Written by  Gregory Alegi
The seventieth anniversary of Italo Balbo's transatlantic flight.
Flight between Europe and the United States was long one of the great challenges of aviation. In 1914, only eleven years after the Wright brothers' flight, the Daily Mail offered a prize of £10 000 for the first transatlantic flight.

The contest was postponed by the war, but resumed in 1919. In May, three American Curtiss seaplanes took off from Trespassey in Newfoundland, and Read's plane succeeded in reaching Lisbon after a stop in the Azores. A month later the Englishmen Alcock and Brown, also starting from Newfoundland, flew non stop to Clifden in Ireland in a Vickers Vimy, claiming the prize. In 1927 Lindbergh became the 92nd transatlantic flyer, and the first to accomplish the feat solo. Six years later the total had risen to one hundred. Italo Balbo's landmark flight doubled that figure at a stroke, and marks the turning point between the pioneering epoch and the emerging age of scheduled flights.

After the impressive voyages in the Western (1928) and Eastern (1929) Mediterranean, and the south Atlantic (1930-31) Balbo originally considered a round the world flight to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the March on Rome. This scheme was abandoned, because of considerations of cost and the uncertain political situation in the Far East, in favour of a return flight across the North Atlantic to mark the tenth anniversary of the independent Air Force.

Accordingly, on 2 May 1931 a school for high seas aerial navigation was founded in Orbetello, which trained the crews over the following two years. Balbo retained his confidence in the S.55 seaplane which he had used in the preceding flights. This was a large twin hull monoplane, entirely built in wood, with a highly functional modular structure praised by Le Corbusier. To increase its performance, the designer Alessandro Marchetti developed a new version, the precisely-engineered S55X, with significantly improved aerodynamics, equipment for blind flying and Isotta Fraschini Asso 750 motors.

A major logistical and meteorological organisation was set up, with bases all along the route. Because cloud cover might obscure the stars and prevent astronomic navigation, the planes followed radio signals from a small fleet of whalers, submergibles and war ships. The system remained in use for more than thirty years.

After lengthy preparation the Tenth Anniversary Flight set off on 1 July on the Orbetello-Amsterdam leg, and continued via Londonderry (2 July), Reykjavik (5), Cartwright (the longest and most difficult stage, a good 2400 km, on 12 July), Shediac (13), Montreal (14), Chicago (15) and New York (19), with a spectacular landing in formation on the East River.
The return from New York should have followed the same route, but after reaching Shediac on 26 July and Shoal Harbour on the 27th, bad weather delayed the Italian squadron for several days. Balbo therefore decided to attempt the southern route, touching down at Punta Delgada (8 August) and Lisbon (9th), finally reaching Ostia in triumph on 12 August.

The long trip was accomplished with the unfortunate but limited loss of two seaplanes, one destroyed on landing in Amsterdam, causing the death of the flight engineer, Sergeant Quintavalle, and the other on take-off from Punta Delgada with the loss of Flight Lieutenant Squaglia.

Excluding the seaplanes and the support of the sponsors who provided oil, fuel and other materials, the trip cost more than six million lire: about one percent of the Air Force budget. But the impact on the reputation of Italy, the Air Force, the industry, the regime and Balbo himself was immense. However, the Ferrara party leader was unable to enjoy the fruits of what he regarded as an important step in the development of a modern armed force. Three months after his return to Italy, Mussolini appointed him Governor of Libya, a promotion universally interpreted as the removal of a rival whose popularity was becoming inconvenient.

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