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1916 - 1925

The aeronautical industry and the Great War

The AER factory at Orbassano. Workshop for making canvas covering for aircraft wings

The advent of war brought considerable impulse to the increase in industrial aeronautical activity: FIAT and SPA increased their production of aircraft engines, producing more than 24,000 engines between 1914 and 1918.

 FIAT

Fiat AviazioneThe FIAT Aircraft Engine Workshops in Corso Dante (Turin)FIAT poster

 

As previously mentioned, the FIAT car company began its activity in the aeronautical sector in 1907, manufacturing engines for airships. It subsequently began to produce engines for aircraft.

The aircraft engine produced in the greatest quantity in the FIAT workshops of Corso Dante was the 250 hp A12-1 (and later the A12 bis of 300-320 hp), installed in many Allied aircraft, including those of the British Royal Flying Corps, who preferred it for its heavy bombers over the Rolls-Royce "Eagle", despite the fact that it was more costly than its British rival.

It was only in 1914 that FIAT themselves began to build aircraft, initially under licence from Farman, building the 1914 model 5B equipped with the 100 hp A10 engine. In late 1915-16 these began to be superseded by the "SP" series (SP1, SP2 and SP3). The "SP's", designed by engineers Savoia and Pomilio and subsequently refined by the D.T.A.M. (Direzione Tecnica Aviazione Militare), were powered by the 250 hp A12 engine.

The largest number of aircraft came from the FIAT-SIA factories in Via Madama Cristina and Via Nizza, where, following construction of a number of Farman type 1914's, production was concentrated on the SP1, the SP2, SP3 and then the SPA, all robust but slow aircraft with twin tail booms.

By June 1916, the constant rise in production and the expectation of continued increases due to the continuation of the war induced FIAT to set up a company dedicated to aircraft construction. This was given the name of S.I.A. (Società Italiana Aviazione), and became the vehicle into which all the former aeronautical activities were channeled. It quickly became operational from the hangars of Mirafiori.

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Engineer Torretta, Technical Director of SIA with Chief Test Pilot, Lt Brach-Papa and Capt Pozzi, Test Pilot FIAT- SIA 7B2 with A12bis 300 HP engine

 

The head of the SIA design office was Engineer Torretta, who in collaboration with the D.T.A.M., launched the "7b" project towards the end of 1916, powered by the 250 HP A12 engine. This went into production in 1917.

A "7b1" was chosen by Captain Laureati to make his two famous long-range flights – the non-stop Turin-Naples-Turin and Turin-London.

It was also with a SIA 7b1 that Gabriele D'Annunzio organized the reconnaissance mission preparatory to what became knowns as the "Mockery of Buccari".  The SIA 7b1 took off from Tesséra aerodrome (near Venice) accompanied by co-pilot 2nd Lt. Lombardi and observer 2nd Lt. Campacci then proceeded to overfly the ports of Pola, Rijeka and Buccari. Campacci was able to take dozens of photographs of the enemy installations and ships in the harbours essential for the attack by sea which followed a few days later.

By 1918, the SIA production rate had reached 7-8 aircraft per day.

The evolution of the 7B1 was the 7B2 which mounted the 300 HP A12 Mk2 engine. It outclassed the most modern Austro-German aircraft of the day both in speed and armament. Some 20 of these were sold to the USA after being test-flown by a group of American pilots who came to Italy specifically for this along with the then Mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia.

Thanks to the development of its wartime production, Turin occupied a leading position within the Italian aeronautical industry.

Wing assembly department in the Corso Francia factory Propeller construction department in the Corso Peschiera factory

 

Many were the models of aircraft that followed one another down the FIAT production lines in their various shapes and sizes. It is worth recalling, just as historic fact, that from its origins in 1907 up until the year 1962, considering prototypes and their derivatives, FIAT were responsible for:

  • 55 types of aeronautical engine
  • 166 types of aircraft.

Their total production amounted to

  • 32,000 aircraft engine
  • 13,000 aircraft which were sold to 27 different countries

This is neither the time nor the place to recount the history of FIAT's aeronautical experience. However, at the same time, it is impossible to proceed without mentioning two of their most important designers, men who made history, men who were internationally acknowledged as giants in their field: Celestino ROSATELLI and Giuseppe GABRIELLI – with Rosatelli participating actively in the day to day affairs and becoming a Board Member of the Aero Club of Turin in 1927.

Celestino Rosatelli

Celestino RosatelliCelestino Rosatelli (born in Belmonte Sabina (RI) in 1885) attended the School of Engineering in Rome, from which he graduated in 1910. In 1915 he joined the Army and was assigned to the D.T.A.M. (Direzione Tecnica Aeronautica Militare) in Turin where he came into contact with Savoia and Verduzio, participating in the design of the SVA (Savoia Verduzio Ansaldo).

Rosatelli's fame as a designer soon went beyond the confines of the D.T.A.M. and in 1918, Senator Agnelli asked for him to be assigned to the project office of FIAT aviation, where he soon became the director.

Rosatelli designed a series of aircraft distinguished with the letter "R", and in particular, the "BR" series, standing for Bomber Rosatelli and the "CR" series, for Caccia (fighter aircraft) Rosatelli which have become part of the history of Italian aviation and beyond.

His first bomber design was in 1918, nominated "BR", a 2-seater biplane with advanced features, powered by a FIAT "A14" engine. In one of these, on the 21st of May 1919, Brach Papa set a height record of 7250 metres (23,500 ft) and a speed record of 270 km/h (almost 170 mph).

Rosatelli designed more than 50 aircraft, and of these, more than 40 were built. There were a number of "BR" versions (BR, BR.1, BR.2, BR.3, BR.4, BR20) and an even higher number of "CR" versions (CR.1, CR.2, CR.5, CR.10, CR.20, CR.25, CR.30, CR.32, CR.33, CR.40, CR.41, CR.42).

FIAT BR 20 FIAT CR 32FIAT CR1 - 300 CVFIAT BR 1

 

In 1927, Rosatelli became a member of the Board of Directors of the Aero Club of Turin under the presidency of Count Carlo di Robilant and the vice presidency of Dr. Edoardo Agnelli.

The year 1930 saw the emergence of the CR.20 which abandoned the canvas-covered, wood-framed concept to become the first all-metal Italian aircraft. Its high performance gave birth to the military aerobatic team commanded by Rino Corso Fougier at the Campoformido airfield near Udine.

At the beginning of the '30s, Rosatelli's aircraft attained numerous firsts for speed and height. His last project was the CR.42 in 1939.

He died in Turin on the 23rd of September 1945.

Giuseppe Gabrielli

Giuseppe GabrielliGiuseppe Gabrielli (Caltanissetta – 26.02.1903) came to Turin as an adolescent. He graduated in Aeronautical Engineering from the city's Polytechnic University in 1925.

In 1930 he became Professor of Aeronautical Construction at the Turin Polytechnic and in 1931, Senator Agnelli, the founder of FIAT, who had intuitively perceived his great potential, asked him to join his aircraft design department. Thus began the collaboration which endured up until the '80's, during which time no less than 142 projects bearing the mythical letter "G" took shape.

His first project for FIAT was the G.2 in 1932.

In 1937, he designed the G.50, the first low-wing Italian fighter, and in 1942, followed this with the G.55, one of the fastest and powerful fighters of the 2nd World War.

At the end of the war he was invited to join the FIAT Board of Directors, taking over from Celestino Rosatelli (who had died in 1945) as Director of Aircraft Design. He started right away to dedicate himself to the design of jet fighters, culminating in his masterpiece, the G.91, which won the NATO lightweight fighter competition.

Over 800 G91's were produced.

FIAT G2

FIAT G55FIAT G46FIAT G222FIAT G91

In 1970, he designed the G.222 transport, a twin-engined tactical STOL aircraft, which among its many missions, saw combat service with UN peacekeeping forces in Ethiopia and Bosnia.

He made important industrial contributions to the licence production of the De Haviland H-100 Vampire, the North American F-86K Sabre and the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. In 1982 he became President of FIAT-AVIO.

Aer

AER-Caudron G3 'Sport'AER-Caudron G4 'Reconnaissance'

 

In 1915, initially with French capital, before passing into control of the Italian Mario MARZOCCHI, the AER company was founded in Orbassano and opened up a factory (part of which still exists today) in Strada Piossasco. It produced the reconnaissance Caudron G3, G3bis and the two-engined G4 aircraft under licence. These went to equip the first reconnaissance squadrons at the front, while in addition; AER also produced the FIAT-SIA SP4 and the SVA for a total of around 1000 aircraft. AER went on to open two further factories, one in Turin in Via Pollenzo for the production of radiators and one at Porte, a village only a few kilometres beyond Pinerolo, for the production of fuel tanks and control rods. Between them, the three factories had a work force of over 700 people, mainly women, who were particularly skilful at sewing the fabric used to cover the aircraft. In 1917, at Rivalta, on the right hand side of the road which runs from Orbassano to Piossasco (the FIAT factory today), AER built and inaugurated an airfield to test-fly its aircraft. This was definitively closed at the end of the Great War.

Soc. Anonima costruzioni aeronautiche ing. O. Pomilio & C

Società Costruzioni Aeronautiche PomilioIn 1916, the Pomilio factory (Società Anonima Costruzioni Aeronautiche O. Pomilio & Co.) was founded to build the "SP" (Savoia Pomilio) aircraft designed by engineer Savoia himself. By 1917, this had more than 1000 workers and a production of over 150 aircraft per month! Considering its importance, the following chapter is entirely dedicated to this iniziative.

 



Ansaldo

Ansaldo&CAeronautica AnsaldoThere were many constructors who flocked to the aeronautic sector. One in particular, Ansaldo of Genoa, bid for and won the contract proposed by D.T.A.M. in 1917 for the construction of the SV aircraft, (a lightweight, highly aerodynamic fighter) designed by Engineers Umberto Savoia and Rudolf Verduzio (later assisted by Verduzio's promising pupil, the young engineer Celestino Rosatelli, who later went on to become FIAT's chief aircraft designer).

Considering the large numbers of aircraft to build, and that its factory at Borzoli (Genoa) was too small to produce the required quantities, Ansaldo began to look for suitable companies to buy, particulary companies already operating in Turin, the area with the most promising potential for aeronautical development.

The SIT Company was the first to be taken over by Ansaldo and immediately began production of the mythical "SV" which then became known as the "SVA" (Savoia Verduzio Ansaldo) at a rate of between 40 to 60 aircraft a month. The former SIT factory became known as the "Aeronautical Workshops Ansaldo 3". Altogether, these three factories produced more than 350 examples of various versions of the SVA up to the end of the war.

The SVA 5's, equipped with SPA6 engines, took their place in history on August 9, 1918, at the height of the 1st WW, when 11 such aircraft, commanded by Gabriele D'Annunzio and Natale Palli of Casale Monferrato, carried out their daring raid on Vienna.

In 1918, POMILIO also sold his 10.000 sq. metre factory in Corso Marche and its related aerodrome (today the Torino-AERITALIA airfield) to ANSALDO. Known as the "No. 5 Ansaldo Aeronautical Workshop", this was soon turning out the SVA in considerable numbers.

Gabriele d’Annunzio aboard an SVA5 with pilot Natale Palli about to depart for the raid on ViennaGio Ansaldo & C -Aircraft Constructor - SVA5 aircraftThe finishing room at the Ansaldo factory, where almost 12,000 aircraft were builtSIT factory in Corso Peschiera. Assembly line production of Blériot aircraft

 

For a number of months, production of the "PE" continued, but this was phased out in favour of the new "A3" version with its redesigned wings, fin and tailplane. In the months which followed the end of the war, production of the A3's ceased, and Ansaldo, due to the industrial crisis which followed the end of the war, reduced its aircraft-building activities, keeping production going only at its "No 5 Workshop" (the ex-Pomilio factory) changing its name first to "Aeronautica Ansaldo" then later to "Aeronautica d'Italia S.A."

In 1927, the factory was sold to FIAT and assumed the name of "FIAT Aeronautica d'Italia S.A."

Other major aircraft constructors in the Turin area

The Savigliano factory with its adjacent airfieldManagers and aeronautical technicians of the Savigliano factory with a Caproni Ca33Inside the Moncenisio factory during construction of the PDTo close this list of major aircraft constructors in the Turin area, let us not forget:

Savigliano Factory, which began by producing Maybach aircraft engines for dirigibles in 1911-12. Its aircraft construction activity began at the outbreak of the Great War as licenced producers of the SP2, SP3 and SIA 7b1 reconnaissance air­craft and the Caproni Ca33 bombers;

Moncenisio Factory at Condove which from 1916 onwards also began to produce the SAML-Aviatik biplanes, building about 600 examples. In 1918 it also produced its own aircraft, the Adamoli-Cattani fighter.

Farina Bodyworks factory, partially converted to build the series production versions of the SAML-Aviatik biplanes.

Aeronautical industries at the end of the Great War

With the end of the Great War, most of the national aircraft factories underwent drastic downsizing. The Turin factories were no exception. However, a number of these remained active, mainly those which were capable of successfully returning to peace-time production, such as FIAT, Farina and Savigliano plus others like the RIV (bearings) factories which had been instrumental in the production of engines for Italian aviation.

The beginning of the "Torino Aeritalia" Aerodrome

Poster for Pomilio Industries

 

As mentioned earlier, the "Società Anonima Costruzioni Aeronautiche Ing O. Pomilio & Co." was founded on the 9th of Jenuary 1916. It soon became one of the most important industries in the area and by 1917 employed more than 1000 people, producing over 150 aircraft per month.

Ottorino Polimio

Ottorino Pomilio

Ottorino Pomilio was born in Chieti on the 8th of October 1887. He gained his degree in Engineering at the University of Naples in 1911 then went on the Higher School of Aeronautics in Paris, obtaining french degree in aeronautical construction.

He was an accomplished pilot, flying widely and setting records. In 1913, he set the Italian height record with Pettazzi as his co-pilot.

That same year, he moved to Turin and became part of the Aviation Battalion stationed at Mirafiori as a designer of the D.T.A.M., where together with his fellow engineer Umberto Savoia, he dedicated himself to the creation of the "SP" (Savoia-Pomilio).

Umberto Savoia

He resigned from the Aviation Battalion in 1915 to plan the set-up of his own aircraft construction company.

In May 1915, with the War in full swing, he founded the "Società Anonima Costruzione Aeronautiche Ottorino Pomilio & Co." in Corso Francia to build the SP2 aircraft and on the 10th of July 1916 inaugurated what today is known as the "Aeritalia" airfield with the maiden flight of the SP2 reconnaissance-bomber piloted by Sgt. Almerigi.

Pomilio Industries’ first premises in Corso FranciaFirst expansion of the Pomilio premises in Corso FranciaFIAT Aeritalia premises after the warThe Alenia factory todayPomilio’s production workshop in Corso Francia (today Alenia)Engineer Corradino d’Ascanio, Pomilio Industries collaborator and designer

 

Ottorino Pomilio had an important collaborator – a man from Abruzzo like himself – Corradino d'Ascanio, who in turn would become one of the great pioneers of Italian aviation.

D'Ascanio collaborated with Pomilio in the design of both fighter and bomber aircraft – machines which soon found themselves facing the Austrian pilots in the period following the disaster of Caporetto. He also ceded to Pomilio the rights of Patent No. 32500 of 30th June 1916 for the "Universal automatic clinometer for aircraft and other flying machines. In particular, in aeroplanes, this instrument will automatically indicate the inclination at all times, both longitudinally in pitch and horizontally in roll". It was the ancestor of the artificial horizon.

The design of the 2-seater fighter "C1" began that same year, and by June 1917, when production ceased, some 80 examples had been built.

Following the "C" version, production of the "P.D" and "P.E" versions began, and in 1917 some of these were sent to the United States for presentation to the military authorities. The P.E version achieved some particularly notable results which included setting up a new American speed record of 210 km/h round a 480 km circuit (piloted by Baldioli, accompanied by his mechanic, Zappa).

Pilot Baldioli and mechanic Zappa with the P.E. demonstrated in the USAMineola airport, Baldioli welcomed by American fliers after his trip from Langley (Virginia) to New York

 

At the height of its wartime production, the factory in Corso Francia attained an output of more than 150 P.E aircraft a month.

In 1918, Pomilio was ready to test an aircraft designed and built in total secrecy, This had been given the name "P.Gamma", and was a single-seater biplane with superb aerobatic characteristics powered by an IF (Isotta Fraschini) engine. The P. Gamma was presented to the Military Commission at the Mirafiori airfield piloted by Mario De Bernardi, but did not achieve the expected success.

Pomilio Industires advertisingPomilio Industires advertising

 

The last aircraft designed by Pomilio was the "P.F" version, completed in 1918. This, however, never went into production due to the sale of the factory to Ansaldo. This was renamed as "SAI – Gio-Ansaldo & Co. – Aircraft Factory No. 5".

Up until then Pomilio had built over 1200 aircraft.

Pomilio was acknowledged as a world expert in the field of aeronautics and in 1918 was invited by the US Government to contribute to the American aviation programme.

Together with his brothers Ernesto and Alessandro, he founded the Pomilio Brothers Corporation at Indianapolis to produce fighters and bombers.

Pomilio had over 1000 workers and a production of more than 150 aeroplanes a monthSavoia Pomilio SP3Pomilio PDCaccia Pomilio PCPomilio PE

 

This company was essentially a consultancy company for the US government, producing experimental war machines in collaboration with the Allison Experimental Works in Dayton, Ohio at the Engineering Division of McCook Field.

Ottorino Pomilio died in Rome on the 3rd of January 1957.


Thus it is to the Pomilio factory in Corso Francia that we can trace the start of the long adventure of the field which was later called "Torino-Aeritalia" and became the main airport of Turin for more than 20 years. Even today it continues to exert its considerable influence on the development of aeronautics in Turin.

Mario De Bernardi with Pomilio's P. Gamma IF Commemorative postcard of first experimental postal service Turin-Rome flown by Mario De Bernardi

 

At 11.25 am on the 23rd of May 1917, the first Italian Postal flight took place from Aeritalia airport with Lt. Mario De Bernardi at the controls. It left the Pomilio aerodrome with some 200 kg of letters and 100 copies of the newspaper "La Stampa" and landed 4 hours and 3 minutes later at the Centocelle airfield in Rome where it was met by a number of civilian and military dignitaries. The Italian postal service stamped a commemorative postmark on the "25 cent Espresso" stamps carried aboard.

Mario De Bernardi

Mario De Bernardi with the FIAT CR which set the world speed record over 500 km

 

Mario De Bernardi at the Schneider Trophy race with the Macchi M39 floatplane powered by a FIAT AS2 engine

 

De Bernardi (born in Venosa, province of Potenza in 1st July 1893) enlisted at 18 years of age in 1911 as a volunteer for the Libyan War. During the First World War he joined the 2nd Piedmont Regiment of the Royal Cavalry at Pinerolo, the same regiment as Francesco Baracca, and is credited as being the first italian pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft (over Verona).

He later became a test pilot.

-          In 1926 he participated in the ninth edition of the Schneider Trophy which was held that year at Hampton Roads, Virginia (United States).

The Schneider Trophy was a race for high-speed sea planes, with the winner usually setting a new world speed record. The race was held over a triangular course of about 300 km in length. The competition was initially sponsored by the French engineer Jacques Schneider in 1911 with the aim of stimulating technological progress, particularly for aero engines. The first competition took place in 1913.

On November 13 1926, Mario De Bernardi won the competition with a Macchi M-39 which completed the 350 km of the circuit at an average speed of 396.7 km / h setting a new world speed record for seaplanes. A few days later, in the same plane, he was able to improve on his own record.

-          In 1927, he defended the 10th edition of the Trophy in Venice. Although he was unable to complete the race due to engine failure, his Macchi M.52 was able to set a new speed record of 479.290 km / h.

-          In 1928, with a Macchi M.52R, he was the first man to exceed 500 km / h, reaching 512.776 km / h.

-          In 1931, in Cleveland Ohio, he won the aerobatics competition at the National Air Races;

-          In 1940-41 he was the first italian men to fly a jet plane (Caproni-Campini N.1 / C.C.2).

He had a long and illustrious aeronautical career and was awarded the Air Force Gold Medal. In 1959, the airport of Pratica di Mare (Pomezia – Rome) was named in his honour.

Air Land SeaAs mentioned earlier, the Pomilio factory and its airfield were sold to Ansaldo in 1918. They subsequently sold it to FIAT in 1927. Its name was changed to "FIAT Aeronatica d'Italia S.A", but was later abbreviated into the much better known "Aeritalia".At the time when FIAT added the word "Air" to its existing "Land and Sea" activities, its most important "air" was that of Aeritalia.