1/96 Glencoe Savoia-Marchetti SM-55X

Gallery Article by Mike Muth on Oct 19 2016



I decided on doing something a little different from my usual World War I airplanes. A friend of mine is a fan of Italian aviation and I had just read an article on Italo Balbo and his fleet of 25 SM 55xs that flew from Italy to America. The The Aerial Armada, as it was called by the press, left Rome on June 30, 1933 and landed on Lake Michigan on July 15, 1933 at Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition. The Expo celebrated Chicago's 100th anniversary of being incorporated as a city. The theme of the Exposition was to highlight the scientific and technological advances of the past 100 years. To honor Balbo and the flight of his Aerial Armada, Chicago renamed 7th street Balbo Drive. (In my neighborhood growing up in Chicago, it was always pronounced Balboa). To reciprocate, Mussolini sent a Roman column to Chicago. The Balbo Monument survives to this day in Chicago and is probably the only remaining structure from the Exposition. The column is located in Burnham Park to the east of Soldier Field (home off the Chicago Bears football team) and has a plaque with the following inscription: This column, twenty centuries old, was erected on the beach of Ostia, the port of Imperial Rome, to watch over the fortunes and victories of the Roman triremes. Fascist Italy, with the sponsorship of Benito Mussolini, presents to Chicago a symbol and memorial in honor of the Atlantic Squadron led by Balbo, which with Roman daring, flew across the ocean in the 11th year of the Fascist era.

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With the subject matter of the build resolved all I had to do was find a kit. I thought such a famous airplane would have a variety of kits in the standard scales to choose from. Wrong. About all I could find was a kit from Glencoe. The kit is listed as being 1/96 scale. The instructions bear a copyright date of 2012 but the kit appears to be a re-boxing of and old ITC kit with better decals. The kit is boxed by Glencoe in a very sturdy but weird top-opening box. All of the parts, with the exception of the clear windscreen and 2-part stand, are contained on a single sprue. The parts count is minimal, no more than 40. The plastic is very hard and very thick. When I opened the box my first reaction was "Ugh". However after cutting the parts from the sprue and dry-fitting them together, it didn't seem too bad. If you are into thin trailing edges and that sort of thing, invest in a lot of sandpaper. As for me, I thinned things a little bit but mostly worried about eliminating seems and ridges.

Putting the pieces together after cleanup is straightforward. For those of you into cockpit detailing you will have a blank canvas to work with. The cockpit is contained in the center section of the wing and has no kit parts to install. The rather thick windshield, which cleans up nicely with a coating of Future, doesn't provide for much of a view of the interior anyway. The 4 flights of the Armada each had its own designated color: black, red, green or white. The Glencoe decals are excellent and provide for the wing swoosh in black, green and red. There is some confusion on what the primary color of the airplane itself is. I went with white and aluminum but all aluminum is also an option. The leading edge of the wing should be painted to match the swoosh. I chose the red flight and found that Tamiya's "Dull Red" in the spray can was an almost perfect match. Other than a lot of filling and sanding there is nothing unusual in putting the kit together. I used the kit parts to represent the rigging that cross between the 2 aluminum painted booms. This was a mistake since they are way too clunky looking. In hindsight I should have used thick wire or rigging thread. The 2 supports on the outside rudders and the bar connecting the tops all 3 rudders would also benefit from using something other than the kit part. I snipped 2 pieces of thin wire and used them as supports for the outside rudder/tailplane supports. The kit supplies a stand which I decided to use. If you choose to not use the stand, I suspect a lot of weight will need to be added to the pontoons.

I found this to be a fun kit to put together since I wasn't worried about scale thickness or correct profile for the pontoons. I enjoyed learning about the flight and its connection to Chicago, my home town.

Mike Muth

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Photos and text by Mike Muth