Savoia-Marchetti S-56 was tough plane to manage on the
The little Savoia-Marchetti S-56 has two
distinctions in U.S. general aviation. First, it was among the
few foreign designs to be manufactured in the United States
under approved type certificates (ATCs). Second, it was the
first low-priced amphibian on the U.S. market. There were
several other amphibians on hand at the time, but they were
singles and twins of 300 horsepower and up ó with appropriate
The S-56 appeared in Italy in 1926 as a
three-place amphibian powered by available air-cooled radial
engines in the 90- to 110-horsepower range. In 1928 a new U.S.
firm, the American Aeronautical Corporation of Port
Washington, Long Island, obtained the rights to build three
Marchetti designs in the United States. The S-56 was one of
them. Only the S-56 got into production.
The S-56 was
all-wood with a 90- to 100-horsepower Kinner K-5 engine
mounted as a tractor, and a hand-cranked retractable landing
gear. There were two cockpits. The forward side-by-side unit
for two had dual controls. The bare-minimum rear cockpit aft
was more like an aerial rumble seat; it could carry a
passenger or baggage, but was often left unoccupied and closed
with a metal cover.
While the appeal of a small
amphibian was great to sportsmen, the ship was not an easy one
to manage on the water. There was no water rudder, and when
the wheels were lowered, as for approaching a beach or ramp,
the added drag forward complicated the steering problem.
Ground handling wasnít much better; there were no brakes, and
originally only a non-steerable tail skid.
two dozen S-56s were built after ATC A-287 was awarded on Jan.
4, 1930. Even more S-56Bs, with 125-horsepower Kinner B-5
engines, were built under ATC A-336 of July 11, 1930. Some
S-56s were converted to S-56Bs by engine change, and some of
the S-56Bs were marketed as S-56-31s to identify the 1931
model. Altogether, 55 S-56s are identified by recorded serial
numbers, with one article completed in 1935, apparently from
leftover parts by a successor organization.
of the S-56 was $7,300, and the S-56B sold for $7,825. As
reasonable as those prices were for the time, sales dropped
off to zero after the Depression developed and wiped out the
market for that type of aircraft.
Two S-56s survive
today. One is a jewel in the vintage airplane movement; the
other is a permanent display item.
Back in 1930 the
Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, builder
of stainless-steel railroad cars and other vehicles, decided
to try stainless-steel for aircraft structures. It built one
S-56 under license as the Budd BB-1 and obtained Restricted
License NR749. The material was not considered practical for
the time, and only one BB-1 was built.
stripped of its fabric, it was mounted on poles and displayed
outside the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Still there,
itís probably the longest continuous outdoor display of any
S-56-31, the final model of the U.S.-built Savoia Marchetti
S-56. Note the front exhaust collector on the 125-horsepower
Kinner engine, the spray shield above the landing gear, and
the smooth trailing edges of the wings.
NC14381, Serial No. 55, was assembled in 1935. The only
noticeable upgrade appears to be a steerable tail wheel, but
the wings appear to be the older S-56 type with scalloped wire
3. An S-56 with landing gear retracted.
The aircraft has been upgraded to S-56B standards by
substituting a 125-horsepower Kinner B-5 engine.
This S-56 was a genuine antique when photographed in Renton,
Washington, in 1950. Note that the rear cockpit is open and
that the fairings have been removed from the engine nacelle.
The wood-frame hull is covered with plywood.
S-56 with nacelle fairings removed. This one has the rear
6. The Budd BB-1, a duplicate of the
S-56 that was built of stainless-steel, at the Franklin
Institute in Philadelphia in 1961. It was put on display in
this form in 1934 and is still
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