Specialisation and the mass market 

Boeing 767 during a demo tour: the new projects assigned to Aeritalia included a partnership with Boeing to build a new airliner. On 8 September 1981, the 767 flew to Everett, near Seattle. The following year, during the Farnborough International Show in the UK, the Boeing 767 stopped over at Caselle Torinese (Turin) on its European demonstration tour.

Boeing 767, Farnborough International Airshow, 1982

Finmeccanica played a leading role in the rapid industrialisation of the early 1960s. In aerospace, it founded Selenia and Aeritalia (with FIAT), reorganised Ansaldo to create a leading industrial complex in the thermo-electro-mechanical sector, and opened the new Alfa Romeo plant. From the middle of the decade, Finmeccanica focused on high-tech sectors: automotive, thermo-electromechanical and aerospace. This led to the sale of the Selenia and Elsag (formerly San Giorgio) electronics companies to STET. The 1973 energy crisis, which compelled companies to become more competitive, led the Group to review its industrial policy. A period of major international aerospace programmes in which Aeritalia played a leading part (and of which Finmeccanica had become the sole owner), was about to begin. The 1980s opened with the founding of Ansaldo Trasporti, which brought together the electrified rail transport activities, and the creation of ATR, a partnership between Aeritalia and Aérospatiale (now Airbus). Its acquisition of Officine Aeronavali Venezia and a stake in Aermacchi strengthened Finmeccanica’s leadership in aeronautics, culminating in 1986 with Aeritalia’s entry into the Eurofighter consortium. In the same year, it sold Alfa Romeo to FIAT.

Photo of Selenia’s team of technicians. Behind them is the MIM-23A Hawk anti-aircraft system built at the Fusaro plant (Naples), 1960


Selenia debuts in Hawk programme

Selenia’s first venture was the MIM-23A Hawk anti-aircraft system, designed by the US company Raytheon, its 40% shareholder. The project occupied the company for over thirty years and had significant spin-offs in terms of production, innovation and commercial activities, with new orders from around the world. Of its five modules, Selenia won the responsibility to build the Hawk surface-to-air missile and the Pulse Acquisition Radar (PAR), the search radar of the missile system. The first Hawk produced in the historic Fusaro (Naples) factory was launched in 1961. The first two Army and Air Force units entered service in 1964. The Hawk programme was the first step on a three-stage pathway that led Selenia to produce another missile under US licence, the ‘Sparrow’ and, later, the ‘Aspide’, a fully Italian-designed prototype.

Production of the ‘Giulia TI’ at the Alfa Romeo plant in Arese (Milan), 1964. Acquired in 1958 with a maximum capacity of 10,800 employees, it was to become the production centre for the future ‘Giulia’ saloon. Finmeccanica and the Executive Committee of IRI approved the industrial plan, with an investment of ITL 44.8 billion, in October 1957. Courtesy Alfa Romeo Documentation Centre, Arese


Alfa Romeo unveils the Giulia TI, ‘designed by the wind’

On 27 June 1962, a car with revolutionary new lines was unveiled at the Monza circuit: the ‘Giulia TI’ (Turismo Internazionale). Heir to the ‘Giulietta’, a big success in the fifties released in 1955, it marked the transition from the historic Portello plant (Milan), which could not cope with the growing production volumes, to the more modern Arese industrial complex (also in the province of Milan). Its innovative, aerodynamic features, achieved through the first-ever testing of a saloon car in the Turin Polytechnic University wind tunnel, resulted in an aerodynamic drag coefficient (Cx) of 0.34, a first for a car in its class. Innovative mechanics, a state-of-the-art interior and bodywork, and excellent road-holding made it one of the most iconic Alfa Romeo models of all time. The ‘flowing front and truncated tail’ styling inspired the advertising slogan ‘Giulia: the wind designed it’.

‘Notiziario Breda’ was a bimonthly magazine first published in 1955 by Breda Meccanica Bresciana. Specialising in articles on ballistics techniques and hunting activities, it stood out for its modern and experimental cover graphics. The photo shows the third issue of 1960 (year VI), under the then Editor-in-Chief Fulvio Bocchi. The Breda Meccanica Bresciana Historical Archive holds copies of every issue of the magazine up to 1967


New company organisation and iconic products for Breda Meccanica Bresciana

The Italian state set up the Ente Partecipazioni e Finanziamento Industrie Manifatturiere (Manufacturing Industry Investment and Financing Office - EFIM), which played an active role in Finanziaria Ernesto Breda on which Breda Meccanica Bresciana depended. In the 1960s, one of the company’s best-known products were the 12- and 20-gauge automatic shotguns for hunting and shooting, which for a long time complemented its return to the manufacture of defence systems.

G7 antenna, late 1950s, made by Microlambda. Selenia manufactured the ATCR-2, an L-band long-range detection radar combined with the G-7 antenna used for civil air traffic control from 1963 onwards. This technology fulfilled the specifications of both an en-route and a terminal area surveillance radar


Selenia presents the ATCR-2 radar

Selenia began designing civil air traffic control systems in 1961, completing the L-band Air Traffic Control Radar 2 (ATCR-2) in 1963, combined with the G7 antenna created by Microlambda in 1957. This is the first example of a civil radar system designed by Italian manufacturers following previous experience with NATO-commissioned projects. The ATCR-2 was installed in 1963 at Bromma Airport in Sweden and was the progenitor of the ATCR-44K, hundreds of which were sold worldwide. This technology immediately went international, enabling Selenia to consolidate its role as a leading company in the sector.

Telespazio was founded in 1962 by the state broadcaster RAI and Italcable, a long-range telecommunications company. In the photo are Piero Fanti, the first Director of Telespazio, and some of the company’s engineers during a visit to the Fucino Experimental Station, 4 January 1963


Tests with the first US-launched telecommunications satellites

In 1962, Telespazio began the construction of the ‘Fucino (L’Aquila) Experimental Station for communications via artificial satellites’. A year later, the Station received its first signals from the US satellite Telstar, launched in July 1962, and only a few months later, its first photographic image. These were the first satellite transmissions between Italy and the United States. These experiments led to a project for the ‘Piero Fanti’ Space Centre, officially opened on 28 September 1967 in the presence of Prime Minister Aldo Moro, which became - with 170 antennas and 370,000 square metres of surface area - the world’s largest and most important civilian ‘teleport’.

Ground tests of the helicopter initially named AZ 101G, after its designer Filippo Zappata. It flew to Cascina Costa di Samarate (VA) on 19 October 1964


Agusta launches the A101G into flight

On 19 October 1964, the A101G heavy transport helicopter, piloted by chief pilot Ottorino Lancia, flew for the first time over the Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta plant in Cascina Costa di Samarate (Varese). This three-engine helicopter would pave the way for the company’s strategic decision to enter the heavy transport helicopter sector. Even though the project did not go ahead, it was a test bed for developing the significant experience and full autonomous design capability that laid the ground for the future EH101.

The acquisition of the US patent for the M113 vehicle marked a turning point in the processing of aluminium, with which new versions of the 76/62 were made


OTO Melara launches the 76/62 compact naval gun

The 76/62 naval gun was developed in the 1950s as an overlapping twin-barrel naval turret to arm the newly built Centauro frigates. After the MMI version, based on the experience gained when building the M113 troop transport vehicles under US licence, there were significant technological advances in using and processing aluminium. This innovation halved the weight of the 76/62’s turret from 15 to around 7.5 tonnes. Continual performance upgrades to the 76/62 have made it OTO Melara’s most successful product, selling to over 70 navies worldwide.

From 1966, Selenia worked on developing NADGE, an integrated European air defence system stretching from the Arctic Circle to Asia Minor. The company was Italy’s representative on the project, responsible for developing and implementing the presentation and data processing units. This was an opportunity to experiment with automation processes


Selenia participates in NADGE

The NATO Air Defence Ground Environment (NADGE) is a ground defence system that integrates the European radar network with individual NATO countries, making the different existing defence systems compatible and giving a wide area of coverage. This was an opportunity for Selenia to evolve its radar production capabilities from analogue to digital technology, launching the production of digital displays which were later exported all over Europe. From 1970 Selenia incorporated this technology into its production, later entering into an agreement with an up-and-coming Olivetti (with factories in Ivrea), which marketed a machine produced in a specific area of the Fusaro (Naples) plant. Today, the NADGE control network is still operational, equipped with more modern systems

The 100th set of DC-9 fuselage panels ready to be shipped to Douglas, California. The programme was gradually expanded, first with additional quantities, then with the DC-9 variants, and finally with the DC-10 and MD-11 tri-reactors


Delivery of the 100th set of fuselage panels for the DC-9 programme

Aerfer (as it was then called) started working with the Douglas Company on the DC-9 programme in 1965 as industrial compensation for Alitalia’s decision to buy the aircraft. For the company, which became Aeritalia, the agreement marked the beginning of its participation in a number of major international aerostructure programmes. The programme was a great success, and the production of fuselage panels - which continued until 2000 also for the later variants of the aircraft (MD-80, in the extended version and MD-90) - totalled 2,014 production runs.

Final assembly of the F-104S in the Aeritalia factory, Caselle Torinese (TO), 1970s. Production of the aircraft ceased in 1979, after the construction of 205 fighters for Italy and 40 for Turkey. It remained in service until 2004


Flight of the first F-104S Starfighter

On 30 December 1968, the F-104S Starfighter, a Mach 2 fighter made by FIAT Aviazione under licence from Lockheed, took off from Caselle Torinese (Turin). The Italian Air Force had already been using the F-104G since 1962 and, in 1966, renewed the fleet with the new S version (which stands for ‘Sparrow’, the new missile produced by Selenia). Entirely manufactured in Italy, the F-104S would become the backbone of the Italian Air Force. It was first delivered on 29 May 1969 and clocked up around one million flight hours. Capable of flying at Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, it was dubbed ‘the missile with a man in it’. With FIAT Aviazione, and then Aeritalia after the merger, a large part of the Italian aeronautical industry (Aerfer, Macchi, Piaggio, SIAI Marchetti, SACA, Aeronavali) plus the Belgian companies Avions Fairey and SABCA worked together on the programme. The aircraft was crucial to the Italian aircraft industry in terms of technology and economic value.

Satellite dish that enabled the live TV broadcast of the historic Moon landing on 20 July 1969


From Fucino, the images of the moon landing via satellite on live TV

On 20 July 1969, the historic images of the first moon landing could be seen in Europe courtesy of four stations that picked up the signal from the Early Bird satellite. One of these was Telespazio’s Fucino Space Centre, equipped with antenna B, a large 27-metre dish (installed two years earlier), which picked up satellite TV signals from around the world. On 29 July, within ten days of the Apollo 11 landing, Telespazio broadcast another unprecedented event worldwide through an eight-metre diameter antenna transferred by sea to Kampala, Uganda: the first Papal visit, by Pope Paul VI, to Africa.

Between 1988 and 1990, the Goria, De Mita and sixth Andreotti governments ordered the closure of the three nuclear power plants at Borgo Sabotino (LT), Trino (VC) and Caorso (PC). Photo: the vessel closure stage of the nuclear reactor at the Caorso power plant, Piacenza, 1977


Work begins on the Caorso nuclear power plant (Piacenza)

Enel commissioned Ansaldo Meccanico Nucleare to build Italy’s fourth thermonuclear power plant, ‘one of the largest and most modern on the continent’, as it was described in the minutes of the IRI Board of Directors’ meeting of 18 December 1969, for a total estimated cost of around 84 billion Lire. The 860 MW plant was completed in 1978. Commercial operations began in 1981, but were suspended in 1990 following the three nationwide referendums in 1987 that led to the shelving of Italy’s nuclear power programme. From then on, Ansaldo retained an in-house core of expertise primarily geared towards participation in international programmes, in addition to decommissioning operations in Italy.

Final inspection of the Alfasud car, Pomigliano d’Arco plant (NA), 1972. Under Giuseppe Luraghi’s chairmanship, with this model Alfa Romeo entered the small-medium car segment for the first time. Courtesy Alfa Romeo Documentation Centre, Arese


Alfa Romeo launches the Alfasud

Alfa Romeo launched the Alfasud at the 1971 Turin Motor Show. This was the first car produced in the Pomigliano d’Arco (Naples) plant, which opened in 1968: a model factory and ‘ideal city of Fordist and Taylorist manufacturing’. It was designed by the Austrian Rudolf Hruschka, previously creator of the ‘Giulietta’, Domenico Chirico, appointed head of the Alfasud project in 1966, and designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. The car introduced some significant mechanical innovations (especially in the braking system and suspension), combined with a uniquely recognisable design style. These attributes made it - to date - the model with the biggest production run in the brand’s history, with over one million vehicles produced between 1971 and 1989.

Manufactured from the 1960s by Selenia, the GP-160 was one of the first examples of an Italian-made computer based on wired logic, without microprocessors or integrated controllers. It had a meagre memory capacity by today’s standards (32 kB) and was mounted on an industrial standard 19” rack. The photo shows the model displayed at the University Museum of Technological Sciences, Department of Informatics, University of Bari Aldo Moro.


Selenia launches the GP-160 microcomputer

The GP-160 was a state-of-the-art, miniaturised integrated-circuit digital mini-calculator.  An evolution of the GP-16, used since 1966 to pilot testing of the NADGE data visualisation system, it was one of the first general-purpose computers manufactured in Italy. The GP-160 introduced a crucial innovation over systems of the previous class: the GP BUS for high-speed data exchange between the system’s various units, which translated into high system capacity. This technology was used in airport control towers, in the ‘Special Units’ (computers for switching telephone calls) of CSELT, Italy’s first electromechanical telephone exchange, in nuclear medicine and in industrial automation.

Spacelab in the cargo compartment of the Columbia space shuttle during the STS-9 mission, November 1983


Aeritalia participates in Spacelab

Launched by NASA and the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), Spacelab was the first scientific laboratory installed on the Space Shuttle, housing up to four astronauts to conduct experiments in orbit. The construction involved companies from ten European countries, with Germany leading the programme (54% contribution) and Italy second with 18%. Aeritalia designed and built the entire service module and thermal control system. The programme was a turning point for the industry and led Aeritalia to become Italy’s largest space company and one of the leaders in Europe.

The second Tornado prototype, of nine planned, flew for the first time at Caselle Torinese (TO) on 4 February 1977, piloted by Pietro Paolo Trevisan and Manlio Quarantelli


Flight of the first Italian MRCA-75 Tornado prototype

On 5 December 1975, an MRCA-75 Tornado took off from the runway at Caselle Torinese (Turin) piloted by Pietro Paolo Trevisan. Developed by the Panavia consortium (Italy, Germany and the UK), the Tornado was the first fighter aircraft capable of autonomous low-level supersonic flight. Aeritalia designed and built the variable-geometry wing (meaning it could change the angle of the swept wing by adapting to flight conditions), the first European wing built with titanium components and produced using Italian technologies that had never previously been used.

The Venetian lagoon was one of the first images received by the Telespazio Space Centre in Fucino where, in 1977, a new specialised infrastructure began to receive data from the American Landsat satellite


Telespazio receives first Earth images

Following a NASA and Telespazio Memorandum of Understanding signed a year earlier to receive data from US satellites, the Fucino Space Centre received the first remote sensing images from the Landsat Earth observation satellites. It was the beginning of a new line of activity that, within a few decades - with the creation of e-GEOS and participation in major environmental protection programmes such as Copernicus - became a defining feature of Telespazio: Earth observation and geo-information.

Giacomo Agostini riding the MV500 ST 76/50, German Grand Prix, 29 August 1976. It was the 139th and last World Grand Prix won by MV Agusta motorbikes in the 500 class


Last victory of the MV Agusta 500

Giacomo Agostini, on an MV Agusta 500 Gran Sport class, won the German motorbike Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. Designed by the engineer Pietro Remor, with a top speed of 190 km/h, it won its first title in the 500 version in 1956 with rider John Surtees. This 1976 victory was the last for the historic marque from Cascina Costa di Samarate (Varese), before the definitive closure of Meccanica Verghera (MV) Agusta’s motorbike activities in 1982.

Work on the experimental telecommunications satellite SIRIO launched on 26 August 1977 and operational until 1985. Finmeccanica took part in the mission through Aeritalia and OTO Melara, both represented by Compagnia Industriale Aerospaziale (CIA), a group founded in 1965 to unite the leading companies in the sector


Launch of SIRIO, the first satellite designed and built by Italian industry

On 26 August 1977, SIRIO (Italian Industrial and Operational Research Satellite) went into orbit from the US base at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its purpose was to develop new possibilities for satellite telephone and television communication. SIRIO was the focus of many experimental activities, on high-frequency propagation phenomena of up to 18 GHz, conducted by Italian and international research centres. Designed for a two-year operational life, it continued to run until 1985. As well as proving the levels of excellence achieved by the Italian space industry, and by Selenia in particular, the mission’s success paved the way for participation in future national projects, such as the Italsat mission, and international ones such as the ESA’s Olympus programme.

On the left is Renato Bonifacio, CEO of Aeritalia from 1974 to 1985, in front of a Boeing 767 model. Following his earlier career at ENI and Olivetti, he led Aeritalia to prominence in the aeronautical sector through international partnerships


Launch of a partnership with Boeing on the B767 programme

This was the first time that Aeritalia partnered with Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company. The first flight of the Boeing 767 was on 8 September 1981 from Everett, near Seattle. The partnership marked Aeritalia’s entry into carbon-fibre processing, which was used to manufacture the programme’s aerostructures. The company soon gained an undisputed position of leadership in this sector.

Cutaway of A.184 torpedo with the characteristic automatic acoustic targeting head inside the Whitehead Moto Fides factory, Livorno, 1970s. Courtesy Whitehead Moto Fides WASS Historical Archive


The new electric and digital wire guidance system for the A.184

In response to the Italian Navy’s request for a new torpedo for its surface and submarine units, Whitehead Moto Fides presented an ambitious project: the A.184, a wire-guided heavy torpedo with significant autonomy and the ability to operate with acoustic self-guidance. The unique feature distinguishing this from the previous A.182 and Canguro wire-guided torpedoes was in the wire connection between submarine and torpedo. The ship coil was no longer housed in a spindle towed outside the hull, but placed in a metal ‘basket’ inside the launch tube. Product development was completed in 1978. The Italian Navy still uses the A.184.

View of the Entracque (Cuneo) hydroelectric power plant built by Ansaldo Impianti, 1981


The Entracque (Cuneo) hydroelectric power plant comes into service

The Enel hydroelectric power plant in Entracque was one of the biggest in Europe and the largest in Italy, with a capacity of 1,310 MW. Built by Ansaldo Impianti, it was carved entirely into the rock and has nine turbines powered by water from Lake Rovina and the Chiotas and Piastra reservoirs.

In service since 27 April 1982 with the National Aerobatic Team, the Aermacchi MB-339 PAN became a symbol of Italy worldwide. Photo from 1992


The trainer MB.339 PAN adopted by the Frecce Tricolori

On 27 April, the new MB.339 PAN training aircraft replaced the FIAT G.91R used by the Frecce Tricolori aerobatics team. With the 339, Aermacchi capitalised on the technological capabilities developed with the previous MB.326, consolidating its leading position in the national and international trainer jet market. The MB.339 provided an aircraft for the entire training cycle, from basic to advanced, without having to multiply the flight lines. It could be used as a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in both the standard two-seater version or that with multi-purpose defence systems.

The A129 Mangusta, an anti-tank combat helicopter, was created at the express request of the Italian Army on 25 May 1972 and made its first official flight on 11 September 1983


Flight of the A129, the first European combat helicopter

On 15 September 1983, flown by test pilot Luciano Forzani at Cascina Costa di Samarate (Varese), a helicopter took to the air that became a landmark for the Italian and international military sector: the A129 Mangusta, Europe’s first military anti-tank helicopter. The name ‘Mangusta’ (‘Mongoose’) was chosen to compete with the US Bell AH-1 Cobra. The innovative model used a new composite material for the fuselage and featured a tandem, split-level cockpit configuration. Two new essential construction criteria were adopted for the A129 at the design stage: crashworthiness (resistance to impact) and vulnerability (ability to remain controllable even in emergencies). The A129 was also the first example of autonomous training syllabus development (flight, mission and maintenance simulator).

First flight of the ATR42, Toulouse, France, 16 August 1984. After a rapid certification programme, the aircraft entered into service with Air Littoral in December 1985


First flight of the ATR 42

On 16 August 1984, the prototype for the ATR 42, a new regional turboprop aircraft, flew for the first time just over four years after a technical agreement was signed between Aeritalia and Aérospatiale of France to converge their respective research on the AIT.230 and AS.35 in the ATR consortium. It paved the way for one of the Finmeccanica Group’s greatest aviation successes, with an aircraft that remains a world bestseller in its class today. With this new aircraft, Italy joined a small circle of nations with the capability to build civil aircraft of the highest level.

With over 500 models produced, the Lynx’s speed and agility led to its adoption by many of the world’s armed forces for tactical transport, search and rescue, and coastal protection missions. The Lynx also entered service with the British Blue Eagles and Black Cats aerobatic teams


The Westland Lynx sets the world helicopter speed record

On 11 August 1986, a Westland-manufactured Lynx, with a crew of pilot Trevor Egginton and flight test engineer Derek Clews, reached a speed of 400.87 km/h over a distance of 15 kilometres, setting a world helicopter speed record that still stands today. The Lynx came with new technologies, including the British Experimental Rotor Programme (BERP), with rotor blades in composite materials and a special design to increase top speed and improve lifting capabilities. All Lynx and Super Lynx variants and the AW101 helicopters would subsequently use these rotor blades.

Engineers at work in one of the control rooms at the Telespazio Fucino Space Centre, 1980s


Internet comes to Italy via the Telespazio Fucino Space Centre

On 30 April 1986, the National University Centre of Electronic Computing in Pisa (part of the National Research Centre - CNR) connected to the US ARPANET network via a satellite network built by CNR, Telespazio and Italcable and operated by the Fucino Space Centre. Three pioneering academics worked on the project: Luciano Lenzini, Stefano Trumpy and Antonio Blasco Bonito. Italy was the fourth nation, after Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany, to join the internet network. It was the start of a revolution that would profoundly change telecommunications systems, language and human life.

Video banner : Compagnia Generale di Elettricità factories, Milan, 1955 - 1956,
Courtesy Fondazione Ansaldo