The construction of the aerodrome at Cameri (Novara) began in 1909, on an area of about 400,000 square meters, thanks to the initiative of Clovis Thouvenot, a French engineer and former dealer for the French aircraft company Voisin, with the intention of creating a flying school.
The opening of the field suffered a certain delay due to a storm that on the night between 30 and 31 March 1910 destroyed the newly completed hangar, leaving standing only the building that housed the equipment of the three instructors and air pioneers Alessandro Cagno, Pasquale Bianchi and Marcello Serrazanetti.
The inaugural flight was made by Cagno in May of 1910 and on July 28 of that same year, the Luganese pilot Bianchi was awarded the first civil pilot brevet, or licence, consigned in Italy.
Cameri, pamorama of workshops, offices and hangars
This was the second Italian flying school, following that established on April 15, 1909 in Centocelle.
In 1913 Thouvenot was followed by Giuseppe Gabardini, who took over the area and with the financial support of the cousins Angiolina and Guido Carbone began to acquire land between Cameri and Bellinzago for the expansion of the aerodrome in order to promote and develop aeronautical activities, above all with the creation of a flight school.
Having obtained the necessary authorisations from the Air Ministry Technical Directorate, the new aerodrome was inaugurated in September 1913 with the flight of the monoplane “Gabarda”.
Due to the incompatibility of test flights with the operations by the military at Mirafiori, Aristide and Mario Faccioli moved to Cameri in 1912 to continue their experiments that ended tragically with Mario’s death in a flying accident in 1915. Four years later, his father committed suicide.
Cameri, panorama of workshops, offices and AVIS hangars
Following the tests in 1909 of the Faccioli 2 and the later models which took place within the public meadows of Venaria Reale, other pioneers started to utilize the area for their flight tests and trials up until August 18, 1912, when following the creation of the “Aviators Battalion” (July 1 1912) at Venaria, just as at San Francesco al Campo a military school furnished with Bristol monoplanes was set up and managed under the responsibility of Liutenant Ercole Capuzzo, a Tobruk veteran, and former leader of the “Voluntary Aviators” fleet. He was assisted by Liutenant Luigi Antonini as the flying instructor.
The field was provided with tented hangarage which could be dismantled as required.
Their colleagues from Mirafiori saluted the event with a highly appreciated formation fly-by.
Up until the end of World War i, the school trained and consigned pilot brevets to more than 350 military aviators, including many of the conflict’s famous aces.
Today, this airport, dedicated to the memory of Mario Santi, is home to the “Toro” Squadrons of the 34th Army Aviation Group, as their base for the Agusta Bell 205 medium and Agusta Bell 206 reconnaissance helicopters.
It is rather curious that the site of the airfield operating in the Vaude Canavesane area in the years before the First World War has been affirmed by some as being at San Francesco al Campo, or at San Maurizio Canavese and in other cases even at Lombardore.
In reality, the airfield was located in the municipality of San Carlo Canavese on the boundaries of San Francesco al Campo, near locality Centro, at the intersection of the sp 13 with the sp 20, which runs alongside the military firing range of Lombardore (see attached map).
The airfield thus lay within the boundaries of San Carlo, but the pilots were housed in San Francesco al Campo, and perhaps this is what has given rise to the misunderstanding.
The airfield was set up in early 1912 by military personnel from Taliedo (Milan) for future use as a training camp by the Aviators Battalion which was later formed on July 1, 1912 at Mirafiori.
Initially, the hangars were wood-framed, canvas-covered structures housing a number of Farman 12 aircraft, with their 70 HP Renault engines. These arrived from France dismantled in large boxes, but towards the end of the year the facilities were improved and the canvas hangars were replaced by wooden ones with adjacent facilities for the mechanical repairs workshop, the carpentry workshop and a warehouse.
On December 1, 1913 the first pilot’s class for officer cadets took place. It lasted three months and was followed by the first pilot’s class for officers. At the end of 1914 the Aviators Battalion had 106 pilots including 94 officers.
In 1913 the first experimental “air trucking” squadron for military air transport was formed. A large wicker basket was installed between the pilot’s seat, modeled into the fuel tank, and the engine. The material for transport was placed in this. Its first commander, Ettore Prandoni, came from the cavalry unit of Pinerolo, as did most of the pilots, as Francesco Baracca.
The camp did not have a fire hydrant system and in 1914 a raging fire burned down the hangars, which being of wood were easy prey to the flames with no means of extinguishing them. The hangars were rebuilt with the Farman 12’s being sent to a newly-formed flying school, replaced by Farman 14’s. This new group, formed from No.s 9 and 10 “reconnaissance squadrons” replaced the now-defunct “air trucking squadron”.
In the spring of 1915, in anticipation of the Italy’s entry into the war, the whole unit was transferred first to Taliedo (Milan) and then to the Eastern front. The hangars, spare parts and ground staff followed the same route, leading to the closure of this historic site.
Airfield of San Carlo Canavese
The “Cerrina” private tourist airfield, in Bruino (Torino), was inaugurated in 1959 by Aldo Cerrina for training purposes (apparently as a result of an agreement with the Italian Air Force to provide preliminary training towards the achievement of a military licence).
For promotional purposes during the early stages of its activity, Cerrina donated some fifty preliminary courses. In all, the school trained more than 300 pilots.
Embryonically, the airfield facilities began with the restructuring of a suitable large farm complex, graced with flower beds and having a large parking area. The main farmhouse held the offices and classrooms for the flight school, including a radio classroom. A specially modified barn became a workshop for aircraft maintenance while two hangars were built to shelter the fleet.
Cerrina built the airfield with the intention of creating a major attraction for free-time activities through the promotion of flying. The structure was also equipped with a bar-restaurant, a disco and a go-kart track.
The initiative was a great success. The airfield regularly had hundreds of visitors on the weekends, many of whom came just to see the aircraft fly or have a drink.
The airfield had an asphalt runway of 800 meters and possessed a substantial fleet comprising five FL.3’s, five Piper J-3 Cubs, two Fairchilds, a PA-20-Pacer and two PA.22-Tripacers, a Meta Sokol, one Zlin 326, an F.8L Falco, an F.15A Picchio and a P.57 Fachiro. The fleet was completed by a twin-engined Cessna uc-78.
In the period between the ’60s and ’70s, the airfield organized several air shows and actively participated in air races both in Italy and abroad (Round-Sicily race, City of Bari Trophy, Gulf of Naples Air Race, aerial tour of Europe and the Perpignan-Tenerife aircraft Rally, this last with four aircraft).
Cerrina’s son Sergio, an Alitalia pilot, was in charge of all the aeronautical activities until one day, following disagreements with his father, he withdrew from the management and things began to decline.
The airfield was definitively closed following Sergio’s death. In the early hours of December 23, 1978, his Alitalia DC-9, preparing to land in Palermo, crashed into the sea on the approach to Punto Raisi, killing 103 of the 124 passengers and the entire crew of 5.
1963 deployment for the Piedmont Air Tour at Cerrina Airport.
The airport was later dedicated to Lieutenant "Andrea Brezzi", Gold Medal for Military Valor,
died in the sky over Albania on December 21, 1940.