Updated: Dec 28, 2021
First Impressions: Questo aereo è fantastico! This isn’t your daddy’s Bird Dog…unless your daddy was in the Italian Army.
Background: Nicknamed the “Italian Bird Dog,” the aircraft’s resemblance to a Cessna L-19 Bird Dog is no coincidence. Initiated in 1915 as the Società Idrovolanti Alta Italia (SIAI), which translates Northern Italy Seaplane Society, the company (in 1922) honored its chief designer by adding his name, Marchetti, to the aircraft. In the late 1960s, to fulfill the Italian Army’s requirement for a light STOL liaison aircraft with hard points and camera ports, SIAI-Marchetti teamed up with Cessna to modify the L-19 Bird Dog. The result is the SM.1019!
Design Features: Besides the obvious long cowling that houses the turboprop engine, you’ll notice that the fuselage is about 10 inches longer than the Cessna L-19. Overall, the 1019 is almost 4 feet longer than the L-19. The vertical stabilizer is also squared off and significantly larger than the Bird Dog’s. This plane has a number of special utility features. For example, there are fittings for retractable skis – a nice “plus” for operating during the winter in the Italian Alps! It can also be fitted with amphibious floats (an echo back to SIAI’s seaplane roots)! Under each wing are fittings for two pylons, giving the Marchetti its teeth! 70mm rocket pods, gun pods and/or auxiliary fuel tanks were mountable options. While the gun sight may have been removed, the gunsight light knob is still installed!
Ergonomics: The cabin is roomy and tall for both pilot and passengers. The backseat observer has their own door, which makes it much easier for both crew members to get in and out. The backseat rudder pedals can be folded down and the stick removed if desired.
Powerplant: The distinguishing feature on the Italian Bird Dog is the Turboprop engine! It has an Allison 250 B15G that is derated from 400 to 317 shaft horsepower (shp).
Taxi/Takeoff/ Flight Characteristics: Standard turboprop startup - watch for lightoff and spool-up to idle. After takeoff checks, line-up, pour the coals on and listen to that Allison whine! Takeoff is short, but it’s the acceleration that is most impressive. The extra large rudder provides the necessary control to keep the nose tracking straight. Vne is 170 KIAS and its easy to reach. As expected, controls are responsive in all flight regimes.
Landing: On my flight we didn’t explore the full envelope of the Marchetti’s landing characteristics. Even so, with only 20 degrees of flaps, the SM.1019 required little runway for landing. With 60 degrees of flaps, a power-on approach and the ability to select reverse pitch, almost any small field can become a runway!
Wrap-up: SIAI-Marchetti took a very successful airframe and turned it into an even more capable liaison aircraft. The SM.1019 is mission-configurable for patrol, Forward Air Control-Airborne (FAC-A), photo reconnaissance, airborne command and control, and light attack. It’s ability to operate from land, water, snow and ice made it a workhorse for the Italian Army. If you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on one of these unique warbirds, you won’t be disappointed!