As Italian military aviation struggled to get back on its feet in the wake of World War Two, an unlikely fleet of Savoia-Marchetti SM82s in the markings of the Order of St John managed to fly on

Order of Malta personnel after landing at Lourdes in a Savoia- Marchetti SM82PW during 1951.

Visitors to the Italian Air Force Museum at Vigna di Valle, north of Rome, might be forgiven for wondering at a strange roundel on the fuselage of one of the exhibits. It’s a white eightpointed cross on a red background, an emblem that in fact goes back at least 900 years, originating in mediaeval Jerusalem. As such, it’s arguably by far the oldest aviation insignia in the world.

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