Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Italy - 1917 Ansaldo A.1 Balilla

I have been deep into Albatros frenzy, and working putting the last details on a high resolution drawing of an Airco DH-2. Needless to say I needed change of pace. so today's post is about Italian aviation.

Italian aviation development focused primarily on bomber and flying boat production. Fighter craft production relied on French licensed aircraft such as the Hanriot HD-1, Nieuports, and SPAD-VII - V-XIII. The one exception was the Gio. Ansaldo & C. which produced the Ansaldo A.1

Italy's Only Domestically Produced Fighter

Ansaldo A.1  Balilla - 1917
Ansaldo A.1 Balilla - 1917

The Ansaldo A.1, nicknamed "Balilla" after the Genoan folk-hero was Italy's only domestically-produced fighter aircraft of World War I. Arriving too late to see any real action, it was however used by both Poland and the Soviet Union in the Polish-Soviet War.

The A.1 resulted from continued efforts by the Ansaldo company to create a true fighter. Their SVA.5 had proved unsuitable in this role, although it made an excellent reconnaissance aircraft and had been ordered into production as such. Ansaldo engineer Giuseppe Brezzi revised the SVA.5 design, increasing the size of the lower wing, and redesigning the interplane strut arrangement. While this produced more drag, it increased the stiffness of the wing structure and reduced stresses in the airframe. Engine power was increased to 200 hp (150 kW) and a safety system to jettison the fuel tank through a ventral hatch (in case of onboard fire) was installed.

The first prototype was completed in July 1917, but acceptance by the air force did not occur until December. Test pilots were not enthusiastic in their evaluation. While they found a marked increase in performance over the SVA.5, the A.1 was still not as maneuverable as the French types in use by Italy's squadrons. This resulted in a number of modifications, including a slight enlargement of the wings and rudder, and a further 10% increase in engine power. This initially proved satisfactory to the air force, and the modified A.1 (designated A.1bis) was ordered into service with 91 Squadriglia for further evaluation.

Reports from pilots were mixed. While the fighter's speed was impressive, it proved unmaneuverable and difficult to fly. Nevertheless, with a need to clear a backlog of obsolete fighter types then in service, the air force ordered the A.1 anyway.

The first of an original order of 100 machines entered service in July 1918. The A.1s were kept away from the front lines and mostly assigned to home defence duties. In the four months before the Armistice, A.1s scored only one aerial victory, over an Austrian reconnaissance aircraft. It was during this time that Ansaldo engaged in a number of promotional activities, including dubbing the aircraft as Balilla, flying displays in major Italian cities, and in August donating an example to Italian ace Antonio Locatelli as his personal property amidst a press spectacle. (This latter publicity stunt backfired somewhat when one week later a mechanical fault in the aircraft caused Locatelli to make a forced landing behind enemy lines and be taken prisoner). Despite all this, the air force ordered another 100 machines, all of which were delivered before the end of the war. At the armistice, 186 were operational, of which 47 aircraft were ordered to remain on hand with training squadrons, and the remainder were to be put into storage.


  1. From Wikipedia Ansaldo A1 Balilla, ""
  2. Taylor, Michael J. H. (1989). "Jane's Encyclopedia of Aviation". London: Studio Editions. pp. 62.


The Angry Lurker said...

Nice looking aircraft, I like that when they got them they then did some alterations.

W. I. Boucher said...

Sometimes field modifications and variations made by different factories makes identification from old photos more difficult. It makes it more of a challenge.

kingsleypark said...

Very intersting. Really didn't know anything about Italian aviation during WW1 until I started coming here!

Jon said...

This was a good read. Any hope of see aircraft in Turkish colors?

W. I. Boucher said...

Thanks Jon, I will be posting some Turkish planes in the near future. I have been slowly working on Turkish, Polish, Estonian, and some Greek planes. It has been a case of so many aircraft so little time. I have been working on material for the hostilities that took place in Eastern Europe after the Treaty of Versailles.