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MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

AgustaWestland


The beginnings (1907-1929)


Giovanni Agusta was born in Parma in 1879 to a family of Sicilian origin which had acquired strong skills in aviation mechanics in France and Belgium, countries which, at the time, were on the forefront of the rising aviation industry. In 1907 he designed a biplane called the "Ag1", which he began to build in a small workshop in Capua. Testing was carried out on the 14th and 15th of February 1910 in Capua's Piazza d'Armi: being towed by a car, the biplane eventually got off the ground after several attempts and soared for about seventy meters. The first flight was successful, but additional funding was needed for the development of the project, which included equipping the Ag1 with an engine of adequate power, and was difficult to come by.
In 1912, Giovanni Agusta volunteered for the Italo-Turkish war in Libya. A year later, he was hired at the Caproni Factories in Vizzola Ticino (a company active since 1910) as an inspector in charge of delivering bombers to the front, and later moved with his family to Gallarate. During the First World War, Giovanni maintained his job at Caproni, where he was appointed technical-administrative director, and later built on his technical and business skills by opening a number of workshops for equipment repairs and maintenance (in Libya and Foggia).
His decisive move, however, was an agreement with the Top leadership of aerospace engineering and construction for the use of the aircraft hangars and runway at the old Cascina Costa airfield in Samarate, which had recently been transformed into a storage depot. It was here that, in 1923, Giovanni founded the company "Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta", which initially employed nearly forty workers.
Augusta passed away in 1927, leaving the company to his four sons (Domenico, Vincenzo, Mario and Corrado), all of whom were still quite young, as well as his wife, Giuseppina Turretta, who temporarily assumed control.

 

World War II and the post-war period (1930-1952)


Giovanni Agusta's premature death implied the abandonment of the project to build a monoplane for touristic use (the Ag2), a prototype of which had already been test flown in 1927 and exhibited at the Milan Air Show. The normal activities of repairing and modifying existing equipment therefore continued, although there was still work to be had in creating new models and prototypes.
From the mid 1930s up until 1943, the Agusta workshops were licensed to produce monoplanes and biplanes for training purposes on behalf of the Royal Air Force.
The production requirements led to an increase in the number of workers, which, in 1938, exceeded 800 units, and to the opening of additional workshops in Albania (in Tirana) in 1940. Meanwhile, Giovanni Agusta's sons were becoming increasingly active within the company, taking on roles of responsibility. The ban on aircraft manufacturing imposed upon Italy following the Second World War, combined with the relative crisis in the sector caused by the end of the war itself, led the Agusta family to diversify its business.
This resulted in the establishment of Meccanica Verghera (MV), which was managed by Agusta's eldest son Domenico, a company that produced racing motorcycles and scooters up until 1976 and even won 76 world titles.
When the bans were lifted following the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, Agusta began reinvesting in its original activities.
In 1951, Domenico Agusta hired Filippo Zappata, an engineer and design expert from Breda, and placed him in charge of the technical department. The company proceeded to develop new models, but the big change came with the signing of an agreement with the American company Bell, in May of 1952, for the licensed construction of the Bell 47 Helicopter for the European market.

 

Helicopter development (1953-1970)


The agreement with Bell pushed the Agusta company to transform itself into a joint-stock company in 1953. Giuseppina Turretta passed away in 1954, followed by Vincenzo Agusta in 1958; Domenico Agusta, along with his brothers Corrado and Mario, remained at the helm of the company.
A tireless worker, Domenico enjoyed great authority over his employees and surrounded himself with extremely capable men. The technical department, which employed 60 people, was strengthened with the expansion of the business and the company was transformed into an innovative working environment dedicated to constantly researching new design solutions.
In 1964, the company finalized the Ag 101, a heavy class helicopter of Italian conception and design. Agusta's work was well-known and appreciated throughout the world: over 600 civilian and military helicopters had been produced for Italian and European customers by the end of the 1960s. Even from the early 1960s, the number of workers exceeded 700. In 1967, "Elicotteri Meridionali" was inaugurated in Frosinone, a company which had been active since 1963, while new models continued to be produced under license from Bell. Furthermore, in 1968, the year in which Mario Agusta died, a trade agreement was struck with the American company Sikorsky for the construction of SH-3D and S61 helicopters.
In 1969, Agusta took over Società Idrovolanti Alta Italia (SIAI) Marchetti, a company that had been founded in Milan in 1915 and had production facilities in Sesto Calende.
The A109 Hirundo, a high-performance twin-engine helicopter developed by engineers Bruno Lovera and Paolo Bellavita, was designed around this same time. The model went into production in 1973 and went on to have great success on an international level.

 

From Efim to Agusta Westland (1971-2000)


In February of 1971, Domenico Agusta passed away and was succeeded by his brother Corrado. The family found itself having to liquidate the heirs of the deceased brothers, who were not interested in the company, at a time of increasing financial need and maximum productive effort, above all due to the launch of the A109. In 1973, the Agusta family decided to sell 51% of the company shares to Efim, which in the meantime had grown (employing more than 3,000 workers). The State agency, which was considered to be of strategic value to the helicopter industry, promoted the creation of an aerospace complex made up of several companies in the industry (Agusta, Caproni, Siai-Marchetti and others), to be acquired and consolidated within Agusta Group. Subsidiaries and service stations were opened all around the world and pre-existing collaboration efforts intensified with Westland, a British company founded in 1915. At the same time, the historic agreement with Bell moved forward and partnerships were formed with other foreign producers in order to develop new models. Following Corrado Agusta's retirement, the group faced a serious financial crisis, from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, due to its own structure: 12 uncoordinated, unspecialized and oversized production facilities (with more than 9,000 employees). In 1992, an important restructuring process was begun, based on a plan designed by engineer Amedeo Capolaretti, and was implemented in substantial compliance with union demands. It was primarily intended to focus the company on its core business of helicopter design and construction, to gradually close 7 production facilities (laying off 4,000 workers) and to provide for the functional specialization of the remaining ones. In the meantime, a government legislative decree put Efim in liquidation and Agusta became part of Finmeccanica which, in the year 2000, held a joint venture with Gkn, the owner of Westland. This led to the establishment of AgustaWestland, Europe's leading helicopter group, of which Amedeo Capolaretti was appointed managing director and later president in 2005.

 

Recent developments (2001-2009)


AgustaWestland has inherited and strengthened a "helicopter system" which is structured upon a series of operational facilities, each of which handles a single phase of the production cycle, and 3 centres dedicated to final assembly (one in Italy, in Vergiate, and the other two in Great Britain and the United States). A company network that allocates a significant portion of its revenues (between 10% and 15%) to R&S investments, placing it at the apex of worldwide leadership.
In 2004, Finmeccanica purchased AgustaWestland's entire share package, becoming the company's sole proprietor. The following year, Team US101, comprised of Lockheed Martin, Agusta Westland and Bell, achieved a particularly sought after goal and won a contract to supply the White House with 23 US101 Marine One helicopters. Other international successes followed, such as major supplies to the Japanese navy, to the Turkish army, and to Qatar, while penetration into major markets in India, China and Russia continued to grow. AgustaWestland also participates in the European research program "Clean Sky" for the development of environmentally sustainable air transport. In 2009, Agusta purchased the Polish company Pzl-Swidnik, an active producer of helicopters and airframes, which allowed it to incorporate new technologies and to expand its presence to new markets.
AgustaWestland sells military and civilian helicopters worldwide, to both public and private entities and for various needs. As a Large global Italian company, led by Managing Director Giuseppe Orsi since 2004, AgustaWestland continues to be perceived as an expression of excellence and creativity throughout the Varese area, the so-called "province with wings".
Bearing witness to this are the company's relationships with the University of Varese and the University of Milan for research development, as well as the 15,000 people who participated in Agusta's hundredth birthday celebration in September of 2007. Today, Agusta's memory is preserved at the Museo Agusta in Cascina Costa, built and sustained by the company's alumni workers association.