A 1929 Savoia Marchetti S-56,
Allesandro Marchetti was an innovative but little known designer when he joined the Societa Idrovolanti Alta Italia, aka SIAI, destined to be the largest seaplane maker in Italy. Marchetti achieved a measure of success with his elegant S.51 Schneider Cup racer in 1923, capturing the world's record for Italy with a speed of 174.07 mph. Until then SIAI's best customer was the Italian navy. Alitalia and other airlines would soon to be knocking on the sales office door.
It was Marchetti's S.55 twin-engined, twin-hull flying boat that brought worldwide acclaim through the goodwill flights of de Pinedo and Balbo, whose flotilla of 24 S.55s flew to Chicago for the 1933 World's Fair. The success of the S.55 led to licensed production in the U.S.S.R., Spain and the United States under the Savoia-Marchetti trademark.
Benito Mussolini, a keen flying enthusiast and certified aviator, did much of his air work in Savoia-Marchettis, beginning with the S-62 seaplane. He personally encouraged reciprocity between the Italian and the U.S. civil aeronautics authorities. The upshot of that was U.S. certification of a 14-passenger airline version of the S.55, the 2/3-passenger S.56 and the 6-passenger S.62, which featured a fully enclosed cabin.
U.S. production of the S.56 began in 1929, soon after the formation of the American Aeronautical Corp., which utilized a temporary factory at Whitestone, Long Island. The AAC had planned a $1.5 million factory and seaplane terminal at Port Washington on Manhasset Bay, 12 miles from the heart of New York City, and work had reached an advanced stage when the stock market crashed in October 1929, marking the onset of the Great Depression.
The factory was ready for occupancy by early 1930, at which point about fourteen S.56s had been delivered. The economic decline, which would devastate the infant aircraft industry, was not yet evident, although sales had slackened noticeably. The NYPD had ordered six S.56s for its newly constituted aero squad, formed to patrol the Long Island shoreline. That order had been reduced to three.
An S.56, NC325N, S/N 8, was delivered to Charles H. Veil, a WW1 fighter ace who had served in France. Veil had celebrated the Armistice by whipping his Spad XIII under the Arc de Triumphe with only inches to spare. He had formed Airco, Inc., to distribute Savoia-Marchettis on the West Coast from his Los Angeles base at what is now LAX.
Veil, a man of the world with oil interests in the Middle East, envisioned an airline linking L.A. with Ensenada and other resorts south of the border, using an
S.55 he had on order. Veil planned to take factory delivery of another S.55 and fly home via the Azores.
Zachary Smith Reynolds, youngest son of the tobacco baron, ordered an S.56C customized for long-distance touring. He is said to have flown NR898W some 17,000 miles between England and China, using his yacht as a tender for exploring out of the way ports of call. Reynolds died at 21 of an unexplained gunshot wound in 1932, and his life became the subject of several books and screen play adaptations.
The Bonham's S.56, NC349N, s/n 12, was the first Savoia-Marchetti delivered to the C.T. Stork Corp. Stork, based at Roosevelt Field, also had the Stinson and Great Lakes Sport Trainer distribution franchise for N.Y., two of the most popular makes in the U.S. NC349N was their demonstrator. About a dozen sales followed, including the above mentioned NYPD order.
Both C.T. Stork and his wife were newly licensed private pilots, but they hired two pros for demonstration work -- "Chubby" Miller (aka Mrs. Keith Miller) and Capt. Bill Lancaster, both well known for records and racing successes. "Chubby" and Bill were also romantically involved and when Lancaster went missing on a flight across the Sahara it made front page headlines. Lancaster and his wrecked Avro Avian were not found for decades.
NC349N became the property of Charles Farrenkopf, operator of a Long Island joyriding concession with at least two S.56s. The gig lasted nearly a decade. World War II put a damper on pleasure flying for the duration. The little seaplane's postwar history is sketchy.
The airplane is thought to have served with the CAP during the war, on anti-submarine patrol. NC349N turned up in Texas in 1951 and was last seen at the Queens Seaplane Base on Long Island in 1956, at which point it was in need of a full measure of TLC. (Civil Air Patrol service unconfirmed)
NC349N's last gig was with the Long Island Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, where Mitchel Field used to be. The aircraft arrived there in 1989 and was subsequently restored by the esteemed Museum. In carrying out the rebuild it was clear that the machine was quite tired and required extensive work. Owing to both this and the intention of both Dr. Cox and the Museum that the S.56 be displayed rather than flown, its restoration was completed to a high degree of aesthetic accuracy but without any capacity or the stringent qualities it would need in order to be airworthy. Prospective purchasers should be mindful of this fact.
Although its all-wood construction had a life expectancy of ten years, two S.56s have survived in airworthy condition, one in the U.S. and one in Italy. An all-metal version of the improved S-56-31, known as the Budd "Pioneer", embodied the patented Budd process for spot-welding stainless steel.
This aircraft, NR749N, toured Europe promoting the Budd interests and was a featured attraction at the 1934 Paris Aero Expo. It may be seen today on its
perch in front of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
American Aeronautical declared bankruptcy in 1932. A receiver completed about a dozen unfinished airframes in 1934. Altogether, forty-five S.56s were built, plus a single S.55. Several S.56s were exported to Canada and Brazil.
Offered on a Bill of Sale.
This lot is presently on display at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, Long Island, New York. For information regarding viewing times and collection, please consult the department.