Ansaldo A.1 Balilla

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.

Ansaldo A.1 Balilla
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Gio. Ansaldo & C.
Production Period 1917 - 1917
Origin Italy
Country Name Origin Year
Italy 1917
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Argentina 1917 View
Belgium 1917 View
Greece 1917 View
Italy 1917 View
Latvia 1917 View
Mexico 1917 View
Poland 1917 View
Russia (USSR) 1917 View
Uruguay 1917 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Gio. Ansaldo & C. 1917 1917 307 View

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 150 kW (200 hp) 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 aviator 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.

Role Fighter
Manufacturer Gio. Ansaldo & C.
Designer Umberto Savoia, Rodolfo Verduzio, and Giuseppe Brezzi
First flight 1917
Number built ~250 by Ansaldo, 57 by Lublin under licence


General characteristics

  • Crew: one pilot
  • Length: 6.84 m (22 ft 5 in)
  • Wingspan: 7.68 m (25 ft 2 in)
  • Height: 2.53 m (8 ft 4 in)
  • Wing area: 21.2 m2 (228 ft2)
  • Empty weight: 640 kg (1,410 lb)
  • Gross weight: 885 kg (1,950 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × SPA 6A piston engine, 164 kW (220 hp)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 220 km/h (140 mph)
  • Range: 660 km (410 miles)
  • Service ceiling: 5,000 m (16,400 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 2.7 m/s (520 ft/min)

Armament

  • 2 × synchronised .303 Vickers machine gun

End notes