On 20 July 1935, it was awarded its Certificate of Airworthiness.Soon after, on 2 August 1935, the prototype established a new speed record by flying from Rome to Massaua, in Italian Eritrea, in 12 flying hours (with a refuelling stop at Cairo, Egypt).It was the most numerous Italian bomber of the Second World War, around some 1,300 aircraft were constructed.
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During October 1936, production of the SM.79 formally commenced.
Initially, focus was given to producing civil aircraft while military variants continued to be developed; as such, there were a pair of principal commercial variants produced as well, these being the speed-focused SM.79C (C standing for race) and the long-range SM.79T (T for Transatlantic).
It had originally been conceived as a fast monoplane transport aircraft, capable of accommodating up to eight passengers and of being used in air racing (such as the London-Melbourne race).
The design, which was initially designated as the SM.79P (P stood for passenger), was once intended to be a civil derivative of the Savoia-Marchetti SM.81, a militarised transport/bomber aircraft that was itself based upon the Savoia-Marchetti S.73 airliner.
On 28 September 1934, the prototype SM.79 conducted its maiden flight, piloted by Adriano Bacula.
Despite the company's ambitions to participate, the prototype (registration I-MAGO) had been completed too late for it to be entered in the London-Melbourne race.
The SM.79 had been originally developed during the early 1930s as a cantilever low-wing monoplane employing a combined wood-and-metal structure.
It had been designed with the initial intention of producing a swift eight-passenger transport aircraft, capable of besting even the fastest of its contemporaries at that time, however, the project quickly attracted the attention of the Italian government for its potential as an armed combat aircraft.
Following pioneering work by the "Special Aerotorpedoes Unit", Italy put the type to work as a torpedo bomber; in this role, the SM.79 achieved notable successes against Allied shipping, particularly in the Mediterranean theater.