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1909 - 1915

The birth of the Torinese aircraft industry

The only example of the Fuseri-Miller ortho-copter. Despite the quality of the photo, the curiously absurd complexity of the machine designed by the pharmacist from Fossano can be clearly seen

Franz Miller

Franz Miller Officine Miller poster

Miller's

The Sicilian-born engineer Franz Miller is credited with the distinction of founding the first Italian “Factory for the Production of Flying Machines”. The enterprise was set up in 1909, and had its premises at Number 9, Via Legnano, Turin. 

To quote from the book “How Aviation began in Italy” by Pietro GASCO:

“Dr. Fuseri, a pharmacist from Fossano, near Cuneo, designed and supervised the building of a type of ornithopter (a flapping wing aircraft) which was subsequently ’test-flown in the town square. On its first attempt, it rose almost one metre”.

but was unable to repeat the performance in later attempts.

“Fuseri had heard that Miller intended to open a ’Flying Machine Factory’ in Turin, so immediately set off for Turin with his drawings and enthusiastically outlined his project to Miller, who agreed to becom­­e one of four partners in the venture to build the aircraft and its engine. I myself was also persuaded to participate; the four of us each put in 100 lire to start the Company…“

Miller's The first aircraft to be constructed was Fuseri's ornithopter. This flapping, multi-wing machine was powered by a MILLER 100 HP engine driving a propeller through a vertical shaft. The aircraft never managed to fly. 

However insignificant this event might seem, it is none-the-less the earliest known instance of anyone com­missioning the building of an aircraft, and can in fact be considered as the birth of the Italian aeronautical industry for heavier-than-air flight.

Putting FUSERI’s curious aircraft behind him, Miller successfully constructed another aeroplane (called helicoplane) and its engine on behalf of the Bolognese designer and draftsman Mario Cobianchi.

He then went on to build the “Aerocurvo” designed by the Engineer Ponzelli. This aircraft, the first Italian monoplane to fly, took part in the air race in Brescia in 1909, piloted by that pioneer and benefactor of aviation, Baron Leonino Da Zara of Bovolenta (a town near Padua).
He also built the dirigible designeb by Celestino Usuelli.

Between 1909 and 1914, in addition to that of the previously mentioned Miller's entreprise, a number of new aircraft construction companies sprang up. Among those we find:

Chiribiri poster Antonio Chiribiri, Miller’s head mechanic, with a Miller radial engine of 35HP. The propeller is attached directly to the crankshaft Chiribiri logo

 

  • Fabbrica Torinese Velivoli Chiribiri in via Don Bosco 68 and via Lamarmora 28, founded by Antonio Chiribiri, a Venetian, formerly a director of Miller’s
  • Bertolotti, in corso Oporto (today corso Matteotti) n.53, who developed an aircraft with a two-cylinder air-cooled 18HP engine which flew successfully, but never got past the prototype stage
  • Ferrero Tiboldo who designed a monoplane;
  • the Aluffi & C. factory which also designed a monoplane;

Prototype of Bruno & Geninatti Asteria 2

 

  • SIT posterBruno & Geninatti (via Roma 30) who built a beautiful but complex and heavy monoplane;
  • The Officine Meccaniche Subalpine of Levi e Vernetti in via Moncalvo 7 and 8;
  • The Kind Paolo & C. Ing. with offices in corso Dante 38 and a workshop in via Ormea 142; 
  • Asteria founded by the engineers Darbesio and Origoni, initially at premises in Via Salbertrand 12, then later at Mirafiori airfield. It is worth mentioning that the Asteria 2 biplane, designed by Darbesio, was the first aircraft of Italian design and construction to take part in wartime activities. A number of these were sent to Benghazi in 1912 during the Italo-Turkish conflict.
  • SIT (initially standing for “Società Italiana Torinese”, then later changed to “Società Italiana Transaerea”) which started up in 1912 with mainly French capital from Blériot, plus financing from Engeneer Q. Triaca, Gatti Goria, the Manissero brothers and various others. The factory, in Corso Peschiera 251, had a floor area of around 4000 sq metres and initially began building Farman, Voisin and Blériot aircraft under licence. From 1914 it also began to build the Savoia-Pomillo SP2 under licence from FIAT-SIA. It was with a Blériot 80 that the Frenchman Perreyon, one of the SIT pilots, achived the first Turin-Rome-Turin in the same day (see also the “Mirafiori Airfield”) which generated a wave of enthusiasm.
  • SIA logoSIA (Società Italiana Aviazione – Italian Aviation Company), founded specifically by the FIAT (car) Company to produce aircraft. It began by producing the Farman 5B biplane and then the Savoia-Pomillio SP2 under licence at Mirafiori.
  • Maffei ing. G.A. (via Sacchi 28 bis)
  • Perrino Pier Alfonso (via Schina 8)
  • Navone C. (via Superga 18)
  • Maccagno A. (via Baretti 28)
  • Engineer MARTINO who designed a “biplano quadricellare” (4-cell biplane) made from two biplane elements in tandem and powered by an engine designed by Martino himself. It was constructed in the workshops of an evening school in Via Ormea. The test flight took place in 1909, but with little success.

  • BRUNO FOCO who designed an experimental biplance in 1909, although it was too heavy to fly. A second proptotype, despite being lighter, was equally unsuccessful.

SIT licence-built Blériot XI. Geo Chávez used a similar land-based model to make the first flight across the Alps (Briga, Switzerland to Domodossola, Italy) on the 23rd of September 1910 Farman 5B. This was the first aircraft built by FIAT under licence from Farman in 1914

 

Between 1908 and the start of the First World War a number of engine manufacturers were active

  • FIAT (corso Dante 30-35) which in 1907 began designing an experimental 3 litre engine for aircraft use called the SA 8/75. This developed 50 HP at 2000 rpm. The production of this engine began in 1908, in the newly formed FIAT AVIO (which in 2008 celebrated its centenary) and was presented at the December 1908 Aeronautical Exposition in Paris. Many different engines followed this one, culminating in the FIAT A10 of 1914, the first mass-produced aircraft engine (more than 1000 were built). As previously mentioned it was only in 1914 that FIAT began to produce aircraft under licence, via the S.I.A

An SA 8/75 3-litre engine, the first aircraft engine produced  by FIATFIAT A12 engine, the most popular of the Italian engines during the First World WarSPA poster

 

  • S.P.A. (Soc. Ligure Piemontese Automobili) of Corso Ferrucci 122, founded in 1906 to build car engines was one of the first Italian factories to build engines for use in the air, first for dirigibles (Italia, Ausonia, etc.) and then for aeroplanes. Among other things, they built the 4-cylinder 75HP engine used by Faccioli for his first flight of 13th Jan 1909; 
    The SPA 6A engine, of which some 3.000 were produced, was installed in the celebrated SVA (Savoia, Verduzio, Ansaldo) biplane, protagonist of D'Annunzio famous raid on Vienna in 1918 and the Rome-Tokyo flight by Arturo Ferrarin in 1920, plus numerous aeronautical exploits throughout the world in the immediate post-war years. 

Itala 65 hp engine

L.U.C.T. 80 hp rotative engineThe SIMGER - Società Italiana Motori Gnome e Rhone factory

 

  • ITALA another Torinese auto company, (perhaps most remembered for the car which won the epic 1907 Peking-Paris overland race) developed a water-cooled 65 HP engine in 1909 in corso Orbassano, derived from a suitably lightened car engine. This was installed in a Voisin biplane which took part in the circuit racing at Rheims flown by the Frenchman Fournier.
    The Itala 65 HP was thus almost certainly the first Italian aircraft engine installed in a foreign aircraft. During the years of the Great War, Itala licence-built the 150, 180, 200 and 220 HP Hispano-Suiza engines mounted in the SPAD (Societé Pour les Avions Deperdussin) fighters used by almost all the Allied Air Aces, including that of the renowned Italian ace Francesco Baracca;
  • L.U.C.T. (Ladetto, Ubertalli, Cavalchini - Torino). Late in 1911, L.U.C.T. designed an innovative 7-cylinder 50 HP rotary engine. The engine was actually built in 1912 in the workshop in Via Cavalli. It was installed in the Farman piloted by Mario Cobianchi which set up the Italian duration record of 2 hours, 18 minutes and 40 seconds on the 16th of August 1912 at Mirafiori
  • S.I.M.G.E.R. (Soc. Italiana Motori Gnome e Rhone) of Engineer Maffei. This factory, in strada Venaria 73, produced Gnome engines under licence;
  • S.C.A.T. (Soc. Ceirano Automobili Torino). During the war, they produced under licence a number of 150, 180, 200 and 220 HP Hispano-Suiza engines for SPAD
  • AQUILA of engineer Annovazzi produced the 130 HP Salmson engines under licence for use in the SIT-Voisin and the Saml-Aviatik;
  • Sindacato motori del Po presented a most original rotary 6-cylinder two-stroke Garuffa engine in 1914
  • Diatto (Soc. an. Automobili Diatto) essentially a car company, during the period 1917-18 produced about 100 Isotta Fraschini V6 aircraft engines and a few 8-cylinder Bugatti engines under licence;

Lancia type 4 engine Caproni Ca.38, whit 250 HP Lancia type 4 engine during test at Taliedo

 

  • Lancia (via Monginevro 101) which apart from a few one-off prototypes, also produced one single type of 250 HP 12-cylinder water-cooled engine from 1915 onwards. There were installed in number of Caproni aircraft.
  • Cigala, Barberis e Ruva (via Bellini 3).
  • Fabbrica Motori per Aviazione Fea e Visconti (via Pinelli 6).

The Brescia Aircraft Circuit

Brescia The Brescia aircraft circuit. From top to bottom we can distinguish a Wright, a Farman, an Antoniette and another FarmanSeptember 1909. Leonino Da Zara’s accident which prevented him from racing at the Brescia circuit September 1909. Leonino Da Zara in a Miller “Aereocurvo” at the Brescia circuit

 

September 1909. Leblanc at the Brescia circuit

The official baptism of European aviation is usually considered to be that of the “Rheims Aviation Competition”, held between the 22nd and the 28th of August 1909.

Just a few days later, from the 8th to the 20th of September, the first international air circuit in Italy was held at Montichiari (Brescia). The best pilots of the time took part, but of the many Italian constructors and designers then operating (e.g. Frassinetti of Parma, Caproni of Milan, Gemma of Novara, Majoli of Naples, Radici of Milan, Antoni of Parma etc), only three ventured to bring their creations to such a significant event: Faccioli, with his Faccioli 2, (piloted by Mario Faccioli), Miller, with his “Aerocurvo” piloted by Leonino Da Zara and the Cobianchi-Miller piloted by Mario Cobianchi. For various reasons, none of them managed to get airborne.

Other Italians piloting foreign-designed or foreign-built aircraft had more success. Worthy of mention are Alessandro Cagno and Alessandro Anzani with a Voisin-Avis and Mario Calderara who won two races with a Wright. The press reported that amongst the celebrities there to watch the event were Gabriele D'Annunzio, Giacomo Puccini, Franz Kafka, Arturo Toscanini and Guglielmo Marconi.

The 1st Italian Aviation Exposition was held in Milan in November 1909, in the course of which FIAT presented not only the previously-mentioned FIAT SA/75 of 50/60 HP aircraft engine, but also the FIAT S53A engine of 65/80 HP for airships. These had already been chosen for the Forlanini dirigible and it was a more powerful version of this engine which was used to drive the Italian military type “P” (piccolo) dirigibles used in the Great War.

Organized by the S.A.T., Turin’s first International Exposition of Aerial Locomotion took place the 8th of April 1910. The Exposition was held in conjunction with the automobile show, was considerably bigger and much more successful than the one in Milan the previous year.
In parallel with this, from 10th to 19th April, the first "National Congress of airborne Locomotion" took place, and enjoyed considerable success thank to the partecipation of most of the major luminaries in the tecnical, legal and sporting disciplines. 

Meeting over Mirafiori Airfield in 1910

 

Turin - Capital of studies of aeronautacal physiology

In those days, Italy, and in particular Turin, had taken the lead in the study of the physiology of flying and the related aptitude tests for the selection of future pilots.
This was mainly due to the fact that towards the end of the 19th Century, an important and internationally recognised Institute of Physiology had been established by Jacob Moleschott (1822-1893). This was successively developed by Angelo Mosso (1846-1901) and Amedeo Herlitska (1872-1949).

  • Jakob Moleschott was born in Hertogenbosch, Holland, on the 9th of August 1822, and died in Rome on the 20th of May 1893. He began his studies in Holland before transferring to the Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University in Germany. In 1856 he was teaching Physiology at the University of Zurich, and it was here that he met Francesco De Sanctis, who was a professor in Turin, and conducted a class in Italian Literature at the Zurich Polytechnic. In 1891, when De Sanctis became Minister of Education, Moleschott was nominated as Professor of Physiology at Turin.
    His circle comprised a large number of collaborators, amongst whom was Angelo Mosso.
    In 1878 he was appointed as Professor of Physiology at the University of Rome, leaving his position as Professor of Physiology in Turin to Angelo Mosso.
    He became a member of the Senior Board of Education and Senator of the Kingdom of Italy. 

  • The physiologist Angelo Mosso (Turin 1846 – 1910) is undoubtedly the father of Italian Aviation Medicine.
    He graduated from the University of Turin on the 25th of July 1870 and took up the study of physiology.
    Angelo MossoHe won a place for a specialization course in Florence, after which he joined the laboratory run by Carl Ludwig, the illustrious physiologist from Lypsia.
    Here he became familiar with the method of recording movement by means of rotating cylinders and introduced it in Italy, making ample use of the technique. In the meantime, he began to publish details of his work of a certain level, and began a period of collaboration with Jakob Moleschott.
    He began to study hypobaric effects in a depressurising chamber and came up with the idea of building a laboratory on Monte Rosa, conducting texts and experiments at the “Margherita” Refuge - tests which were later perfected in the large Col d’Olen Institute in 1907.
    Mosso demonstrated his worth with a notable quantity of important researches – on brain movement, on respiration, on movements of veins and the heart, on muscular contraction, on respiration and the exchange of gases and on the regulatory function of CO2 respiration on the body.
    In 1878, when Moleschott was transferred to Rome, he acceded to the Chair of Physiology in Turin. Very soon, the Institute of Physiology of Turin became the centre of attention, gaining the esteem of physiologists all over the world.
    Mosso is universally recognised as being the precursor of Aeronautical and Aerospace Medicine.
     
  • Amedeo Herlitzka – Italian physiologist (Trieste 1872 – Torino 1949); Professor of Physiological Chemistry in 1909, succeeded Angelo Mosso as Head of the Physological department in 1910.
    During the First World War, he set up an Institute for the physiological testing of aviators, and directed this until 1924. He also became the Director of the Mosso Institute on Monte Rosa.
    A number of inportant works on aeronautical and industrial physiology are attributed to him.
    In Italy, Amedeo Herlitska, in collaboration with Fr. Agostino Gemelli, Director of the Institute of Physiology of Milan, set the foundations of Applied Physiology for the aptitude testing of pilots - foundations which became accepted internationally. Herlitzka’s activity, together with that of Fr. Agostino Gemelli, contributed significantly to the recognition of Italy, during the First World War and for the decades which followed, of an undiscussed leadership in the study of aviation physiology.

Modesto PanettiIn 1912, at the Turin Polytechnic University, Professor Modesto Panetti founded the Aeronautical Laboratory in the buildings beside the Valentino Castle.
A number of years later (1927), Panetti became a Board Member of the Aero Club when Edoardo Agnelli was Vice president to Count Carlo Nicolis di Robilant. Among other things, Panetti was a member of the “Accademia dei Lincei”, President of the Turin Academy of Science, Senator of the Republic from 1948 to 1953 and Minister of Communication in the Pella government of 1953.

However, this was not the only Piedmontese site for aeronautical activities; the following are also worthy of note:

  • in 1909 the Gemma Brothers of Novara developed their project for an “aerocurvo”, without, however, a great deal of success.

Gabardini school at Cameri, showing a 2-seater Cevasco-Gabardini float-plane

 

Gabardini SPS taxying simulatorPoster celebrating Cevasco's flight between Milan - Turin - Genoa - MilanFIAT CANSA logo

 

  • Giuseppe Gabardini originally from Turin, but resident in France from the beginning of the Century, in 1909 successfully flew his monoplane first in Montecarlo (Monaco) and then in Antibes. Returning to Italy in 1912, he set up a factory in Cameri to produce his monoplane “Gabarda” (both in land and seaplane versions) which enjoyed considerable success. During the Great War, the company employed more than 1100 workers.
    On the 27th of July 1914, a “Gabarda” (piloted by Landini, with Prof. Lampugnani as a passenger) took off from Cameri and overflew Monte Rosa (4300 metres), to land in Viege, Switzerland. 
    Unfortunately for Gabardini, this notable event received little publicity since on the following day, Austria declared war on Serbia, initiating the First World War, with all the tragic consequences which followed.
    At the end of the War, the Gabardini Company changed its name to “C.A.N.S.A.” (Costruzioni Aeronautiche Novaresi S.A.) and was later taken over by FIAT, becoming known as FIAT-CANSA.

 

The construction of an AVIS-Voisin at the AVIS factory at CameriThe 160 HP Bobba piloted by Cesare Bobba during the military competition of 1913

 

  • In October 1909, once again at Cameri, two Engin­eers, the Frenchman Clovis THOUVENOT and the Italian Gino GALLI, with the technical collaboration of the Turinese car champion Alessandro Umberto CAGNO, set up the AVIS company (Atelier Voisin Italie Septentrionale) to build Voisin aircraft under licence. Voisin had been producing aircraft since 1906.
  • Bobba company of Casale Monferrato, won a competition in 1913 for military aeroplanes with two monoplanes of 80 and 160 HP.

The Mirafiori Airfield

 

Mirafiori Airfield

 

The SIA factory at Mirafiori with a line of SIA 7b’S. The aircraft at far left is a SIA 14b

 

In 1910, on the initiative of the S.A.T. (i.e. the future Aero Club Torino) and its tireless President, Carlo Montù, construction of the first airfield in Turin began at Mirafiori on the site of the present-day Colonnetti Park. In only a short time it would become the most important airfield in Italy. 

The site, some 300,000 sq. metres in area, was officially inaugurated during an “Aircraft Week” from the 18th to the 25th of June 1911 as part of the celebrations for the 50th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy, Demonstrations were given by aircraft from Chiribiri, Faccioli, Asteria and S.P.A. together with a variety of French aircraft such as Farman, Blériot and others.

The hangar-workshops of both Faccioli and Asteria were among the first to open, Mirafiori providing ideal conditions for conducting all their test flights. At the end of 1911, the “Asteria 2”, the first aircraft of Italian construction bought by the Italian Army, was test-flown here.

Le scuole di volo

In the years immediately preceding the First World War, the fields at Mirafiori, Venaria Reale and San Francesco al Campo (not far from the present-day Caselle airport) took on the role of flying schools catering for the many intrepid would-be aircraft pilots.
The very first pilot’s licences in the world were instituted by the Aero Club de France. Brevet n. 1 was awarded to Louis Blériot on the 7th of January 1909. Wilbur and Orville Wright, although undoubtedly more deserving of such recognition, but not being French were issued with brevets 14 and 15 only in November of that same year. 

The biggest flying school in the world – 200 aircraft, 1500 pilots qualified during the war Commemorative stamp  - first Italian pilot’s licence, awarded to Lt. Mario Calderara in 1909

 

The first civil “brevet” in Italy was awarded in September 1909 to Lt. Pilot Mario Calderara from Verona. He had learned to fly in April 1909 at Centocelle (Roma) with a Wright Flyer 4. The “brevet” was awarded by the French Licencing Commission who had come to watch the races at the air circuit of Montichiari (Brescia) where Calderara came first in two major races. The actual date of his licence is some months later (10th May 1910).
From that date until 18th August 1910, no further licences were awarded in Italy. There was no legal requirement to have one in order to fly and thus little interest in obtaining one. Those who really wanted such a “brevet” went to France, something done by a number of Italian pilots, among them  being Francesco Baracca and Francesco Brach Papa.
The first theoretic courses organized by the Turin Aviation School began on the 14th of February 1910 at its premises in Via Balbis 1. There was a section of the school specially for mechanics and conductors of automobiles “recognized by the Government”. “The courses (of about two months duration) were accompanied by more than 500 lantern slides”.

Giuseppe Rossi (instructor) and a group of pupils, including the journalist Adone NasariMaurizio Ramassotto a bordo del Chiribiri 2 col quale conseguì il primo brevetto rilasciato sull’aeroporto di Mirafiori

 

The Director of the courses was Engineer Emilio Marenco, with the instructors being Engineering Professors Effren Magrini and Franz Miller, Chief Engineer Carlo Vita Finzi, Engineer Francesco Darbesio of the Asteria company and Engineer Q. Triaca of the SIT. The school’s Honorary President was the Mayor Senator Secondo Frola.

In May 1910, Montù and Gatti Goria made an attempt to open a flying school near the place where two years earlier Delagrange had made the first flights in Turin. Unfortun­ately, this was closed after only one week of operation following an accident in which the instructor, Pietro Gasco, was injured.

Flying School at San Maurizio Canavese Flying School at Mirafiori

 

In the autumn of 1911, Antonio Chiribiri (Miller’s former designer) founded the “National School for Aviators” at Mirafiori. Maurizio Ramassotto, in a “Chiribiri 2” aircraft, was the first student to gain a licence from the school, going on to become its instructor.
In 1911 the Asteria Company also opened a flying school at the Mirafiori airfield "with both biplanes and monoplanes" and with "instructors of the highest order".

The airfield at Mirafiori also became the operational base for the newly constituted “Turin society of Aviators and Aeronauts”. During the course of 1912, the society trained 8 pilots up to “brevet” standard – seven civilian and one military pilot, quite a considerable achievement.

The SIT also set up a training facility at Mirafiori, and by 1915, when Italy entered the Great War, this had become one of the largest flying schools in Italy, with 45 pilots under training.

By 1911, the Army authorities had become aware of the potential of the “flying machine” for military purposes, and began to set up flying schools at the various airfields already in operation, such as Mirafiori, Cameri (which was later to become the largest flying school in Italy), Centocelle, Pordenone, Bovolenta, Taliedo and others. The very first military “brevet” was awarded to Captain Carlo Maria Piazza of Busto Arsizio.

The military school at Mirafiori would become even more important when the 1st Aviation Battalion was established a year later. The Aviation Battalion was a unit belonging to the Royal Engineers Battalion, but also had a number of officers from the Cavalry and the Royal Navy.

Giulio Brilli Achille Dal MistroOn the 29th, 30th and 31st of October 1911, a postal experiment took place during a competitive race from Turin to Milan and back, during which the pilots Achille Dal Mistro and Giulio Brilli became the first ever “aerial postmen” in Italy. However, Italy would need to wait until 1917 before a genuine Air Mail service would be officially inaugurated, based at Turin’s Aeritalia airfield.

But activity on the new airfield of Mirafiori was steadily increasing. It soon hosted all of Turin’s aviation, including that of the Army, following the publication on the 27th of June 1912 of the law No. 698, which saw the creation of the 1st Aviation Battalion with effect from the 1st of July 1912. The Battalion consisted of three Squadrons plus a maintenance element known as the D.T.A.M. (Direzione Tecnica Aviazione Militare). Its assigned tasks were the study, experimentation and testing of new “flying machines”.

Aviation Battalion at Mirafiori Blériots at the first Aeronautical Parade, June 3rd 1913, Mirafiori

Blériots at the first Aeronautical Parade, June 3rd 1913, Mirafiori

Parade of aircraft at Mirafiori aerodrome

 

The Headquarters of the new unit was in the Lamarmora Barracks in Via Maria Vittoria 178, and the Mirafiori airfield was its operational base, making it the most important in Italy. Its Commander was Lt. Col. Vittorio Cordero Di Montezemolo, with Major Giulio Douhet as his deputy. Douhet later became world-famous for his studies and theories concerning the strategic use of military aviation.

Giulio Douhetalt

 

The Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912

The Italo-Turkish War (also known as the Libian War) between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman Empire for the possession of the North African regions of Tripolitania and Cirenaica took place between the 29th of September 1911 and the 18th of October 1912.

Part of the Italian contingent consisted of a flotilla of nine aircraft (two Blériot IXs, three Nieuports, two Farmans and two Etrichs),  11 pilots and 30 men, sent to Tripoli under the command of Captain Carlo PIAZZA. Among the pilots were Riccardo Moizo,
Leopoldo De Rada, Ugo De Rossi, Giulio Gavotti and six others from the reserves.

Two other sites - Tobruk and Derna - were also destined to have had an aerial presence, but lacking military pilots, the Ministry of War (thanks to an initiative by the Torinese newspaper "La Stampa Sportiva") authorised Carlo Montù, nominated Captain, to organize an expedition of volunteer pilots denominated the "Flotilla of Civil Aviator Volunteers" to send to Libya alongside that of the Army.

This flotilla was split into two squadrons: one, comprising two Blériots and three Farmans, commanded by Lt Ercole Capuzzo, with Manissero, Rossi, Ruggerone and Re, was sent to Tobruk, the other, with only four aircraft, under the command of Captain Maddaleno Marenco, with Cagno, Cobianchi, DalMistro and Verona was sent to Derna.

The flotilla embarked from the port of Naples for Cirenaica on November 30th 1911.

The mission to Libya allowed Italy to establish a number of "firsts":

  • Since the sandy soil of Tripoli made take-offs difficult, a wood-surfaced artificial runway 100 metres by 20 was constructed – surely the first of its kind in the world.
  • The very first military aerial mission in history took place on the 23rd of October 1911, when Captain Carlo PIAZZA flew low over the enemy lines causing widespread terror.
  • Lt. pilot Giulio GAVOTTI, on the 1st of November 1911, dropped three Cipelli grenades, each about the size of an orange, from his Etrich "Taube" (which ironically enough, in German means "dove") first on a Turkish encampment at Ain Zara then on the oasis of Tripoli. This is the first known aerial bombardment in history. For this action and another similar at Gargaresc, Gaviotti was awarded the Military Silver Medal.
  • Captain MONTÙ was hit by rifle fire during a raid over enemy lines, thus achieving the unenviable distinction of being the first aviator wounded in action.

 

Alessandro Guidoni

Alessandro GuidoniThe Torinese student pilot Alessandro Guidoni also took part in the Libyan War. He had a degree in Engineering from the Turin Polytechnic, and from 1909 onward began to take an interest in various aspects of aviation, becoming deeply involved in research into new technologies, including solutions for seaplanes and the gyroscopically-guided bomb known as “Crocco-Guidoni”. Press reports mentioned that with an aircraft transformed into a seaplane, on the 5th of November 1911, he managed to make a brief flight over the Gulf of La Spezia. This is considered as being the first flight of a seaplane in Italy, preceding by several months a similar experiment conducted by Mario Calderara in March 1912.

In 1923, and now promoted to the rank of Major-General, he transferred to the recently formed Regia Aeronautica and was made head of the “Higher Institute of Engineering and Aircraft Construction”. He came to a tragic end on the morning of the 27th of April 1928 during a parachute jump to test a new type of parachute which he himself had designed. In recognition of his work, he was posthumously awarded the Air Force Gold Medal of Honour, and the city of Guidonia, in Lazio, was named in his memory.

In 1913, the SIT organised a “Turin-Rome-Turin in a day” event, entrusting its success to their test pilot, the Frenchman Edmond Perreyon and his mechanic Dupuis. At 04.58 on the 28th of May, their Blériot powered by an 80 HP engine took off from Mirafiori heading for Pisa where it landed at 07.57. At 08.45 it took off again, destination Rome, where it landed at Centocelle airfield at 11.26.

An enthusiastic crowd gave them a warm welcome. The return flight, a reciprocal of the outward route with a refuelling stop at Pisa, saw them safely touch down at Mirafiori at 20.50 to be met and carried in triumph by a cheering crowd.

Francesco Baracca

Francesco BaraccaAmong the many who spent some t­me at Mirafiori Airfield was Francesco Baracca from Lugo in Romagna, the man destined to become the most famous, almost mythical pilot in the history of Italian aviation.

On leaving school, he was accepted for the Military Academy of Modena, graduating two years later, and in 1909 was assigned to the Cavalry School at Pinerolo as a 2nd Lieutentant.

The following year he was assigned to the prestigious 2nd Cavalry Regiment “Royal Piedmont” based in Rome.

It was often said that cavalry officers had only three qualities, known in the Piedmontese dialect as “the three “B’s” – they had to be “Bel, Biund and Bestia” – signifying that they had to be handsome, blond and lusty. Baracca, instead, was the very antithesis of this stereotype.

He obtained his Flying brevet (No. 1037) in 1912 at Reims, France, and was promptly assigned to the Aviator Battalion with an initial posting to the airfield at Cascina Malpensa. In 1913 he was transferred to the airfield at Mirafiori, where, on the 13th of June, he took part in the first ever fly-past of the Italian Air Force. In July of that same year, he was again transferred, this time to the 6th Stormo at Busto Arsizio, and from that point on, destined to take his place in History.

That same year, on the 3rd of June, the Aviation Battalion organised the first great Italian Aviation air show, with demonstrations by eight Squadrons equipped with Blériots, Farmans and Nieuports for a total of 32 aircraft, 25 of which had been built in Turin by the SIT Company. In the presence of Major Giulio Douhet, the new Commander of the Aviation Battalion, the aircraft took off at one minute intervals, joining up to make the first grand formation of Italian military aircraft ever seen.

Hangar for dirigibie P300Hangar for dirigibie P300

 

In the afternoon of the 28th of October 1913, Major Carlo Maria Piazza, took off from Mirafiori and headed up the Susa Valley and at a height of 3200 metres (about 10400 feet) set course for Moncenisio, gliding to a halt in a small field at over 2000 metres altitude after a flight lasting an hour and 16 minutes. It was the first ever high-altitude landing.

At Moncenisio, Piazza was welcomed by Capt. Contrada, the Commandant of the local Army camp, who telegraphed the news to the world. The next day, Piazza took off again at 9 am to return to Mirafiori.

Giuseppe de Marco (pilot), Guglielmo Marconi and Lt. Borghese at Mirafiori1913 saw yet another novelty at Mirafiori when a huge hangar was built to house the P300 reconnaissance dirigible.

The month of September 1915 saw yet another “first” at Mirafiori. The Nobel prize-winner Gugliemo Marconi had modified his equipment for use in the air but required to test it in flight – not an easy task! However, having finally found someone who would listen to him at the Experimental Flight at Turin, he managed to get his equipment installed in one of the Caudron G3 biplanes which had been built under French licence by AER of Orbassano. The flight, ostensibly for training, took off from Mirafiori with the Marquis Solari as the telegraphist and De Marco as the pilot. After various modifications to the equipment that flight was followed by another in early November, once again in the Caudron G3, still with De Marco as the pilot but this time with Lt. Borghese as the telegraphist.

During 1916, the SIA (part of the FIAT group) began to build the first examples of the SP2, an aircraft designed by Umberto Savoia and Ottorino Pomilio, two engineers who were working for the D.T.A.M. (Direzione Tecnica Aviazione Militare) in Turin.


SIA SP2The D.T.A.M., directed by Colonel Ottavio Ricaldoni (designer of the first Italian military dirigible), was staffed by some of the finest aeronautical engineers of the time, plus a number of Officers from the Army Air Engineers Corps. One such officer, Lt. Vittorio Valletta, was tasked with the procurement of aeronautical materiel from industry. It was in this context that the first contacts began between the men who were to become Professor Vittorio Valletta and Senator Giovanni Agnelli.

Alessandro Umberto Cagno

In the foreground stand the 5 aces of Turinese aviation of the time: Ruggerone, Cobianchi, Manissero, Cagno and Mario FaccioliIt is impossible to complete the panorama of the early days of aviation in Turin without mentioning one of its more intrepid sons - Alessandro Umberto Cagno – even if he demonstrated his aeronautical talents far from his native city. 

He had become a racing driver of considerable fame, winning races not only in Italy, but also in the USA, France, Germany, Austria, Holland and Russia, to name but a few. He was part of the famous trio Cagno, Lancia and Nazzaro who drove for FIAT, winning almost every race, regardless of where it was held, year after year after year.

In 1906 he also took up motorboat racing, winning the famous Seine Grand Prix in Paris and the Marine Championship at Montecarlo.

In 1909, he enthusiastically took up flying, soon becoming the instructor at Cameri and then moving on to Pordenone. Along with Engineer Clovis Thouvenot, he took part in the construction and test flying of the first aircraft built at Cameri by the AVIS-Voisin company under licence from Voisin, subsequently taking it to participate in the racing circuit at Brescia-Montechiari.

In 1910, at Pordenone, he was the first pilot in the world to take three passengers into the air (a record which remained unbeaten until 1913) and in 1911, was a member of the famous “Battalion of Volunteer Civilian Aviators” which left Mirafiori to fight in Cirenaica under the command of Captain Carlo Montù.

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Francesco Brach Papa

Newspaper report of Capt. Laureati being awarded a Gold Medal for the Turin - London flightBorn in Corio, in the Canavese Valley, Brach Papa obtained his Pilot’s Licence in France in 1912 and in 1913 arrived in Turin, becoming first a member of the Aviation Battalion, and then the Chief Test Pilot for FIAT-SIA at Mirafiori.

He set 14 aeronautical records, 9 of which were also World Records and was well-known internationally due to his frequent participation in air sport competitions of the highest level. 

The first of his records was set on the 7th of July 1913, when he took off from Mirafiori in an 80HP Farman biplane and set an Italian altitude record of 3,050 metres (about 13,000 ft). He successively improved on this a number of times.

On the 26th of July 1916, he reached an altitude of 6,150 metres (nearly 20,000 ft) in a SIA-SP2, and on the 14th of December, his SIA 7B reached the almost unbelievable height of over 7,000 metres (24,000 ft) breaking his own previous altitude record.

Brach Papa was also a flying instructor for the student pilots at Mirafiori. One of these, a certain Corradino D'Ascanio, an engineer of the D.T.A.M., went on to become a helicopter designer and the father of the famous “Vespa” motor-scooter produced by Piaggio.

In Turin, thirty years later, (1952) having reached the rank of General, with a number of ex-Air Force colleagues, with a deed drown up by the notary Fissore, he founded the “Associazione Arma Aeronautica” (Air Force Association) becoming its first President.

Giulio Laureati

24 settembre 1917. Non stop Turin-London flight. Capt. Giulio Laureati's arrival at London's Hounslow airportCapt. Laureati and his mechanic Tonso with a SIA 7B2 at Mirafiori aerodrome before the start of their memorable Turin - London flight

 

 

Newspaper report of Capt. Laureati being awarded a Gold Medal for the Turin - London flight

Captain Giulio Laureati from Grottammare (AP) was assigned to the D.T.A.M. in Turin, arriving in early 1916. On the 18th of February 1916, he took part in a raid over Lubiana and was nominated for the Military Silver Medal for Valour - the medal being awarded there and then on the field.

On the 15th of August 1917, aboard a FIAT-SIA “7b1” fitted with supplementary fuel tanks, he set a world record for non-stop distance with a 10 hour 33 minute flight from Turin to Naples and back, taking off from Mirafiori at 10.07, overflying Naples at 14.30 and landing back at Mirafiori at 20.30.

 

Flying a SIA 7B powered by a FIAT A12/bis of 300 HP, on the 24th of September 1917, Capt. LAUREATI with his mechanic Cpl. Michelangelo TONSO from Montalenghe (near Turin) took off from the Mirafiori aerodrome and landed at Hounslow military aerodrome South West of London nearly 7 ½ hours later. This non-stop flight of some 1200 km lasted 7 hours 22 minutes and was a new World Record for distance and with a passenger. For this exploit, Capt. LAUREATI was received by King George of England who conferred the Royal Victorian Order on him personally.

 

 

 

Aerocentro Gino Lisa posterIn June of 1921, the sports aviation section (S.A.T.) of the Mirafiori airfield was renamed at a moving ceremony to honour the memory of Gino Lisa, Military Gold Medal for Valour, a young man who had learned to fly there, volunteered for the war, and at 21 years of age gave his life for his country, shot down trying to protect a colleague.

The S.A.T. thus became known as the “Aerocentro Gino Lisa”, a denominati­­­on which was later changed to the “Aero Club Gino Lisa di Torino”.

 

But who was Gino Lisa?

 

Gino Lisa – Military Gold Medal of Honour

Bronze bust of Gino LisaLa Comina aerodrome (Pordenone). Gino Lisa (left) with Capt. Luigi Govi (1st right) beside a Caproni C3Caproni C3 of the type flown by Gino LisaBorn in Turin on the 19th of August 1896, Gino Lisa obtained his high school diploma in Technical subjects from the G. Lagrange School. Then he began to study languages, particularly German, and at the same time pursued his passion for painting. Ever since he was a young boy he had been attracted to this, becoming a student of the Torinese painter Giulio Romano Vercelli to refine his technique.

In 1914, with the beginning of the First World War, he was on the side of the interventionists, and in early May 1915, when Gabriele D'Annunzio speeches began to inflame Italy, his parents allowed him to enlist as a volunteer in the “Battalion of Volunteer Civilian Aviators” formed by Carlo Montù.

After a short period of theoretical preparation, he joined the Army and in July found himself transferred to the training camp at Cascina Costa (Varese). Here he obtained his advanced military pilot’s licence and was retained as an instructor, simultaneously completing his training on the three-engined Caproni “C3” bomber.

On the 12th of April 1916 he was ordered to report to Campo della Comina at Pordenone (still in existence today) to train the 8th “Caproni” Squadron.

Here his war experience began in earnest, taking part in various bomber raids, first on the Carso, then in Trentino followed by the Plateau of the Seven Communes, contrasting the Austrian offensive which began on the 15th of May 1916 and supporting the Italian counter-offensive which began on the 16th of June. 

He took part in many missions into the Isarco and Non Valleys, as well as others deep into enemy territory to harass their rearguard.

On the 23rd of June, with the conclusion of the action in Trentino and the resumption of bombardment on the Venezia Giulia front, the Squadron participated in ground support activities for the numerous battles of Isonzo:

  • 6th battle of Isonzo, for the conquest of Monte Sabotino and the occupation of Gorizia (8th August 1916)

  • 7th battle of Isonzo, which ended with the conquests of Veliki Kribach and Jamiano (14th to 17th September 1916)

  • 8th battle of Isonzo against the Vertoiba-Jamiano line ( 9th to 12th October 1916)

  • 9th battle of Isonzo which saw the conquest of Castagnevizza and Dosso Faiti (31st October to 4th November 1916).

He was a brave and skilful pilot. To cite just one instance: on the 15th of November 1916, his trimotor intercepted three enemy aircraft near San Daniele del Friuli. They were on their way to attack Pordenone. He attacked them decisively, putting them to flight with accurate machine gun fire. On the way back to base, his n° 2 central engine (central) exploded due to a lubrication defect, severely damaging the cables to the control surfaces. Despite this, his skill and flying ability were sufficient to nurse the stricken aircraft back to his home field where he was able to land, miraculously saving both the plane and the crew.

In the night of 4th-5th October 1917, with the Caproni Squadron led by Gabriele D'Annunzio, he took part in the famous night bombing raid on the Bocche di Cattaro (Albania). Many important installations as well as Army and Naval objectives were destroyed or damaged in the raid.

In 1917, he took part in all the preparatory and support activities for the:

  • 10th battle of Isonzo, against the Plava-Monte San Gabriele line (12th May to 6th June 1917)
  • 11th battle of Isonzo, from Bainsizza to Hermada (17th August to 12th September 1917)
  • 12th battle of Isonzo, beginning with the attack on Hermada in October and concluding with the retreat to the Piave river following the collapse of the Plezzo-Tolmino line.

 

His life ended in combat. His plane was shot down in over Caldonazzo, in the Astico Valley on the 15th of November 1917. The Airport of Foggia was named in his memory. 

The citation for the posthumous award of the Gold Medal of Valour sums up the spirit of this brave young man, already with 10 “Mentions in Dispatches” and a Bronze Medal of Valour to his credit.

Award of the gold medal of valour to Gino Lisa.
A volunteer, and pilot of immense skill and bravery, forever animated by the highest sentiments and unshakeable faith in the ultimate triumph of his Country and its Armed Forces, during two years of war, Gino Lisa was a perfect example of constant valour. Many times, during fierce and difficult fighting, he had the better of his foes, often with his aircraft severely damaged by enemy fire, and on two occasions spattered with the blood of his crew.

On the 15th of November 1917, having successfully carried out the bombing mission for which he had volunteered, he was returning to his base when he saw one of our aircraft being attacked by numerous enemy fighters and generously went to its aid. He was attacked by four enemy fighters, conducting a long and arduous battle with them until his machine gun was torn from its mountings during an aerobatic manoeuvre. Unarmed, he succumbed in the unequal fight, precipitating with his crew onto the rocky cliffs of Trentino, consecrating to Glory his youth, a life totally dedicated to his Country.

Skies over Caldonazzo in the Astico Valley,
15th November 1917

Volontari Aviatori CiviliCarlo Maria Piazza

On the 28th of March 1923, the day when the “Arma Aeronautica” (the Air Force) gained its independence from the Army, becoming an autonomous service, the military area at Mirafiori was named after Col. Carlo Maria Piazza (Busto Arsizio 1871 – Milan 1917), pioneer of military aviation (Military Pilot’s Licence No. 1) and decorated with the Silver Medal for Valour.

At that time, the airfield of Mirafiori hosted three different organization:

  • The Aviator Battalion in the western zone (Strada delle Cacce)
  • The industrial area with the factories of Asteria, Chiribiri, FIAT-SIA etc in the south-western zone (Strada Castello di Mirafiori – bridge over the Sangone)
  • The “Gino Lisa” Aerocentre in the eastern zone. 

On the 18th of May 1930, the Aero Club Gino Lisa with the patronage of the newspaper “La Stampa”, the first “Circuit of the Castles of Piedmont” took place. This was a regularity competition “with the participation of the best military and civilian pilots” (so stated the publicity). The first prize was a cup valued at 1000 lire, a monetary prize of 2000 lire and a silver medal offered by the Royal Aero Club of Italy (R.A.C.I.).

The competition route was from the airfield of Mirafiori, to the Castle of Rivoli, the Castle of Stupinigi, the summit of the Maddalena hill (overlooking the city of Turin) and the Castle of Rivoli again, to be flown four times for a distance of some 150 km.


Poster advertising the first air circuit of the Savoyan CastlesMap showing where Mirafiori aerodrome was with respect to what there is now

 

In 1936, the 53rd Fighter Squadron was constituted at Mirafiori, operating from there as its base. This became one of the most important and famous squadrons of the Italian Air Force.

The activities of the airfield continued up until 1944 when the hangars were all severely damaged by bombing. 

In that same year the 13th september, the retreating German troops completed the devastation by blowing up all that remained of the “Gino Lisa” and the “Carlo Piazza”. Among the losses were the archives containing the documentation pertaining to the history of the airfield.­