Medium bomber and transport
The Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 Pipistrello (Bat) is an Italian mixed medium bomber and transport aircraft. Developed by the designers of the Savoia-Marchetti company under the leadership of Alessandro Marchetti.
The aircraft had a mixed design. The cantilever wing of a wooden structure had three spars with a double T-shaped section and consisted of three sections. In the event of an emergency landing on water, 36 watertight compartments were built into the kit. Ailerons made of steel pipes, covered with linen sheathing and impregnated with dope, the flaps (with a maximum deflection angle of 38 degrees) had a modern design and ensured low speed flight. The fuselage had a set of welded chrome-molybdenum steel pipes wrapped in canvas. Structurally, it was made of two compartments - the main (from the root of the wing to the tail) and the second, which included the cockpit and engine mount of the central engine. The crew consisted of two pilots sitting side by side, a bombardier, a flight engineer and a radio operator. Directly behind the central engine under the fuselage was a glazed bombardier's gondola.
Armament. Two semi-retractable, hydraulically driven turrets above and below the fuselage, each having a pair of 7.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns. One manually operated machine gun could fire from one of the two side hatches. Normal bomb load was 1200 kg (maximum 2000) kg of bombs installed vertically along the sides of the fuselage.
By the beginning of World War II, there were still 397 SM.81s in service, but by the time Italy entered the war, July 1940, only 304 combat-ready aircraft of this type remained in Regia Aeronautica. Of these, 147 were in service with units in Italy, the Aegean Islands and North Africa, 59 in parts of East Africa (42 combat-ready), and the rest served in transport units. The first of the SM.81s to go into action were those based in East Africa, taking part in the bombing of Aden (4th group from Scenele and 29th group from Asseab). They also disrupted enemy sea traffic and took part in land operations such as the conquest of Somalia. In September 1940, the Pipistrelli were quite active, attacking convoys and bombing British bases in Khartoum and Port Sudan. During the execution of these assignments, losses were heavy and since no reinforcements were received, the effectiveness of the squadrons became very low. By January 10, 1941, only 26 SM.81s out of the total in East Africa remained operational, and by February 1, only 6 aircraft remained operational. In Western Sahara, there were the 14th storm in El Adem (south of Tobruk) with 21 SM.81s and the 15th storm with the same SM.81, engaged exclusively in transport tasks. At the end of the war, the few remaining SM.81s in Italy were in the communications squadrons.
Serial production of the aircraft lasted from 1934 to March 1938. A total of 534 aircraft were produced.