The fastest Allied aircraft of the First World War; the Ansaldo SVA 5 Primo. By far the most popular of the SVA range for reconnaissance biplanes, the Primo remained in service long after the Regia Aeronautica was created in 1923 and several were involved in the Libyan campaign during the late 1920s.
With their distinctive Lion of St Mark painting along their fuselages, the 87 Squadriglia was one of the most famous SVA 5 Primo units thanks to its long-range operations including the leaflet raid to Vienna. This aircraft, 11779 was flown on the Vienna raid by Tenente Aldo Finzi.
The handsome Ansaldo craft conducted some of the longest and most impressive reconnaissance flights of World War I. They continued this tradition after the war and established many long-distance records.
In 1916 the Ansaldo firm began constructing a new high-performance fighter craft as a private company venture. It fell upon Umberto Savoia and Rodolfo Verduzio to design the prototype, which flew in March 1917. The SVA 4 was a good-looking biplane that employed “W”-shaped Warren struts along the wings, thus dispensing with the need for bracing wires. The wings themselves were of slightly unequal length, with the top possessing rakish ailerons and the bottom several degrees of dihedral. The slender fuselage was plywood-covered and tapered to a point past the cockpit, affording the pilot excellent rearward vision. Flight trials revealed that the SVA 4 possessed good performance, but it was too stable for fighter tactics. It therefore entered production as a reconnaissance craft and, in slightly modified form, joined the service in March 1918 as the SVA 5 Primo.
The single-seat Ansaldo designs accumulated a brilliant wartime career and were among the best aircraft of their class in the world. This fact was borne out by the many dangerous long-range reconnaissance missions seemingly performed with ease. On May 21, 1918, a pair of Primos crossed the Alps at high altitude, successfully photographed military installations at Friedrichshafen, Germany, and completed a flight of 435 miles. But the most famous Ansaldo mission happened on August 9, 1918, when six modified aircraft, accompanied by the poet Gabrielle di Annunzio, flew 300 miles to Vienna, dropped leaflets for half an hour, and returned after a 620-mile sojourn. Many other such flights were recorded.
The SVA 5s remained in service long after the Armistice. In 1920 five set out on an across-the-world venture from Rome to Tokyo, covering 11,250 miles in 109 flying hours. Production concluded in 1927, following a run of 2,000 machines. From early 1918, the SVA 5 Primo arrived which was classed as the definitive production version. The SVA 5 could carry a 200lb bomb load and enough fuel to remain airborne for six hours; two hours longer than the SVA 4. The SVA 5 was also equipped with a camera for the photographic-reconnaissance role.
Other variants were produced, including the two-seat SVA 9 unarmed trainer and SVA 10 reconnaissance-bomber. By the end of 1918 about 1250 aircraft of the SVA series had been produced, including 50 ISV A twin- float seaplanes; total production eventually reached 2000. Exports to 11 countries were made after the end of the First World War.
Ansaldo S. V. A. 5 Primo technical information
First flight: March 19, 1917
Engine: One 265hp S. P. A. 6a
Span: 29ft 2.25in
Length: 26ft 7in
Max Speed: 140mph Crew: One
Armament: Two fixed forward-firing synchronised 0.303in (7.7mm) Vickers machine-guns and up to 200lb in bombs