Supermodel 1/72 Savoia Marchetti SM.81
Russian Front Pipistrello (Bat)
by Richard Mendes

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This aeroplane was the symbol of fascist air-power during the conquest of Ethiopia and up to the beginning of WWII. It was an outstanding aeroplane and provided sterling service up until its retirement in 1950.

The Savoia-Marchetti S.81 Pipistrello (Bat) was Italy’s first three-engine bomber put into Regia Aeronautica Italia (RAI) service, first flown in 1934 at the time it was fast, had a long range and was well-armed. During WWII the plane was used primarily for transport, training, communications and liaison duties with the RAI, Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR), Aeronautica Co-Belligerante Italiana and Aeronautica Militare Italia (AMI).

The S.81 was robustly constructed of steel tube, wood and fabric components; designed as a bomber its copious fuselage also made it an ideal transport aircraft. Reliable and pleasant to fly six-man crewed S.81 bombers and transports operated in all types of terrain, faster than the contemporary Junkers Ju 52 bomber or transports it also was better armed than the newer S.79s but fixed landing gear drag limited performance.

The two-part fuselage bomb bay could accommodate 2,000 kg (4,410 lbs) of bombs stowed horizontally or vertically, more than in S.79s which were only vertically stored. Two retractable Riva-Calzoni hydraulic dorsal and ventral turrets were fitted initially with 7.7 mm (.303 in) Vickers machine guns then Breda-SAFATs along with two beam-mounted 7.7 mm (.303 in) Lewis guns, a better defensive arrangement than either the S.79 or SM.84 but inadequate against modern fighters. Installed fuselage crew equipment included an RA 350I radio-transmitter, AR5 radio-receiver, optional P63N radio compass and OMI 30 camera well as an electrical generator and fire extinguishing system.

Wing-mounted self-sealing SEMAPE fuel tanks were installed; six in the center (4 × 150 liter/40 US gallon + 2 × 1,140 liter/301 US gal tanks), two 370 liter/100 US gallon) tanks (780 liter/210 US gallon with Gnome-Rhône 14K engines) in outer wings giving an overall fuel capacity of 3,620 or 4,400 liters (960 or 1,160 US gallons). Except for the self-sealing fuel tanks no other aircraft component or crew armor protection was factory installed though field-added protection probably was.

Operational History
The S.81 first saw combat during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War as a bomber, transport and reconnaissance roles; SM.81s served with the Aviazione Legionaria during the Spanish Civil War and were amongst the first aircraft sent by the fascist powers to aid Francisco Franco.

Italy entered WWII with up to 300 S.81s in RAI service although initially used as a bomber the plane was primarily used as a transport - its role as a bomber being replaced by the SM.79, BR.20 and CANT Z.1007. The first RAI aircraft to see action were on June 11, 1940 when two SM.81s, one attacking Port Sudan the other executing a reconnaissance flight over the Red Sea. That night three SM.81s were deployed to bomb Aden. The planes were later used as transports though it still remained as an effective bomber for night operations, particularly in North Africa. The aeroplane was also used for anti-shipping duty. Most S.81s had been withdrawn from service by time of the September 8, 1943 armistice though some remained in Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana and Aeronautica Co-Belligerante Italiana service, several surviving the war and put into service with the post-war Aeronautica Militare Italiana.


The original 1973 SUPERMODEL and 2009 re-tooled Italeri kits remain the only injected-plastic 1/72 scale model offerings of the Savoia-Marchetti S.81 Pipistrello; Italeri is expected to re-issue the 2009 kit with new decals later in 2018. The SUPERMODEL kits are many decades old, putty filling and sanding Fuselage-Mainwing joins was out of the question given troublesome parts fitting issues never mind fear of cracking any of the parts otherwise kit construction was straightforward other than assembling fixed main landing gear parts in "correct" order, i.e. gluing the "V" struts on the support bases first so can properly align the WIDE butt ends on the main wheel spats, came almost too late appreciating this not at all insignificant assembly detail whist building the 245 Squadriglia kit, oh well!

The SUPERMODEL kits come with generic parts for Piaggio P.X/XI and Alfa Romeo 125-series engine variants; I chose to build one each of the P.X and 125-series variants of 13-1 "Abyssinian" and 245 "Russian Front" Squadriglia aircraft respectively. The fuselage interiors of both models well as wheel spat interiors were painted Testors Model Master 1726 Light Sea Gray enamel similar to Grigio Azzurro Chiarro 1 per the STORMO Regia Aeronautica and ANR Colors and Camouflage Schemes for Savoia-Marchetti aircraft. Testors "utility" enamels, e.g. Aluminum, Brass, Steel, Flat Black, White, Red, Olive Green colors, “spot” mixes for painting interior parts, e.g. guns, crew figures, landing gear wheels well as for some exterior small parts were also employed.

245 "Russian Front" Squadriglia S.81 was base painted Humbrol 63 Matt Sand + 10% Testors Flat Yellow replicating Giallo Mimetico 3 over topsides, 140 Matt Gull Grey replicating Grigio Mimetico over undersides both scale perspective lightened 36% with Testors Flat White. A “fishnet” of Humbrol 102 Matt Army Green with Humbrol 113 Matt Rust + 119 Matt Light Earth 50/50 mix spot accents respectively replicating Verde Mimetico 1 and Marrone Mimetico 53193 both scale perspective lightened 36% with Testors Flat White was then sprayed on the top sides.

All spray work was accomplished with Testors Aztek A320 Single & A470 Double Action airbrushes, 9304CX 0.30, 9305CX 0.40, 9306CX 0.50 mm spray nozzles. Large-area spraying was accomplished with 0.50 & 0.40 mm nozzles, mottling & tight net spraying alternatively with 0.40 & 0.30 mm. Considerable effort was involved in spray painting much of it clearing off nozzle tip paint cakes & cartridge clogs each paint having distinctive behaviors requiring different solutions to achieve smooth flow with as few “spits” possible – ever persistent issues associated with RAI mottle camouflage painting!

Italeri Savoia-Marchetti S.79 & Sky Models Decals 72003 Fuselage & Wing Fasces & Alfa Romeo propeller logo sets along with “3” decals from Airfix S.79 kits were employed.

The model was over-sprayed with Testors Model Master Semi-Gloss Clear Lacquer Finish thinned 50% with Klean Strip Lacquer Thinner (WAY cheaper than Model Master thinner & just as good), prefer semi-gloss finish over flat, detail "pops out" better plus aesthetically more pleasing in appearance.

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: SIAl-Marchetti SM.81
Manufacturer: SIAl-Marchetti
Type: Bomber
Year: 1935
Engine: Three Alfa Romeo 125 RC 35. 9­cylinder radial. air-cooled. 680 hp each
Wingspan: 78 ft 9 in (24.00 m)
Length: 60 ft 1 in (18.31 m)
Height: 14 ft 4 in (4.47 m)
Weight: 23,190 Ib (10,505 kg) (Loaded)
Maximum Speed: 211 mph (340 km/h) at 13,120 ft (4,000 m)
Ceiling: 23,000 ft (7,000 m)
Range: 1,200 miles (1,931 km)
Armament:6 machine guns; 4,415 Ib (2,000 kg) of bombs
Crew: 6

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May, 2018
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