Text and photos by Budd Davisson, Air Progress, '78 (or so),


The famous Harry Shepard in his straight SF260, one of the original aircraft imported and marketed as WACO Meteors.

 During the 1970s, several private owners imported various used SF.260s from Europe and eventually the factory flew two early C models over to see if the American market would buy their airplane. Apparently they weren't met with hordes of anxious buyers at their first landing, so they went home.
The frustrations of SF.260 owners and would-be owners have centered around both the reluctance of the factory to sell the airplane along with the lack of an American support system . . . if you wanted parts, you waited a long time or went over to get them yourself. Recently, however, Siai-Marchetti sought to remedy that situation by working with a Fort Worth, Texas, based company, Fox Five One, to develop a center for SF.260 support. Although not directly allied with the factory, Fox Five One has imported quite a number of used aircraft as well as currently having the sales rights for the eight nearly new airplanes brought over to Oshkosh, celebrating Col. Balbo's around the world flight. Siai-Marchetti also has a direct representative, Mike Moore in Miami, Florida, who is their Western Hemisphere sales representative as well as demonstration pilot. All new and military aircraft, whether recip or turbine, will come directly through him.

With 800 airplanes in operation in twenty-four countries of varying states of development and stability, it would seem only logical that it is only a matter of time before damaged or well-used SF.260 airframes should begin to show up on the surplus market. According to Mike Moore, some of the countries interested in the turboprop are having their "C" models converted. A few other countries are discussing the possibility of trading in their As and Bs to the factory. These used aircraft presumably will be pipelined through Fox Five One. Some of these aircraft are bound to be surplused in the immediate area of the country of use, or, conceivably, even abandoned as they become either out-dated or beyond the capabilities of local repair shops. This raises the exciting possibility of early model SF.260s derelict in far corners of the world to be bought at bargain basement prices.
One thing should be pointed out is that the 260 is not a simple airplane. The SF.260 was designed to be a high-performance airplane and uses high-performance production techniques and standards. The aircraft is simply not a bunch of parts bolted together but rather a finely crafted assemblage of components, all of which must match perfectly or the resulting aircraft could be a real handful. Anyone expecting to repair a damaged SF.260 had best approach it as if they are preparing to reskin a P-51, rather than rebuild a Piper Cherokee.
If I were honest, I would admit to an awful lot of prejudice, because I happen to like the SF.260. I think, and always have thought, it is the ultimate airplane for sport pilots needing cross-country performance and a little ego-stroking. So when I found the turboprop 260 was in Florida on a demo tour, I promptly got on the phone and arranged a rendezvous with Mike Moore and the SF.260 TP at Jacksonville for a quick flight down to River Ranch Airport, the site of one of the more fun aviation happenings . . . the River Ranch Swift Fly-In.
Unfortunately, between being screwed up by the airlines and trying to stuff a couple pilot reports and air-to-air missions into too short a time frame, our schedule allowed us to get the photography done but only several short hours of flying in the C model and TP. So Mike worked it out with Paul Sterbutzel of Washington, DC, who was gracious enough to loan us his airplane for a weekend of tail twisting. John Stirling, also of the DC area, volunteered to bring the plane and sat patiently in the left seat, doing his best to conceal his fear and amusement at my attempts at being a Third World Fighter Pilot.
The airplane Stirling brought to Andover, New Jersey, was one of the nearly new 260 Cs which participated in the Balbo anniversary flight to Oshkosh, and it still bore its Oshkosh trappings . . . two-foottall stickers festooned its every surface, making the sleek design look more like a rolling billboard than an Italian fighter trainer a long way from home.
This was the first of the new C models I had a chance to carefully scrutinize. I had been told many times that the C's refinements eliminated some of the hairier characteristics associated with the A. It's easy when looking down the wing to see one of those refinements . . . the SF.260 C had a very definite cuff at the leading edge towards the tip. This was supposed to do away with the A model's distressing habit of losing aileron control at low speeds and dropping a wing when you least expected it on landing. Also, the C models were equipped with servo ailerons, which would lighten up the A model's responsive, but slightly heavy, ailerons.
On saddling up, another immediate difference became apparent . . . the airplane is set up to be soloed from the right, not the left. Although dual sticks protrude from the floor, the aircraft has all flight instruments set in the right instrument panel so the pilot is flying with the stick in his right hand and all engine and trim controls in his left, just like a fighter. A dual throttle is also mounted on the left cockpit wall for the instructor pilot. The entire cockpit has a quasi-military feel with gray paint and fiberglass seats meant to accept parachutes.
SF.260s are not overly blessed with room, not by Wichita standards at any rate. Although the cockpits are certainly wider than they need to be, passengers have been known to complain about having no place to put their feet, since legs are captured fighter-style under the instrument panel with the control column sticking up between them. The back seat is especially tight and is placarded to 250 pounds. Having spent many hours in the back of 260s, I've found it to be perfectly comfortable because when the 250-pound limit is observed, the back seat is limited to one decent-sized male who can sit crosswise or two 125-pound little people who don't need that much room to begin with.
Practically all my experience in SF.260s has been with the fuel-injected, modified versions of Kingry and Shepard. Once I pulled the canopy shut, I prepared for the starting ritual we always went through on their airplanes, which was to make a wild guess as to the best thing to do and hope it would start. Not so with the carbureted 260 C. You just crank it like any other airplane and it bursts into life with a little less harsh exhaust noise than there is associated with the A models. Once fired up and taxiing, I once again marveled at the visibility and general feel of the SF.260 on the taxiway. The nosewheel steering and the brakes work beautifully together.