930s leading aircraft on tremendously long flights — each with many aircraft. The first was with 12 aircraft from Italy to Brazil and the second was around the world in seven legs with 24 aircraft.

But who was Italo Balbo and why do we not know him?

Balbo was a leading fascist, ardent supported of Benito Mussolini and died due to friendly fire over Tobruk in 1940. Perhaps this explains why he is unknown, except in Italy perhaps, but in his day before the onset of WW II his feats were remarkable — he was awarded the Harmon Trophy in 1931 — and was also the toast of the town wherever he landed. One of his stops during the around the world tour was Chicago during its Century of Progress celebration during 1933 — it is still recalled with Balbo Avenue named for him (it forms the southern border of Buckingham Fountain Square in Lincoln Park) as well as a Roman column from the ancient port cirt of Ostia, donated to the city by Balbo (located on the Lakefront Trail north of the E Waldron Dr intersection, 41º 51′ 41″ N / 87º 36′ 48″ W).

Model of the Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flown by Italo Balbo on exhibit in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall — photo by Joseph May

The aircraft used in both historical flights was the Savoia-Marchetti S.55 which was a beautiful catamaran flying boat. Cargo and passengers were carried in both hulls with the cockpit mounted atop the wing between the hulls. Twin engines were mounted in tandem above the cockpit. A rare example, in a beautiful Italian red, exists in the Museu Asas de um Sonho TAM located in São Carlos, Brazil.

Closer perspective of Balbo’s Savoia-Marchetti S.55 model, note the center position cockpit and window ports in both hulls (note that the rear propeller is absent) — photo by Joseph May

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