Aviation at that time was almost entirely French and the French newspapers gave wide coverage to the record attempts of the various Delagrange, Farman, Blériot, Santos Dumont, etc.
This latter was a Brazilian millionaire (the city airport of Rio de Janeiro is dedicated to him today) who lived in Paris and had a passion for flying. He had an aircraft built and with the other “magnificent men in their flying machines” he tried his hand at attempts to break the duration record which took place almost weekly on the Parisian racetracks.
This was in the years 1905-1906 and the planes had neither a joystick nor ailerons, but were equipped with two levers attached to wires and pulleys allowing the pilot to bend or warp the wings, making it possible to turn and do the flight maneuvers.
The pilots sat on a chair suspended in space. Flights took place at only a short distance from the ground (20 to 30 feet) and lasted only a few minutes with the current record frequently being beaten by only a few seconds.
To check his time in the air, the pilot had to release one of the two levers, reach into his waistcoat pocket, take out his pocket watch and check the time, all of which put his own safety and that of the aircraft at risk.
Santos Dumont had a jeweler friend (a certain Cartier) who was invited to try to come up with a better solution.
To make it short, legend states and the maison Cartier confirms it, that this led to the invention of the wristwatch, and even today in the Cartier collection there is a watch called the “Santos” model.
October 23, 1906, Paris. Santos Dumont with his Canard 14 bis during a record attempt before a crowd of well-to-do Parisians
The origins of the Aero Club Torino
Towards the end of July 1908, thanks to the enthusiasm generated by Delagrange’s flights, the Italian Association for the Promotion of Aviation (apia) was constituted. Its first President was General Carlo Montù, Mp, with Cesare Gatti Goria as his Vice-President.
From the legal point of view, and despite the changes of name which have occurred over the years, this is the formal moment in time when the organisation now known as the Aero Club Torino was constituted.
The enthusiasm for aviation was such that in only a short time, the “promotional association” had gained more than 500 members. Having fulfilled its intention of arousing public interest in aviation, it adopted a more “operational” structure, and on the 28th November 1909 changed both its name and its statute, becoming the “Società Aviazione Torino – sat”. Montù and Gatti Goria continued as President and Vice-president respectively, while a number of eminent citizens such as the Engineer Maffei, Vittorio Valletta, Ernesto Cavalchini and Guido Piacenza sat on its Board of Directors. The headquarters of the sat were opened at the Pro Turin Association in the National Gallery at No. 28 Via Roma, stairway “b”.
The sat was not intended to be a profit-making enterprise, but one whose scope was the diffusion of aviation and its technical and sporting development.
The inaugural ceremony for the constitution of the Turin Aeronautical Society
SAT membership card
Guida Paravia, Torino 1910, p. 1056. Board of directors of the newly-constituted SAT instituted on the 28th of November 1909
Carlo Montù was one of the most influential characters of the early history of Italian aviation, passionately dedicating all his energy to its successful development. Montù was born in Turin on the 10th of January 1869, and graduated in 1889 as a 2nd Lieutentant of the Artillery from the Royal Military Academy of Turin. He then studied at the Turin Polytechnic University, gaining a degree in Electrotechnical Engineering.
He was promoted to Captain in 1911, to Colonel in 1916, and to General in 1918.
A member of the Liberal Party, he was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies in 1909.
In 1911, he organized the expedition of the “Volunteer Aviators in Cirenaica”.
His wide-ranging and versatile organizational ability coupled with his boundless enthusiasm allowed him to assume a determinant leadership role in many other sporting activities at a national level.
He was the President of:
• The “Pro Torino Association”, a highly important, forward-looking organization for the promotion of innovative activities in the Turin area. It’s worth remembering, for example, that the initiative for the construction of the Torino-Milano motorway in the 1930’s came from the “Pro-Torino” group.
He was also the founder:
He was a member of the CIO from 1913 to 1939 and of the FAI. He died at Bellagio, on Lake Como, on the 20th of October 1949. In 1952, the City of Turin erected a monument in his honour in Corso Cairoli at the entrance to the Valentino Park.
In 1921 the Society name was changed again, to that of the “Aerocentro Gino Lisa”.
This name might still stand today, had it not been for the Royal Decree No. 1452 of 23rd July 1926, which transformed the Aero Club of Italy into a non-profit State organization with supervisory authority over all Italian aeronautical sporting organisations. The decree further stipulated that all aeronautical “societies” or “organisations” must affiliate themselves with the Aero Club of Italy and must change their names to that of “Aero Club” of the Province in which they operated.
The transition took about a year to achieve, during which time the sat came under a Commissioner to allow the formulation of the new statute and the transfer of its assets to the Aero Club which was being set up in its place.
The Hon. Baron Carlo Emanuele Basile was appointed as Special Commissioner with Gastone Gastaldetti as his deputy. After a few months, Count Paolo Thaon di Revel took over the role as Special Commissioner from Count Basile.
Finally in July of 1927 the new association saw the light of day with its headquarters at No. 41 Via Carlo Alberto, near the city centre.
The President at that time was Count Carlo Nicolis di Robilant, with Dr Edoardo Agnelli as his Vice-pres-ident. The Board of Directors consisted of some of the most illustrious members of Turin’s aeronautical society, for example, Engineers Celestino Rosatelli, Modesto Panetti, Francesco Darbesio and Lt. Col. Attilio Calderara.
This brought the first glorious phase of the Aero Club’s activities to a close. It was a period which had seen Turin as one of the foremost protagonists of the aviation world ever since its earliest days in Italy.
But let us take things in chronological order.
On the 13th of January 1909, the first all-Italian aircraft, a triplane designed and built by Aristide Faccioli, took off from a grass strip adjacent to the Mirafiori horse racing track. (Some sources erroneously indicate that the first flight took place at Venaria, but this site was only used from the second flight onwards.) The machine was powered by a 4-cylinder, 8-pistons, water-cooled 75 HP engine driving two separate contra-rotating propellers at 1200 rpm. The engine, designed by Aristide Faccioli himself, was built by spa (Società Piemontese Automobili) while the intrepid pilot was Faccioli’s son Mario.
The Faccioli triplane (first aircraft of entirely Italian construction) being readied
for a flight from the fields of the Mirafiori race course
The experiment had not been given any advance publicity, so there were neither journalists nor photographers there to immortalize the event, but it has passed into history just the same being the first ever flight of an aircraft wholly constructed in Italy.
Mario Faccioli at the controls of the Faccioli 2
The first flight of the Faccioli 1 triplane was made by Mario Faccioli, standing up
However, the flight could scarcely be called a great success. Having achieved a height of about 4-6 metres, the aircraft only flew about 60 metres before the tail hit the ground, causing it to bounce and overturn. Luckily, the pilot was unhurt.
In an interview reporting the previous day’s events, “La Stampa” of the 14th of January 1909 on page 5 stated that:
“the few spectators present, among whom were Chevalier Matteo Ceirano, the Count of Sant’Albano, Dr Piccardo and Albera, the mechanic, quickly ran to the pilot’s aid…”
Not discouraged by the accident, indeed encouraged by the fact that the aircraft had even flown at all, Faccioli abandoned the triplane form in favour of the biplane, designing several such machines, all powered by a 35 HP spa-Faccioli engine.
Faccioli 4 biplane with SPA engine
These aircraft were denominated “Faccioli 2”, “Faccioli 3” and “Faccioli 4”.
Between May and June 1909, the “Faccioli 2” underwent a series of test flights, with alternating fortunes, from the Parade Square of Venaria Reale – the area which in time would become the military airport for the Italian Army’s 44nd (Phoenix) Squadron and which from 1985 onwards has been home to the “Toro” Squadron of the 34th Group.
The “Faccioli 3” took to the air in February 1910 from Venaria in the presence of the President of the Italian Automobile Club, Count Ferrero di Ventimiglia, the Count of Sambuy, Engineer Matteo Ceirano and numerous Army officers.
On the 22nd of February, the Duke of Genoa and Gabriele d’Annunzio came to see the flight of the “Faccioli 3”, and that same evening, at a conference entitled the “Dominion of the Skies” in the Vittorio Emanuele Theatre, D’Annunzio solemnly and publicly praised Aristide and Mario Faccioli for their skill and bravery.
The “Faccioli 4” was successfully test flown in October 1910, and it was with this aircraft that Mario Faccioli was awarded his pilot’s brevet. This was the very first brevet (licence) obtained using an all-Italian aircraft.
The Faccioli 4 biplane ready for takeoff from Venaria Reale. The Palace of Venaria can be seen in the background
Aristide FACCIOLI (Bologna, 23-12-1848), came to Turin as a student at the Polytechnic University, from which he gained his degree in Mechanical Engineering.
From the earliest days he dedicated himself to the study of the internal combustion engine. In 1883, he patented a gas-powered engine, in 1891 he obtained a patent for the use of hydro-carbon-powered engines in vehicles and in 1895, another for his significant improvements to the four-stroke engine.
In 1898, Giovanni Battista Ceirano appointed him as Technical Director in his newly-founded automobile company. In 1899, Faccioli produced his first car, which he called the “Welleyes”. This had a horizontal engine with two piston of 663 CC, and aroused immediate interest.
In July 1899, the FIAT company was founded, which bought Ceirano’s patents and hired a number of its managers, including the Chief Designer himself. Faccioli thus became FIAT’s first Technical Director, adding his contribution to the initial development of the company. According to the account by Alfonso Ferrero of Ventimiglia (one of the founder members) it was Faccioli himself who proposed the name of FIA (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili) which was unanimously accepted by the shareholders. It was, however, maliciously pointed out that these same initials also stood for “Faccioli Ingegnere Aristide”. Thus it was decided to add the “T” for Torino.
SPA-Faccioli twin opposed-piston 25 HP engine
His first design for FIAT was the FIAT 3½ HP, a vehicle similar to the Welleyes, having a 2-cylinder horizontal engine mounted transversally at the rear of the chassis. Between 1900 and 1901 he designed other models, amongst which were the “tipo 6 Corsa”, the “tipo 8” and the “tipo 10HP”.
In 1901, Faccioli resigned from FIAT and started a new activity of his own, designing and building engines. Unfortunately, this did not attain the success he had hoped for, so he joined the SPA company where he dedicated himself exclusively to aeronautical design work.
From his plans and projects, many of which are based on the ideas expressed in his book published in 1895 “Theory of Flight and Aerial Navigation”, emerged the Faccioli I triplane of 1909 and then the series of biplanes identified as Faccioli 2, 3 and 4.
Despite this, Faccioli’s career did not enjoy great success and he abandoned all things mechanical to dedicate himself to philosophic and religious studies.
He committed suicide on the 28th of January 1920 in Turin.
The City of Turin installed a commemorative plaque on the building where the SPA company had its offices, at number 122, Corso Ferrucci.
Faccioli. Testing the engine
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