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CANT Z.506

The CANT Z.506 Airone (Italian: Heron) was a triple-engine floatplane produced by CANT from 1935. It served as a transport and postal aircraft with the Italian airline "Ala Littoria". It established 10 world records in 1936 and another 10 in 1937. During World War II it was used as a reconnaissance aircraft, bomber and air-sea rescue plane, by the Italian Regia Aeronautica and Regia Marina, Aeronautica Cobelligerante del Sud, Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana and the Luftwaffe. The military version revealed itself to be one of the best floatplanes ever built. Despite its wooden structure it was able to operate in very rough seas. A number of Z.506S air-sea rescue aircraft remained in service until 1959.

z.506 z.506s floatplane

1. Design and Development

The CANT Z.506 was designed as a 12 to 14-seat transport twin-float seaplane, powered by three 455 kW (610 hp) Piaggio Stella P.IX radial engines. It was derived from the larger and heavier Z.505 seaplane.[1] The Z.506 entered production in 1936 as the Z.506A, powered by more powerful 560 kW (750 hp) Alfa Romeo 126 RC.34 nine cylinder radial engines, giving a maximum output of 780 CV on take off and 750 CV at 3,400 meters. The fuselage had a wooden structure covered in tulipier wooden lamellas. The wings were built with a structure of three box-type spars linked by wooden wing-ribs covered by plywood. The floats were made of duraluminium covered in chitonal, and were 12.50 metres (41 ft) long. The armament consisted of a 12.7 mm (0.50 inch) Breda-SAFAT machine gun in the dorsal position and three 7.7 mm (0.303 inch) machine guns, one in the ventral position and two on the sides of the fuselage. The CANT Z.506 had a crew of five.[2]

It was produced at the "Cantieri Riuniti dell 'Adriatico" and "Cantiere Navale Triestino" (CRDA CANT) factories in Monfalcone and Finale Ligure respectively. The aeroplanes were in such demand that the Piaggio company also produced CANT Z.506s.[3] under licence. The Z.506A entered service with the Ala Littoria air company flying around the Mediterranean.

While flown mostly by Mario Stoppani, the Z.506A set a number of altitude, speed and distance records for its class between 1936 and 1938, including speeds of 308.25 km/h (191.539 mph) over 5000 km (3,107 miles) and 319.78 km/h (198.7 mph) over 2000 km (1,243 miles), and 322.06 km/h (200.118 mph) over 1000 km (621 miles) . It subsequently flew 5383.6 km (3,345.225 miles) in a closed circuit. It carried a load of 2000 kg (4,409 lb) to 7810 m (25,623 ft) and 5000 kg (11,023 lb) to 6917 m (22,693 ft).[1]

A military version appeared after 15 civil aeroplanes had entered service with Ala Littoria.[4] It was developed as the Z.506B. This military version was powered by three 560 kW (750 hp) Alfa Romeo 127 RC 55 engines and entered service in 1939. This version was also a record breaker.[5] A larger version of the Z.506A was built in 1937 as the Z.509. The last CANT Z.506B was built by Piaggio in January 1943. Total production was more than 320 aircraft.[3]

2. Operational History

A CANT Z.506B forced down on Mondello beach in Sicily in November 1943.

The Airone saw more than 20 years of service.[3] The Z.506B was first used as a reconnaissance aircraft and torpedo bomber in the Spanish Civil War. When Italy entered the Second World War, on 10 June 1940, 97 aircraft were operational with two Stormi da Bombardamento Marittimo (sea bombing units) and some Squadriglia da Ricognizione Marittima. 31°Stormo B.M. "autonomo" with 22 planes was based at Cagliari-Elmas airport, in Sardinia; 35° Stormo B.M., with 25 Z.506 in Brindisi, Puglia. It was used extensively in 1940–41 in France and Greece.[6] On the outbreak of World War II, four Squadriglie for air-sea rescue missions were formed in Orbetello. These were the 612ª in Stagnoni, with aircraft marked DAMB, GORO, BUIE, CANT (the prototype) and POLA, and the 614ª in Benghazi, with DUCO, ALA, DODO and DAIM. The two other sections with two aircraft each were based in Torre del Lago and in the Aegean Sea at Leros. The latter was later transferred to Rhodes.[7]

The Z.506 saw its first action on 17 June 1940, the day after some French bombers had attacked Elmas base, killing 21 airmen and destroying some CANT Z.501s. On the evening of 17 June, four Z.506Bs from 31° Stormo attacked targets in French North Africa, each dropping two 250 kg and three 100 kg bombs.[6] The type also took part in the Battle of Calabria. In the war against Greece it was used against coastal targets and the Corinth canal. It played an important part in the conquest of many Greek islands, including Corfu, Cephalonia and Zante. Due to its vulnerability against fighters, it was restricted to use by 'recce' units (Squadriglie da Ricognizione).[5] Later in the war, it was used in maritime patrol and air-sea rescue missions. The Z.506 was often forced to land in Spain, due to engine failure, combat damage or a lack of fuel.[8] A special air-sea rescue version, the Z.506S Soccorso, was produced; it was used in small numbers by the Luftwaffe.

The air-sea rescue Z.506s suffered severe losses as many Allied pilots did not stop attacking them, even after they had spotted the red crosses. For instance, on 12 June 1942, off Malta, a Hawker Hurricane from 46 Squadron shot down a Z.506, then shot another one down which had been sent to rescue the crew of the first. Sergeant Etchells, in 249 at Malta recalled:

I shot down a Cant Z506 near Sicily, painted white, which had red crosses on its wings, and was apparently an air-rescue aircraft. Sqn Ldr Barton disapproved but the AOC approved. I did not see the red crosses on its wings at the time and do not know if it would have made any difference had I done so."[9]

A CANT Z.506 became famous, among the Allies, because it was the only plane hijacked by prisoners of war on the Western Front (it was then used by the RAF from Malta).[10][11] Occasionally the CANT Z.506s managed to shoot down the Allied aircraft that attacked them. On 7 January 1943, a "recce" seaplane from 188ª Squadriglia was attacked on the Mediterranean by two Bristol Blenheim. While pilot Maresciallo Ambrogio Serri headed for Sardinia, Armiere Pietro Bonannini with five bursts of shots from the 12.7 mm machine gun, managed to hit a first Blenheim, that ditched in the sea. Then, the second Blenheim closed on the CANT, strafing it. Bonannini was wounded but he managed to hit the enemy aircraft, that veered and fell overboard. Bonannini, during the war was awarded three Medaglie d'Argento al Valore Militare and a Medaglia di bronzo al Valor Militare. [12]

When Italy surrendered to the Allies, on 8 September 1943, about 70 CANT Z.506s were still in service with the Italian Air Force.[13] About 30 surviving Z.506S were assimilated into Allied forces[3] and served with the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force . The Germans soon captured the Z.506s and started using them in Italy, Germany, France, Yugoslavia and even on Greek islands and in Poland.[13] The Cants of 171ª Squadriglia kept on operating air/sea rescue and patrol missions from the military port of Toulon, with mixed Italian/German crews. Some Z.506s captured by Germans, flown by Italian volunteer crews, operated in 1944 on the Baltic sea, patrolling the area around Peenemünde.[14] Some examples survived in postwar service until 1959.

3. Variants

Prototype, one built.
Civil version
Military version, 314 built.
Civil version, 38 built.[15]
Air-sea rescue version
Z.506 Landplane
One aircraft was converted to a landplane for an attempt by Mario Stoppani on an endurance record. It did not take place due to bad weather.
A larger and heavier version of the Z.506B, three built.

4. Operators



  • Luftwaffe (captured)
Kingdom of Italy


  • Ala Littoria
  • Regia Aeronautica
  • Regia Marina
  • Aviazione Legionaria
  • Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force


  • Polish Air Force received 1 aircraft out of six ordered. This was destroyed during the German Invasion of Poland.[16]
Template:Country data Nationalist Spain – Nationalist Forces


  • Spanish Nationalist Air Force
United Kingdom


  • Royal Air Force captured one aircraft which was briefly operated from Malta


  • Italian Air Force operated 37 aircraft until 1960 [17][18]
  • Aviazione Navale Italiana

5. Survivors

The only surviving CANT is a model Z.506 B, produced in 1941. Faithfully restored, it belongs to the 15th lot and has the construction number MM.45425. It was tested by Nicolò Lana on December 19, 1941, and registered with the number 84-4. It was delivered on January 12, 1942, and assigned to the 186ª Squadriglia, based in Agusta, Sicily, and carried out its first mission on January 12, 1942. It is exhibited at the Italian Air Force Museum (Museo Storico dell'Aeronautica), in Vigna di Valle, near Bracciano, north of Rome.[19]

6. Specifications (Z.506B Series XII)

Data from The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II[20], [21]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 5
  • Length: 19.24 m (63 ft 1 in)
  • Wingspan: 26.5 m (86 ft 11 in)
  • Height: 7.45 m (24 ft 5 in)
  • Wing area: 86.26 m2 (928.5 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 8,750 kg (19,290 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 12,705 kg (28,010 lb)
  • Powerplant: 3 × Alfa Romeo 126 R.C.34 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines, 560 kW (750 hp) each
  • Propellers: 3-bladed variable-pitch propellers


  • Maximum speed: 350 km/h (220 mph, 190 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 299 km/h (186 mph, 161 kn)
  • Range: 1,998 km (1,241 mi, 1,079 nmi) with a 950 kg (2,095 lb) bomb load
  • Endurance: 6 hours 26 minutes
  • Service ceiling: 7,000 m (23,000 ft)
  • Time to altitude: 3,999 m (13,120 ft) in 20 minutes


  • Guns: ** 1 × 12.7 mm (0.50 in) Isotta Fraschini-Scotti machine gun in a Caproni-Lancia Delta E dorsal turret
    • 3 × 7.7 mm (0.303 in) machine guns
  • Bombs: ** 1,200 kg (2,645 lb) of general ordnance or
    • 1 × 816 kg (1,800 lb) torpedo


  1. Mondey 1996, p. 31.
  2. De Marchi 1994, p. 25.
  3. Angelucci and Matricardi 1978, p. 195.
  4. Angelucci and Matricardi 1978, p. 194.
  5. Bignozzi, p. 9.
  6. De Marchi 1994, p. 13.
  7. De Marchi 1994, p. 18.
  8. De Marchi 1994, p. 16.
  9. Cull 2004, pp. 10–11.
  10. Gunston 1984, p. 216.
  11. Mikhail Devyatayev hijacked a Heinkel He 111 on the Eastern Front
  12. De Marchi 1994, pp. 16-17.
  13. De Marchi 1994, p. 20.
  14. De Marchi 1994, p. 21.
  15. "Sito in fase di allestimento".,81.html. 
  16. Green 1962, p. 102.
  17. aeroflight
  18. Official website Aeronautica Militare
  19. De Marchi 1994, p. 24.
  20. Bishop, Chris, ed (1998). The encyclopedia of weapons of World War II. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0-7607-1022-8. 
  21. Thompson, Jonathon W. (1963). Italian Civil and Military Aircraft 1930–1945. USA: Aero Publishers Inc.. pp. 55–60. ISBN 0-8168-6500-0. 
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