Hundred Years in Aerospace

No other family in the world is recognized to have been uninterruptedly active in aviation for as long time as the Italian Stiavelli who are celebrating the exceeding of the one-hundred-years’s mark with the passing of the “Winged Torch” over to their fourth generation.

The enterprise culture has been part of this family’s Dna since its Viking-Norman origins in the Twelfth Century. Together with several other French noblemen, some young members were attracted by the adventure of the First Crusade. At the end of the miltary campaign, at least one of them remained in the conquered lands of Palestine and engaged in the slavery business, which at that time was widely practised in the moslem-controlled Mediterranean (and not only). The profits were invested in the acquisition of lands in Southern Italy, where the family became recognized with the name “Schiavelli”. Their core business was, in fact, highlighted by a figure of a red-clothed black slave bust in their coat of arms, which remains the same today.

In the Sixteen Century’s chronicles one can trace the feat of one of their descendants, the quartermaster of the Pope’s galley La Luna with the victorious fleet that defeated the Moslems at Lepanto, marking the end of their domination over the Mediterranean. Some years later, being faded their chances to re-instate in Normandy, the Schiavelli family settled in Tuscany, in the region of Pescia near Lucca, where their name was changed in the more palatable Stiavelli. Their reported activities ranged from agricolture to construction (especially brick manufacturing) and silk filature.

The Enlightenment Century brought breeding ground to young minds with interests in arts and science. Past the Grand Duchy, the Napoleonic wars and Restoration, at the beginning of the Reign of Italy we find three branches of a well-radicated family in the region between Pistoia and Pisa. Among themselves, the branches were called “The Farmers”, “The Wealthy”, and “The Scholars”.

From the latter, at the end of the Nineteen Century, two twin brothers were born, known to the present posterity as Grandad Giuseppe and Uncle Manlio.

Two engineers, two barrels of the same cultural gun. One of them graduated in January, 1914; the other one in March. Both of them shared a keen intererst in the newly-born aviation. Though, their destination differed at the moment of their incorporation in the Italian Royal Army, which was about to be mobilized for the Great War.

An Artillery Officer, Giuseppe Stiavelli showed a broad interest in aircraft engineering and in the development of the Blériot airplanes that the Army had already adopted in 1911 for the Libyan Campaign (first example of military application of aviation). After a brief flight esperience, he applied to become a military pilot.

The General Staff had different plans for his career. As Austrian airship bombers threatened the northern industrial sites, the young Lieutenant was sent to Southern Italy to find suitable solutions for installing aircraft manufacturing and repair plants. After discarding Naples, he found good prospects in Palermo, Sicily, where the Ducrot firm, a furniture and woodware manufacturing company had already diversified its production with the construction of wooden propellers. It is then at Palermo, where the first airplane project signed Stiavelli (two times, as his twin brother Manlio participated as well) was developed. Slowly, because of the lack of funds allocated by the government until the end of 1917.

The very few pictures of the SLD (Stiavelli Luzzatti Ducrot) biplane fighter show original aerodynamic and structural solutions. This was also due to the collaboration of the elder brother Luigi. Technical manager of Matallurgica plant of Leghorn, he was one of the early producers of Duralumin, the light alloy that is essential for metal aircraft construction.

The promised high performance were confirmed by the early flight tests in October, 1918, by exceeding 300 kilometres per hour. The sudden end of the conflict prevented further development, and Ducrot company – like many other enterprises left without orders and denied payments – went bankrupt and quickly disbanded. The miliary careeer of Major Giuseppe Stiavelli proceeded in the Technical Corps of the Regia Aeronautica, the new independent Italian Air Force established in March 28, 1923.

His brother Manlio was hired by the new company CMASA (Costruzioni Meccaniche Aeronautiche SA) which was started at Marina di Pisa (mouth of Arno River) with an investment of the German-Austrian Dornier-Metallbouten group which was prevented from aircraft construction by the Versailles Treaty. Production spanned within the category of transport seaplanes, starting with the Dornier Wal tandem two-engined model. The works were incorporated in the Fiat Group in 1934 through the associated Società Italiana di Aviazione, whose products were indicated by the acronym MF (Marina Fiat).

In this environment, several flying boats took shape from Manlio’s design work, such as the MF 4, MF 6 and MF 10. Then, in 1937, the advanced project of the fast maritime seaplane Fiat CMASA R.S.14 was launched. The Ricognitore Stiavelli prototype flew for the first time in May, 1939. Also a second prototype was built, and a series production of 186 followed soon. Some of them were reported being still in service with the search and rescue units of the Italian Air Force in the early Fifties.

Monoplane twin (two 840hp Fiat A.74 RC.38) of full metal construction, it sat on two streamlined floats linked by struts to the engine nacelles and the fuselage. 14.10m long, the latter had circular section and windowed nose. The cantilever low tapered wing, with a high aspect ratio, spanned 29,54 meters. The single classic tail was 5.63m tall. Other characteristics were: empty weight 5,470 kgs; MTOW 8,470 kgs; max speed in excess of 400 kph; minimum (stall) speed, a mere 115 kph. With 2,950 liters internal fuel, the range reached 2,500 kms at the maximum operating altitude of 6,300 meters.

Armament consisted in two Breda-SAFAT .30in and one .50in machine guns. A 37mm anti-tank cannon was later mounted in the nose cone of the derivative A.S.14 (Assalto Stiavelli) land version. Another interesting project was the extremely streamlined single-engined monoplane racer C.S.15 (Corsa Stiavelli). Yet to be completed, it was seized and carried to Germany where new high-speed fighters were in development.

The year 1937 marked also the return of Manlio’s twin brother Giuseppe to the aeronautical industry, as he was appointed general manager of Piaggio company in Finale Ligure where he was to remain until after the end of WW II. There he directed the construction and repairs of large trimotor aircraft such as CANT Z.506 seaplanes and Z.1007ter land bombers. He also participated in the development of the P.108 four-engined bomber and in the project of a new fighter with the engine in the rear fuselage.

At the end of the war, Manlio remained with Fiat as technical director of Avio department. Main developments were the early Italian jet aircraft, the G.80 and G.82, and then the G.91 light tactical fighter designed by his much younger assistant Giuseppe Gabrielli.

In a home where science and technology were widely cultivated there was no restriction to good readings and experiences for Giuseppe’s son Giorgio, born in 1929. His young years were marked by the great exploits of Italian aviation that filled the world chronicles. His maturity was fed by the huge technological development during the war and, thereafter, by the ample availability of technical papers coming from the American universities and industrial environment. These were the steps that brought him to his gradutation in Mechanical Engineering with an Aeronautical specialization in February, 1956.

He was immediately hired by the U.S. General Electric with a group of newly graduated colleagues who completed their curricula in various disciplines within the regular terms. In the first three months he was sent to get acquainted with the company’s activities and procedures in several sections, and then he was appointed to the technical office where the 50Hz generators for the first generation of the Italian nuclear power plants were under development.

Unwilling to be averted from the aeronautical environment, he applied for three competitive exams (for Douglas, Firestone and IRI) and he passed all of them. He choose IRI (Institute for the Reconstruction of Italy) because the appointment was to manage the flight tests of the first Italian supersonic aircraft, the Aerfer Sagittario II designed by Sergio Stefanutti.

So he witnessed the first breaking of the “sound barrier” by an Italian aircraft, on December 4, 1956 when the experimental test pilot LtCol Giovanni Franchini dived the Sagittario in the sky of Pratica di Mare airbase near Rome.

The job was exciting because it was intended to form the basis for the development of a combat derivative named Leone to be produced in series. The young engineer was absorbed in this program for five months when he was in charge of the structural calculations for the installation of a 822kgp Rolls-Royce Soar rocket motor in the tail of the Sagittario second prototype, which was thus transformed in the Ariete. A similar, higher thrust configuration was to be transferred onto the Leone.

The presence of the Fiat G.91 prototype (developed under the supervision of Uncle Manlio) at Pratica di Mare in that period was considered by the young nephew Giorgio a sort of “passing of the torch” of aeronautical design between their generations.

In the company’s technical office at Napoli Capodichino he was given the job of verifying the structural calculations of the Aerfer Ae-105 project by the chief designer Amilcare Porro. After the incorporation of Aerfer in the new company Aeritalia, the project was developed into the renowned G.222 twin turboprop military transport, and then the present-time Alenia C-27J Spartan.

At the beginning of the Sixties there was a widespread excitement in the Italian aeronautical  industry because the Italian Air Force and the government were under pressure from the U.S.A. for the adoption of the Lockheed F-104G as the supersonic interceptor to replace the subsonic models previoulsy furnished by the United States as free-of-charge support to the NATO air forces in Europe. In Washington they were concerned that Italy – after winning the NATO light tactical fighter contest with the Fiat G.91 – wanted to adopt the indigenous supersonic interceptor Leone.

The matter becomed even more unclear when Aerfer decided to discontinue the project and to opt instead for the participation in the Hawk air defense missile program together with its IRI sister company Selenia (for the electronic section). The design office in which Giorgio Stiavelli was a member was disbanded, and in Summer 1961 he accepted the offer of a former subordinate officer of his father at the Italian Air Force Technical Service, engineer Angelo Vallerani, who had become general manager at Aermacchi in Varese.

The appointment was to manage the project and production of hydraulic, electrical and pneumatic aerospace ground support equipment in collaboration with the U.S. company Sprague. He also was asked to design a small low-powered city car, two prototypes of which were built.

Seasoned by fifteen years spent solving every kind of technical problems gaining a wide inter-disciplinary experience, the no-more-young engineer spent 25 years modifying and re-designing a number of support equipments both for laboratories and for flight line operations. Doing so, he achieved great results and the respect and admiration of all kind of aeronautical operators. Devices of his invention, such as the vacuum tank, are still applied all over the world. The achieved excellence allowed Aermacchi to win important contracts such as the hydraulic test bench for the tri-national Tornado variable-sweep fighter-bomber and for the similarly configured MiG-23 of the Iraqi Air Force.

After all those years, the time came for the transfer of the property of Aermacchi to the Italian state holding Finmeccanica. The development of advanced-technology support services appeared to him not being in the priorities of the new property. Then Giorgio Stiavelli felt that he had better exploit his own professional experience and multifarious talent by founding a family business.

His initial intention was to design and develop rotative engines and small turbines, but very soon he followed the advice of his friends in the Italian Air Force and considered the new opportunities offered in the civil sector by the mounting development of business aviation. In both fields he found good priospects for his new business.

The availability of an industrial building of their property, and the collaboration of the elder son Marco who had been following his father’s volcanic acrtivities since his youth, sped up the development of several industrial initiatives that were later riunited under the Rototyne trademark.

They started by renovating and technologically updating the former Aerospace Ground Equipment production lines: hydraulic, electrical and pneumatic test stands for labs and flight lines. Other new special-purpose products followed pretty soon. The first, in 1982, was a three-wheel hydraulic stand for the Citations and Falcons of Gitanair air taxy company. And then a collaboration began, that was to link the name Rotodyne to the world-scale development of Agusta (now AgustaWestland) helicopters.

The trigger was a technology challenge. Agusta wanted a centralized stand operated by a series of remortely-controlled consoles, distributed along the new A 109 assembly line. Giorgio Stiavelli wa aware of the difficulties embedded in managing such a complex system and solved the problem by developing an integrated and functional stand with the same dimensions of the requested console.

Many further challenges of this kind were faced and won. Also the acquisition of SIAI Marchetti by Agusta swith the production of the S.211 jet trainer found Rotodyne ready to fulfil every new requirement and necessity. Very soon, 80 percent of Rotodyne’s production was absorbed by the Agusta Group.

This very favourable situation became a serious trouble in the period 1992-93 with the sudden crisis of the Agusta Group and its trasfer from the disbanded EFIM holding to Finmeccanica. The economic setback was counteracted by the technological engineering agility of Giorgio Stiavelli who designed and started the production of the “Elettrone” electric-powered light truck. The idea came from a Royal Danish Air Force specification that included an electric-powered vehicle for their flight-line test stands. The chassis was found in the production of the Sicilian Effedi. About 200 vehicles were built, and half of them is still in operation.

The confidence in the unfailing recovery of Agusta Group was rewarded: in 1995 the renewed assembly lines were running. All of them, and the flight lines as well, were equipped with Rotodyne systems. The company ensured also their maintenance and acquired more leading force by the joining of Giorgio’s elder son Marco after his graduation. This led to the wider and wider recognition of Rotodyne trademark through the global network of Agusta dealers. Some of them also set up mainenance centers.

The collaboration was even more strengthened in conjunction with the expansion of the new AgustaWestland’s activities: for their own production models, for the ones developed in international collaboration (such as the NH-90 helicopter) and by industrial acquisitions abroad (such as PZL Swidnik).

At the end of the Nineties, also the second son, Francesco, joined the company after graduating in Economy. Together with his brother Marco, the new expansion strategy was then laid out. The main objective pursued was the continuous and constant upgrading and updating to new aerospace technologies where their father’s support remained the main resource. This enabled the company to be ready in 2000 to compete for the requirement of an integrated test stand for all the systems of the very advanced Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft. The specifications were very strict, and not less important were the economic commitment to support the production of such complex and costly machines. Though the bid was won, and as many as 25 electric- and four diesel-powered test stands are operating in Europe.

The collaboration with Alenia in the military environment was then extended to new customers in civil aviation. One is Piaggio Aero, for which several test stands are prepared to be installed very soon in the new production plant of Villanova d’Albenga.

The technology peak was reached while approaching the Centennial of activity in  aerospace by this family of engineers: the design, development and construction of the mobile test etands for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighter-bomber, the so-called Joint Strike Fighter for the three U.S. Services (Air Force, Navy, Marines), several NATO Countries and other allied forces.

After the successful tests, in the new Rotodyne plant ­– in the industrial area of Caronno Pertusella – the series production is being set up with the participation of the fourth aerospace generation of the Stiavelli family, starting with Stefano, the elder grandson of Giorgio who maintains the role of universal technology “guru” of all the family’s undertakings.

And ­– according to him – this history will go on steadily.

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