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Italy - Early Aviation Industry

The historical development of Italian aviation covers the accumulated results of aeronautical research and experimentation from the earliest times to the invention of practical airships and airplanes. In most cases, the seventeenth-century titles are aeronautical only in the sense that they contain chapters on the possibility of flight, though they are important for the history of science in general. In this category, Prodromo; overo, Saggio di alcune inventioni nuove premesso alVarte maestra (Brescia, 1670) by the Jesuit Francesco Lana Terzi is especially significant for the chapter on a flying boat and the accompanying copperplate engraving, which constitute the first properly formulated proposal for a lighter-than-air craft. The author envisaged a boat-shaped car which would be lifted into the air by means of the ascensive power of four large hollow globes of very thin copper from which the air had been extracted and which, weighing less than the air they displaced, would consequendy float.

Lana Terzi's contemporary, Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, professor at the College of San Pantaleo degli Scolopi at Rome, is represented by the critical treatise De motu animalium (1st ed., 2 vols., Rome, 1680-81). Borelli in this work contributed to the early literature of aeronautics with a lengthy discussion of the mechanical basis of bird flight in which he concluded that flapping-wing flight by man is impossible because his pectoral muscles are much less powerful in proportion to his total weight than is true of the anatomy of birds: "Est impossible, ut homines propriis viribus artificiose volare possint."

In 1909, Wilbur Wright was invited to Rome and through this visit gave practical aviation in Italy its start. Shortly after his arrival from France on April 1, he began the training of Lieutenants Savoia (Army) and Mario Calderara (Navy), the latter gaining the distinction of being the first Italian to make a solo flight. Wilbur's performance caused great excitement and he was everywhere received with acclaim. King Victor Emmanuel honored him by an unexpected visit to the field to watch the flights and appeared with a folding camera slung over his shoulder like any other tourist.

Cesare Redaelli's Iniziando Mussolini alle vie del cielo (Milan, 1933) and L'aviazione negli scritti e nella parola del Duce were issued by the Ministero dell'Aeronautica (Rome, 1937). In his interesting memoirs Redaelli, who taught Mussolini to fly in 1919, tells how Mussolini's zest for flying was an expression of the vigor and enthusiasm of the growing Fascist movement. The compilation of Mussolini's writings, messages, and addresses covers the period 1909 to 1937 and records many notable events in the history of Italian aviation.

In the field of aeronautical science and research, world renown was gained by a number of Italians among whom perhaps the best known is Gaetano Arturo Crocco, professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Rome, a member of the Papal Academy, Inspector-General of the Air Force Engineering Corps, and associate member of numerous foreign academies and research institutes. He is credited with having reached a theoretical solution of the problem of lateral stability as early as 1903 independently of, but on the same general principle as, the Wright brothers. Lt. Gen. Alessandro Guidoni, who organized the Italian aircraft industry and created the Aeronautical Engineers Corps. The Aeronautical Research and Test Center of Montecelio, which was opened on April 27, 1935, and was one of the best equipped laboratories in Europe at the time, was named for him.

In the early 1920s, unlike many other countries, the Italian Government took a surprisingly limited interest in the development of civil aviation. Whereas after the war, in other countries, the Governments had done all that was possible in order to encourage the establishment of aerial lines and in keeping alive the aircraft manufacturing industry. In Italy, due to either or both the lack of funds in the budget to devote to aeronautics and the lack of a well defined program in aeronautics, since the war the burden of keeping alive aeronautics in Italy was thrown entirely on the shoulders of aircraft manufacturers. Under the circumstances, it was rather remarkable what has been done by them, with practically no orders from the Government and thrown on their own resources for finding markets for their products.

Aircraft manufacturers in Italy devoted all their efforts since the war in creating a demand for Italian aircraft abroad, and the few good firms that were still in existence were finding that their efforts were meeting with a good success. The skill of the Italian workers, the ability of Italian aeronautical engineers, which was of a high order of excellence, and the comparatively low cost of labor in Italy, due to the exchange situation, made it easy for Italian aircraft manufacturers to sell their products abroad and to keep from disbanding at least the nucleus of their manufacturing and designing organization, which during the war was composed of almost 500,000 men.

The most important firms which were still in the market as aircraft manufacturers were: the Ansaldo, the Caproni, the Breda, the Fiat, the Macchi and the Savoia. The last two having particularly specialized in the design and construction of seaplanes and hydroplanes, which can compete with similar construction made by other nations, some of their types being distinctly superior to corresponding types built by other nations. These two firms were doing very good export business and were supplying hydroplanes to foreign navies besides the Italian Navy.

The Macchi Co. was one of the most expert seaplane construction companies in the world. The design, craftsmanship, and performance of their product were excellent. By 1922 the engineers of the Macchi Co. were studying a new, birnotored. torpedo-carrying seaplane for the Italian Navy. No definite information could be secured in reference to this model other than it would have the conventional Warren wing truss used by the Macchi Co., and the parabolic, concave V bottom that characterizes all their machines. The motor mount will be of the truss type and it will have a noso radiator. Their latest machine was the Macchi 19, or M-19, as it is familiarly called. This was a biplane seaplane powered with a 700 Fiat motor. The US Navy purchased some of this type, which were claimed to be very economical for keeping the pilots in flying trim. The Macchi Co. was very well equipped to carry out flying boat construction and is specially noted for their hull construction.

The Ansaldo Company built a number of aeroplanes for passenger service of a very good design and well adapted for such service. The Fiat Company built the best wooden aeroplane for commercial purposs, which has been flown so far. This machine was designed and constructed by Rosateli, (one of the most genial aircraft designers), for making the flight across the Atlantic, which, however was never attempted. The Fiat Company also designed two aeroplanes, one for six and the other for ten passengers and a three unit power plant with a single propeller. The Caproni firm has built last year, a Giant aeroplane for 100 passengers, which, however, during the trial test, was partially smashed up and was later reconstructed.

In Germany, the Nazis held power from 1933 to 1945. Their allies included Italy, which was ruled by the dictator Benito Mussolini. With his strong encouragement, Italy built on earlier achievements and became a significant power in the world of aviation.

With a population of more than 40 million during the 1930s, Italy had a well-developed aviation industry that numbered some 18 companies, along with other firms that built engines. The planebuilders included Fiat, which became renowned for its motorcars. Leaders in the industry included the firm of Savoia-Marchetti, which had been formed in 1915. It took its name from Umberto Savoia, a founder of the company and one of Italy's earliest aviators, having taken his first flying lesson from Wilbur Wright, and from the chief designer Alessandro Marchetti, who came to the company with a design for a high-speed biplane.

Italy had always been very active in dirigible construction. The Italian dirigible (of which the "Roma," was destroyed) was the semi-rigid type. Dirigibles of this type had been made at the "Royal Aircraft Establishment" in Rome, operated by the Italian Government directly, and dirigibles and balloons both for the Italian Government and foreign Governments have been made there. There is now under consideration by the Italian Government, a project for selling the "Royal Aircraft Establishment" to a civilian syndicate and let the syndicate take care of the construction of Italian dirigibles.

Contrary to what the French Government is doing in establishing hydroplane bases in the Mediterranean, very little is done in Italy in this direction, in spite of the fact that the geographical location of Italy in the middle of the Mediterranean, would make it extremely expedient to develop and to maintain a large number of hydroplane bases. The hydroplane port service is operated by the Italian Navy only. Only in Naples, Taranto and Brindisi, the service is well organized.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:22:36 ZULU