Three-engine SIAI Savoia-Marchetti S.79 “Sparviero” medium bomber, second series, issued 1937.
Beginning with the 2nd production series, the S.79’s dorsal “hump” was shortened (previously it had reached almost to the front door), and the teardrop-shaped fairings were removed. On each side of the hump, a couple of windows were added to better illuminate the radio operator’s and mechanic’s workspaces. The bomber’s gondola located under the fuselage was elongated, the engine’s exhaust pipes were twisted to direct them away from the engine nacelles, and additional extensions were added to the stabilizer fin.
The side-switching 7.7-mm Lewis machine gun from the World War I period, which had been installed inside the fuselage on a mobile track, was replaced by two fixed 7.7-mm Breda SAFAT machine guns, though before the war S.79s usually flew without onboard guns.
In this form, without virtually any changes, the S.79 underwent mass production and was delivered to Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) combat units for about seven years.
As a modification of a passenger aircraft, the S.79 had many related flaws: inconvenient bomb sight positioning, a relatively small bomb bay in a rather large fuselage, and primitive defensive weapons installed in half-open units with no mechanization. All of this understandably drew criticism from the Regia Aeronautica.
But there was no other choice, and in February 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the S.79 saw its first combat.
S.79s with Italian crews and Spanish insignia operated around Seville and Bilbao, participating in the battles of Brunete and Teruel. The S.79’s speed allowed it to fly long-range daytime operations without escort. Of all the Republican fighters, only the I-16 could successfully intercept the S.79, and not many I-16s were available. Therefore, the bomber’s losses were relatively small. Combat experience showed that the plane’s survivability was high. Franco only lost 4 S.79s during the entire war. The Italians lost 12.
Beginning in January 1938, the S.79 was used as a night bomber. The “Sparviero” played an increasingly bigger role as the civil war progressed. After the war, the surviving Italian S.79s were transferred into Franco’s Air Force. There they survived World War II, and the last of them were used in the Spanish colonies in North Africa until the early 60’s. In 1943, one “Sparviero” was converted by the Spanish company AISA into a staff plane, used to command the Spanish army.