A newly constructed replica of a Macchi M5 seaplane taxied in the waters of the Gulf of Taranto in late July, 100 years after the first production examples reached the base and almost 95 years after the last ones ceased operating from there.
Of the 344 M5 flying boat fighters built, none survive. This encouraged a team of NCOs and airmen to build the reproduction in their spare time to promote awareness of the history of the Taranto base, which currently hosts the Italian Air Force Volunteer Airmen School.
Construction extended over a 10-month period and totalled more than 2,000 man-hours, with no financial support from the service. The NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) provided some materials and others were scrounged on base. A local technical school donated a 650cc Fiat car engine, and a retired NCO donated an ultralight propeller. Local chapters of the Italian Air Force Association and other organisations contributed some financial support, together with donations from base personnel. The reproduction is outwardly realistic, but the internal structure sports several changes due to incomplete information or the use of model aircraft technology, including a two-spar lower wing and an aluminium tube structure in the cockpit area. The external wooden structures were made watertight with fibreglass.
Although designed to be non-flying, the M5 project gradually evolved from purely static to taxiable — a considerable achievement considering the shoestring budget. After making its public debut during the base’s open day, the M5 was put into the water and taxied by Col Francesco Turrisi, the Panavia Tornado navigator currently in command of the Taranto school.
The M5 carries the personal insignia of Luigi Bologna (1888-1921), a naval pilot who commanded fighter squadrons during the First World War and won the 1920 Schneider Trophy race held in Venice. Following his untimely death in a flying accident near Venice, the Taranto seaplane station was named after him in 1927.