Line-up of the Aviators Battalion at Mirafiori
1910 was a year of particular fervor for aeronautical activities in Turin.
In November 1910 “La Stampa Sportiva” organized and sponsored a week of aviation races on the lawns of the Mirafiori horse racing track. Along with French and Belgian pilots, Ruggerone in a Farman and Cagliani in a Hanriot plus Manissero, Neri, Cobianchi, Mocafico, Cagno, Faccioli and Rossi also took part.
1935. Mirafiori civil airport building
Turin 1910. The first aerial photographs taken in Italy by Odoardo Ratti
On that occasion, the photographer Odoardo Ratti, with Fischer as the pilot, took the first aerial photos in Italy.
The chronicles of the time relate that
“… the racecourse is crowded; along the avenue leading to Stupinigi there is no free space, even on the branches of the trees, so that the owners of the surrounding fields, invaded by the public, have come to charge a fee for those who wanted a better point of view to watch the show”.
Mirafiori racetrack. The Aviation Concourse races of 1910. Biplane speed racing
The Mirafiori airfield pictured in a postcard of those days
The need to provide a real airfield for Turin was now quite obvious since the racecourse spaces were inadequate for the needs of the nascent aviation industry.
The technicians of the sat (i.e. the future Aero Club Torino) chaired by the indefatigable Montù, identified an area of some 300,000 square meters between the Strada delle Cacce and the Strada del Castello di Mirafiori as being the ideal site for the new airfield.
Thus began the construction of the infrastructures of the first aerodrome of Turin, i.e. the Mirafiori airfield (now Colonnetti park) which in only a few years would become the most important in Italy.
The airport was officially opened with an Aerial Week which ran from June 18 to 25, 1911 in celebration of the first 50 years of Italian unification with the performance of aircraft from Chiribiri, Faccioli-spa and Asteria, together with Farman, Blériot and other aircraft of French production.
The hangar-workshops of Engineer Faccioli and those of Engineer Francesco Darbesio’s Asteria were among the first to set up business on the airport of Mirafiori, where testing of their aircraft was carried out.
1924. Air enthusiasts animatedly in discussion before a SVA
1924. Socialising at Mirafiori, a SVA and a SAML in the background
Line-up of Blériots at the first Aeronautical Parade at Mirafiori aerodrome
At the end of 1911 the aircraft “Asteria 2”, was tested here, the first aircraft of Italian design and construction purchased by the Italian Army.
On the occasion of the 1911 Turin International Expo, Montù organized an international aviation congress for September 25 and in parallel, in collaboration with sada in Milan, organised the first Milan-Turin race (i.e. from Taliedo to Mirafiori) that was disputed on October 29 to 31 1911 an included an experiment airmail service. The race itself, won by Manissero in a spad-Deperdussin, saw the participation of some of the best pilots of the time including Maffei, Gianfelice, Domenichelli and Verona.
Also at Mirafiori, two records were set in 1911: on August 16 Mario Cobianchi set an endurance record with 2h 18’40” and in November, Rossi piloting an Asteria and with a passenger (Paolo Talice) set a new endurance record with the time of 1 hour and 52 minutes.
1913. Ladies from the right: Vittoria, Margherita e Caterina Moriondo with a friend (white dress)
From the left: Romolo Manissero, Umberto Re, Francesco Brach
Two photos of the installations at Mirafiori airfield
In 1911 at Mirafiori, two Asteria, three Chiribiri, and a Blériot were in operation.
Unfortunately, on November 20 it was necessary to record the first victim when Umberto De Croce in a Chiribiri crashed during a landing.
The airfield was bombed by the raf for the first time during the night of July 13, 1943, causing its partial destruction. Two subsequent raids caused serious damage both to the hangars for the fighters (which were no longer at the airfield) and also to the Gino Lisa Aero Club hangars which collapsed, destroying all the club’s aircraft.
The coup de grace came in 1945, when the retreating German troops blew up all the remaining buildings belonging to the “Gino Lisa” and the “Carlo Piazza” centers. Among the irreplaceable losses were the Aero Club archives which had held all the originals of the historical documentation of the airfield.
The airport was definitively closed in 1951.
1924. Aerial view of the Gualino stables near the Mirafiori airfield
Aerobatic exhibition over the Mirafiori airfield by a Breda Ba.25
In the years immediately preceding the First World War, the airfields 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 were issued with brevets 14 and 15 only in November of that same year.
Commemorative poster – 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. He had learned to fly in April 1909 at Centocelle (Roma) in 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 “Oldofredi Trophy” and the “King’s Cup”).
His licence is actually dated some months later (10th May 1910).
Miller’s Flying School at Lombardore
Flying School at San Carlo Canavese
From September 1909 until the 18th of August 1910, no further brevets 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 one went to France, and a number of Italian pilots, among them being Francesco Baracca and Francesco Brach Papa, did exactly this.
The first theoretic courses organized by the sat began on the 14th of February 1910 at its premises at No. 1 Via Balbis. One part of the school, specially for mechanics and conductors of automobiles, was “recognized by the Government”.
“The courses (of about two months duration) were accompanied by more than 500 lantern slides”.
The Director of the school was Engineer Emilio Marenco, the instructors being Engineering Professors Effren Magrini and Franz Miller, Chief Engineer Carlo Vita Finzi, Engineer Francesco Darbesio of the Asteria and Engineer Triaca of the sit. The school’s Honorary President was the Mayor, Senator Secondo Frola.
Engineer Miller, who in 1909 founded the first Italian aeronautical industrial company, was also seeking an area in which to experiment with his aircraft, built in Via Legnano in Turin, and identified a suitable location in the Lombardore area.
His airfield was situated on the flat ground alongside that which until recently was the military firing range of Lombardore, and it was there, in 1910, that Miller set up his school. In May 1910, Montù and Gatti Goria made an attempt to open a flying school close to where Delagrange had made the first flights in Turin two years earlier. This closed after only one week of operation following an accident in which their single instructor, Pietro Gasco, was injured.
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” as the advertising pointed out.
The airfield at Mirafiori became the operational base for the newly constituted “Turin Society of Aviators And Aeronauts”. In 1912, the society trained 8 pilots up to brevet standard, seven civilians and one military pilot.
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.
Giuseppe Rossi (instructor) and a group of pupils, including journalist Adone Nasari on Asteria 3
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 Aviators Battalion was established a year later. The Aviators Battalion was a unit belonging to the Royal Engineers, but also had a number of officers from the Cavalry and the Royal Italian Navy.
On the 29th, 30th and 31st of October 1911, a Turin-Milan-Turin air race (i.e. Mirafiori-Taliedo-Mirafiori) was organized by the sada of Milan and the sat of Turin. Eight competitors took part, but only three, Maffei, Manissero and Verona managed to reach Turin. During the race, an experimental air mail service was attempted, and the pilots Achille Dal Mistro and Giulio Brilli became the first-ever Italian aerial “postmen”. Special collection boxes were made available in both cities for such correspondence, which was duly franked with a special cancellation-stamp to mark the occasion.
However, Italy would need to wait until 1917 before a genuine Air Mail service would be officially inaugurated, based at Turin’s Aeritalia airfield.
Achille del Mistro
The Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912
The first pilots were celebrities like those of music and theatre.
They were the new heroes, the symbols par excellence of courage and daring, and fueled their fame by constituting the corps of volunteers captained by Leonino da Zara and offering themselves for “… eventual warfare…” by putting…“themselves and their aircraft at the services of the State”, as was reported in the monthly magazine “L’Aerophile” of February 1911. This initiative was followed by others.
The opportunity of making this offer concrete came in September of that year with the outbreak of the Italo-Turkish war.
The Italo-Turkish War (also known as the Lybian War) between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman Empire for the possession of the North African regions of Tripolitania and Cirenaica began on the 29th of September 1911, it ended on the 18th of October 1912.
Italy invaded Lybia with about 67,000 men, transported and supplied by the Italian Navy using some 259 ships, 114 of which belonged to the merchant marine fleet.
Commemoration postcard showing the volunteer airmen who went to fight in Cirenaica during the war in Libya 1911-12
A small aeronautical contingent accompanied this imposing military force - a flotilla of 9 aircraft (two Blériot ixs, three Nieuports, two Farmans and two Etrichs), with 11 pilots, 5 of which were regulars, was sent to Tripoli under the command of Captain Carlo Piazza. Apart from Piazza, the pilots were Riccardo Moizo, Leopoldo De Rada, Ugo De Rossi, Giulio Gavotti and six others from the reserves - Felice Scapurro, Igino de Winkels, Costantino Quaglia, Ettore Marro, Andrea Poggi and the Medical Lt. Luigi Falchi) along with 30 men from the ranks. The Unit was known as the “1st Tripoli Aircraft Flotilla”.
An aerial presence was also foreseen at two other sites – Tobruk and Derna – but due to the lack of military pilots, the Ministry of War (thanks to an initiative by the Torinese newspaper “La Stampa Sportiva”) authorised Carlo Montù, given the rank of Captain, to organize an expedition of volunteer pilots denominated the “Flotilla of Civil Aviator Volunteers” who would be sent to Libya to complement the flotilla operated by the Army.
Montù’s group was split into two squadrons: one, comprising two Blériots and three Farmans, was sent to Tobruk, commanded by Lt. Ercole Capuzzo, with Romolo Manissero, Giuseppe Rossi, Germano Ruggerone (Eros) and Umberto Re as pilots. The other four aircraft were sent to Derna, commanded by Captain Maddaleno Marenco, with the civilian pilots Umberto Cagno, Mario Cobianchi, Achille Dal Mistro and Alberto Verona.
Carlo Montù (observer) with Rossi (pilot) before the
Blériot aircraft at the Tobruk base
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”:
June 13, 1913. The battle of Derna illustrated in this propaganda poster
which shows Italian Aircraft flying over the battlefield
June 13, 1913. Period illustrations showing Giulio
Observation balloon known as “pallone-drago” used during the italoturkish conflict
Among the first operations on arrival, Captain Piazza performed a number of topographical reconnaissance flights to correct the errors in the available maps of the Tripoli area.
Piazza had immediately understood the importance of aerial photography, and requested that the specialists Battalion in Rome send him a Bebè-Zeiss camera, but his request was not satisfied. Then he asked the photographic section of the Engineers stationed in Tripoli for one and they loaned him a semiprofessional machine with 9x12 plates which he mounted lens-down in the aircraft in order to take pictures. However, this required him to land after each photo in order to manually change the photographic plate. On returning to Italy, Piazza built and patented a 13x18 plate camera for use in aircraft with a mechanism which could automatically change the plates in flight.
How a camera in a Curtiss JN1 “Jennie” of the American Aviation was mounted for use by the observer
The Italian participation in the war using flying machines, at that time used essentially for reconnaissance, was in all respects a “world premiere” that was viewed with surprise and wonder all over the world.
Page 9 of “La Stampa Sportiva” of November 19, 1911 contained an interview given by the French aviation ace Louis Blériot who (anticipating in some ways the theories of Giulio Douhet) declared:
“… the example set by Italy has had a great echo throughout the world; not only among those who are particularly interested in the curiosities of aviation but also among all those who are concerned about the organization of a country’s armed forces. No one would have ever imagined when just two years ago I flew across the English Channel for the very first time, that only a short time later the flying machine would play a major part in a large armed conflict. It fell to the Italians to be the first to put it to the test and we congratulate them, since this fact will resonate not only throughout Italy, but also elsewhere, making ever more widespread the desire for a definitive solution to the aircraft problem”.
“La Stampa Sportiva” of December 17, 1911 on page 51, reported a story from France.
Among the paid announcements of the French weekly “L’Aerophile” there was one by the Turkish government looking for aircraft and pilots, which, to counter the Italian air initiative, offered generous fees (6,000 Lire per month with an aircraft and 2,000 without) to those who were willing to participate in the war in Cyrenaica.
The announcement read:
“We are seeking aviators with monoplanes or biplanes for military reconnaissance in foreign service; a four-month contract, monthly salary of six thousand lire for those with an aircraft and two thousand without. Return trip paid, plus repair, board, etc. In the event of total destruction and loss of the aircraft its value will be recognized and will be refunded. Any aviator who signs up will be at our disposal with immediate effect and will receive the compensatory sum of 500 lire at the time of his inscription. Send acceptances to the International Company of Aviateurs, Bois Le Duc (Netherlands)”.
Extract from “La Stampa Sportiva” of November 19, 1911 with
The article in “La Stampa Sportiva” of 17 December 1911 containing the invitation by the
The first Aviators Battalion
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 Aviators Battalion in Turin with effect from the 1st of July 1912. The Battalion consisted of three Squadrons and a maintenance element known as:
tasked with the study, experimentation and testing of new “flying machines”.
Time would reveal the importance of the DTAM. At that time, Turin was home to the largest concentration of aviation industries in Italy and the DTAM was assigned the task of evaluating the designs proposed by those companies who wanted to provide aircraft to the Army and of monitoring that the actual orders for military aircraft were performed with scrupulous adherence to the designs and used only the specified materials. It was an early version of “quality control”.
The DTAM, 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 between Professor Vittorio Valletta and Senator Giovanni Agnelli began.
The creation of the DTAM made Turin the focal point and magnet for the finest aeronautical engineers of the time in Italy, constituting a de facto nucleus of highly skilled professionals (with all due respect for the skills demonstrated by other places) which contributed to the formation of the “aeronautical intelligentsia” of the period.
The Headquarters of the Aviators Battalion became the La Marmora Barracks in Via Maria Vittoria 39 bis (which today houses the University’s female residence). Following negotiations with Colonel Moris, a motion was passed by the City Council, presided over by the Mayor, Teofilo Rossi on the 1st of April 1912: “[…] with the intention of ensuring that Turin has this new military service”.
Mirafiori airfield was its operational base. This soon went on to become the most important in Italy.
Its Commanding Officer was Lt. Col. Vittorio Cordero di Montezemolo with Giulio Douhet as his deputy. Douhet became world-famous for his studies and theories concerning the strategic use of aviation following the publication of his treatise on “Domination of the Air” in 1921. This had considerable influence on his contemporaries and is still part of military aviation studies today.And again, as the result of further discussions with Col. Moris, the City Council resolution of January 7 1913 confirmed the concession of the La Marmora Barracks, for a period of 29 years, in favour of the Aviators Battalion, “[…] and further noted that the dirigible based at Leros during the Italo-Turkish war had been shipped to the port of Venice at the end of that war, pending determination of a new destination”.
1913. L’hangar per il dirigibile P 300 ⁄ 1913. Hangar for P 300 dirigible
Taking this into consideration, the council conceded the area of Mirafiori as the new quarters for the dirigible […] with the scope of ensuring that Turin hosted the dirigible service which was required to safeguard the western Alps”.
On January 29, 1913 Major Dohuet inaugurated the 1st preparatory course on military aircraft in the Great Hall of the Polytechnic of Turin. This was attended by 15 officers and on June 3 of that same year Douhet organized the first military air show with a deployment of 7 squadrons joined by 4 other groups with Blériot, Nieuport 80 HP and Farman 75 HP for a total of 32 aircraft. The command of the departments was entrusted to Major Carlo Piazza.
The event was attended by their Royal Highnesses, the Duke of Genoa and Princess Laetitia Napoleone Savoia, Duchess of Aosta.
At the end of 1914, the Aviators Battalion consisted of 106 pilots, including 94 officers trained at the flying schools of San Carlo and Venaria.
On May 24, 1915, when Italy entered the Great War, the Aviators Battalion consisted of 3 groups of aircraft divided into 12 squadrons with 50 Blériot, Farman and Nieuport aircraft armed only with Mauser pistols.
General Engineer Carlo Montù, who in the meantime had become President of the Aero Club of Italy, proposed the formation of another “Flotilla of volunteer civilian aviators” to the Ministry of War, along the lines of that which had been organized for the Libyan War of 1911 (see p. 85). With regard to this he had already “signed up” 30 adherents including Rosina Ferrario, the first female licenced pilot in Italy (January 3, 1913 at the Vizzola Ticino Aviation School, directed by Engineer Gianni Caproni). His proposal was not accepted.
That same year, on the 3rd of June, the Aviators 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 Aviators Battalion, the aircraft took off at one minute intervals, joining up to make the first large formation of Italian military aircraft ever seen.
In the afternoon of the 20th of October 1913, Major Carlo Maria Piazza took off from Mirafiori and headed to the Susa Valley. At a height of 3,200 metres (about 10,400 feet) he set his course for Moncenisio, gliding to a halt in a small field at over 2,000 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.
1913 saw yet another novelty at Mirafiori when a huge hangar was built to house the p300 reconnaissance dirigible.
The Turin-Rome-Turin Race of 1913
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 04.56 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, began at 13.07 and saw them safely touch down at Mirafiori at 20.57 where they were carried in triumph by a cheering crowd.
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 needed to test it in flight. So having finally found someone who would listen to him at the Army’s Experimental Flight in Turin, he installed his equipment in a Caudron g3 biplane 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 Giuseppe De Marco as the pilot.
That flight was followed by another in early November, and after various modifications with yet another in the Caudron g 3, still with De Marco as the pilot but this time with Lt. Borghese as the wireless operator.
Giuseppe De Marco (pilot), Gugliemo Marconi and Lt. Borghese at Mirafiori
Lugo, 9 may 1888 – Nervesa della Battaglia, 19 june 1918
Among the many who were stationed at Mirafiori was Francesco Baracca from Lugo di Romagna, the man destined to become the most famous pilot in the history of Italian aviation.
On leaving school, he joined the Military Academy of Modena, graduating two years later, and in 1909 left for the Cavalry School at Pinerolo as a 2nd Lieutentant.
In 1910 he was assigned to the prestigious 2nd Cavalry Regiment “Royal Piedmont” based in Rome.
It was often said that cavalry officers had to have three qualities, known as “the three “B’s” – be “Bel, Biund and Bestia” (handsome, blond and bestial). Baracca was quite the reverse.
He gained his pilot’s brevet (No. 1037) in 1912 at Reims, France, and was promptly assigned to the Aviators Battalion with an initial posting to the Cascina Malpensa airfield. In 1913 he was sent to the Mirafiori airfield, and on the 13th of June, took part in the first parade of the Italian Air Force.
In July of that same year, he was transferred to the 6th Stormo at Busto Arsizio and subsequently (in 1917 during the Great War) on the Eastern front at Pasian di Prato (Udine) where he became part of the famous 91th “Aces Squadron” which was equipped with SPAD VII aircraft having a synchronization mechanism that allowed the machine gun to shoot through the propeller disk without hitting the blades (see following pages).
The SPADs were made in France, but the 150 HP engine was produced in Turin by the SCAT company (Società Ceirano Automobili Torino).
Baracca died on June 19, 1918 in the skies over Nervesa della Battaglia falling on the slopes of Mount Montello, perhaps shot down by an enemy aircraft, or perhaps struck by ground fire from an Austrian infantryman.
The true facts remain unknown.
In honour of his former cavalry Regiment, Baracca had a black rampant horse painted on his aircraft. Following his death, Countess Paolina Baracca, Francesco's mother, offered the symbol to Enzo Ferrari, saying to him: “Ferrari, put the rampant horse on your cars - it will bring you good luck”. And so it did.
Machine guns firing through the propeller arc
SP.3 aircraft with pusher propeller and forward-mounted machine gun
In July 1914, at the beginning of the First World War, aircraft were mainly used for missions of reconnaissance, artillery spotting etc, and when they encountered enemy aircraft, fired on them using pistols or even rifles, but with little or no effect.
The first aircraft fitted with machine guns were pusher types, with guns centrally mounted on the fuselage (see photo of the sp.3). But soon, with most new aircraft being designed as tractor types, with the engine and propeller to the front, machine guns began to be installed in two-seaters, operated by the observer.
“La Domenica del Corriere”, October 18-25, 1914. Illustration by Achille Beltrame
Such installations did not permit a full 360 degrees of traverse, but had limiting stops to avoid hitting not only the pilot , but also parts of the aircraft itself.
The need to reposition the guns on the forward fuselage arose with the fighters aircraft - they needed guns which could be easily aimed towards the enemy.
However, this brought the problem of avoiding hitting the propeller itself - initially solved by transferring the position of the gunner to the front, either with a kind of perch where the machine gun was positioned at such a height that the shots did not hit the propeller, or centrally positioned on the upper wing.
Machine gun installed on a twin-seater and operated by the pilot from the rear seat
But let us take a step backwards in time.
It was still a time of peace when in 1910, a German, Auguste Euler requested a patent for a project for the installation of a fuselage-mounted machine gun, fixed longitudinally on an aircraft with a pusher propeller. It was never built, and the idea never saw any follow-up.
In July 1913, a method of forward-firing through the propeller arc of a tractor type aircraft was designed by a Swiss engineer, Franz Schneider. This was intended to interrupt the firing of an automatic weapon with each passage of the propeller blade. The patent was published in the German aviation magazine “Flugsport” in February 1914, making it public knowledge before the the Great War even began.
The patent had the gun mechanism connected to the propeller through a rotary transmission, but no attempt to build nor to verify its functionality was ever made, and the idea remained never got passed the paper stage.
But Raymond Saulnier, a Frenchman, refined and modified Schneider’s idea, making it practical, and actually built such a device, something which can justly be called the first practical attempt to “synchronize” a machine gun by operating the trigger continuously at the appropriate moment rather than by attempting to “interrupt” it.
This was a practical project, and one which, at least in theory, ought to have worked – but it didn’t. The real problem was that the weapon used to test the mechanism (a Hotchkiss 8 mm machine gun) was fundamentally incapable of “semi-automatic” operation, thus following the initial unsuccessful tests, experiments were terminated.
Machine gun located centrally on the upper wing of a Nieuport 29b
In July 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, the need to arm aircraft with effective weapons soon became evident, but having tried a number of unsuccessful solutions to synchronise a machine gun to the propeller, it was Saunier himself, with no better solution in sight, who proposed shooting through the propeller arc and trusting to luck.
Following the failure of his early attempts at synchronization, he first thought of armouring the propeller blades but later decided to use steel deflectors at the base of the blades, in the path of the bullets, to deviate any hits and thus prevent them from damaging the propeller.
In March 1915, the French pilot Roland Garros asked Saulnier if he could install this “deflector wedge” device on his Morane-Saulnier type L. Garros himself and Jules Hue (his personal mechanic) then tried to perfect these “deflectors”.
This crude system worked after a fashion, but the wedges reduced propeller efficiency and the impact of the bullets striking the deflecting wedges at the blade roots provoked undesirable stress to the engine crankshaft.
Drawing of Franz Schneider’s patent for a mechanism
Sketch of the Morane-Saulnier project from the original
However, on April 1, 1915 Garros shot down his first German plane, but on April 18, following two more victories, he was forced (by enemy fire) to land behind the German lines. He attempted to set his plane on fire, but the propeller remained sufficiently intact for its recovery by the Germans who sent it for evaluation by the Inspektion der Fliegertruppen (Idflieg) in Döberitz, near Berlin.
Inspection of the strange propeller from Garros’ plane induced the Germans of Idflieg to try to copy it, but initial evidence showed that the deflector wedges would not be strong enough to resist the German type of ammunition which was steel-jacketed. Consequently, representatives of the Fokker and Pfalz industries (two companies that were already building copies of the Morane aircraft) were invited to Döberitz to inspect the mechanism and suggest ways in which its action could be suitably adapted.
The Dutch engineer Anthony Fokker, and his team who had already begun to develop a synchronization device even before Garros’ plane was captured, asked Idflieg to loan him a machine gun and parabellum ammunition so that his device could be tested. The Fokker synchronization mechanism (see illustration) is not derived from the Schneider patent (as is sometimes asserted), but rather from that of Saulnier.
As in the Saulnier patent, the Fokker system was designed to actively fire the weapon rather than to interrupt its operation and used Saulnier’s idea of connecting the primary mechanical transmission from the rotary engine oil pump to the propeller rotation.
Forward-mounted machine gun firing through the propeller arc, with the blades
The Fokker Stangensteuerung mechanism
The first aircraft to be equipped with the synchronization mechanism, using the parabellum mg14 machine gun, was the Fokker m.5k, also identified as the a.iii.
The testing of shooting through the propeller, with changed technologies and aims, continued even during the Second World War until the advent of jet aviation. The Germans equipped the Messerschmitt 109-e with two 12.7 mm machine guns installed on the engine cowling, firing through the propeller arc. The photo shows the synchronization of these machine guns by ground technicians, using a phonic wheel. The aircraft was also equipped with three machine guns, one on each wing, firing external to the propeller arc, and a third firing through the propeller ogive.
This installation was favoured by the inverted v configuration of the Daimler Benz 601 engine.
1941. Testing the synchronization of the machine guns with respect to the propeller arc on a Messerschmitt BF 109E
Francesco Brach Papa
Corio (To) 1891 – Turin 1973
BRACH PAPA obtained his Pilot’s Licence in Buc (France) on the 11th of August 1912 and in 1913 arrived in Turin, becoming first a member of the Aviators 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 18th of July 1913, when he took off from San Maurizio Canavese 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 April 1916, he reached an altitude of 6,150 metres (nearly 20,000 ft) in a SIA SP.2, and on the 14th of December, his SIA 7B reached the 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, Corradino D’ASCANIO, an engineer of the DTAM, went on to become a helicopter designer and the father of the famous “Vespa” motor-scooter produced by Piaggio.
In Turin, in 1952, having reached the rank of General, with a number of ex-Air Force colleagues, with a Deed drawn up by the Notary Fissore, he founded the “Associazione Arma Aeronautica” (Air Force Association) becoming its first President.
1932. FIAT N.3 monoplane, designed by Capt. Engineer Nuvoli, Test Pilot Brach Papa
Giulio Laureati’s achievement
Capt. Laureati and his mechanic Tonso with a SIA 7B2 at Mirafiori aerodrome
Captain Giulio Laureati from Grottammare (Ascoli Piceno) was assigned to the DTAM in Turin 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 in the field.
On the 15th of August 1917, with a fiat-sia “7b2” fitted with supplementary fuel tanks, he set a world record for distance with a nonstop 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 20.40.
Non-stop Turin - London flight. Capt. Giulio Laureati’s arrival at London’s Hounslow airport
The arrival of Laureati after the Turin-London raid
On the 24th of September 1917, in a sia 7b powered by a fiat a.12/bis 300 HP engine, Capt. Laureati and his mechanic Cpl. Michelangelo Tonso from Montalenghe (Turin) took off from the Mirafiori airfield 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 him the Royal Victorian Order on him personally.
Article dedicated to Laureati’s exploit in “Il Secolo Illustrato” (Lo Sport Illustrato e la Guerra), page 907Beginnings of “Gino Lisa”
At that time, the airfield of Mirafiori hosted three different organizations:
In June of 1921, the sports aviation section (sat) of the Mirafiori airfield was renamed to honour the memory of Gino Lisa, Military Gold Medal for Valour, a war volunteer, who at only 21 years of age gave his life for his country.
The sat thus became known as the “Aerocentro Gino Lisa – Torino”, a denomination which was later changed to “Aero Club Gino Lisa – Torino”.
Futurist advertisement “Chi vola vale”
Postcard depicting the airfield in 1913
Map producted by the City of Turin showing where
Gino Lisa, Military Gold Medal of Honour
Born 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. From an early age he had been attracted to art, becoming a student of the Torinese painter Giulio Romano VERCELLI in order to refine his technique.
In 1914, when the First World War began, he was on the side of the interventionists, and in early May 1915, when Gabriele d’ANNUNZIO’s speeches began to inflame Italy, his parents allowed him to enlist as a volunteer.
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 Ca.3 bomber.
On the 12th of April 1916 he was ordered to report to Campo della Comina at Pordenone (still in existence today) as an instructor for the 8th “Caproni” Squadron.
This is where his war experience began, 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 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th battles of Isonzo.
He was a brave and skillful 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 his way back to base, his No. 2 (nose) engine) 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.
During 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 11th and 12th battle of Isonzo.His life ended in combat. His plane was shot down over Caldonazzo, in the Astico Valley on the 15th of November 1917. The Airport of Foggia was named in his memory.
La Comina aerodrome (Pordenone). Gino Lisa (left) with Capt. Luigi Govi (1st right) beside a Caproni Ca.3 “Ace of Clubs”
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 for Valour.
Award of the Gold Medal of Valour to Gino Lisa
[…] 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, falling with his crew onto the rocky heights of Trentino, consecrating to Glory his young life, totally dedicated to his Country.
Skies over Caldonazzo in the Astico Valley,
15th November 1917
Turin 1880 – Montecelio 1928
Alessandro Guidoni from Turin, (with a degree in Engineering achieded in 1903 from the Turin Polytechnic, and another in Naval Engineering from Genoa in 1907) even although not yet a fully qualified pilot, also took part in the Italo-Turkish war. As early as 1909 he had become fascinated with the development of aviation, conducting significant studies into new technologies, in particular developing an aerodynamometer used to determine the aerodynamic characteristics of wings and propellers, new ideas for seaplanes and the gyro-guided bomb known as the “Crocco-Guidoni”.
Gaining his pilot’s brevet In August 1911, he dedicated himself to the development of seaplanes. The press reported that on November 5, 1911, he made a short flight within the Gulf of La Spezia using a Farman, suitably modified to take floats fitted with hydrofoils. This is considered to being the first seaplane flight in Italy, preceding a similar experiment conducted by Mario Calderara in March 1912.
Guidoni continued with his military experiments, and in July of 1913, for the first time in Italy, successfully conducted a test drop of a dummy 100 kg bomb. He successively went on to drop a 120 kg bomb from an “Albatros”, a German-designed aircraft built in Italy.
The name of Guidoni has also remained linked to a series of interesting studies and naval projects, in particular the “Navi Hangar”. Although this never got past the drawing board, it would later become the basis for the development of the first units of this type some years later.
Guidoni was also the inventor of the torpedo-launching aircraft. In 1914 he had performed an experimental launch of a dummy torpedo from a twin-engined prototype seaplane, but the first real, successful experiment took place in 1917 near Venice, using a Caproni bomber modified with attachment jaws to hold and release the 800 kg torpedo.
In 1919 Guidoni taught Seaplane Construction at the Turin Polytechnic, dedicating himself up until 1922 to the design of various aircraft. In 1923, by now a Major-General, he transferred to the recently-formed Regia Aeronautica to become Director of the Air Force’s strategic planning department for aircraft engineering and construction.
He met a tragic end on April 27 1928 making the final test of a new kind of parachute. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Gold Medal of Honour, and in 1937 Mussolini decreed that the new town of Guidonia, in Lazio, should be named after him.
1915. Alessandro Guidoni with his float plane passes under the bridge at Taranto
Foundation of the Italian Air Force
On March 28, 1923, the day when the “Arma Aeronautica” gained its independence from the Army, the military area at Mirafiori was dedicated to the memory of Col. Carlo Maria Piazza (Busto Arsizio 1871 – Milan 1917), pioneer of military aviation (Military Brevet No. 1), and Silver Medal for Valor.
Turin then became the headquarters of important offices and military units while Mirafiori and Venaria Reale airfields became bases for a variety of fighter, bomber and reconnaissance squadrons, due to the industrial and aeronautical engineering support offered by the city.
Examples of these were the fiat technical staff with Engineers Torretta, Gamba and Zerbi (engines), Rosatelli and Gabrielli (design), while Ansaldo had Engineers Savoy and Verduzio (the sva designers), and also Brezzi. Within Aeritalia, testing activities took place under the supervision of Engineer Mario Bernasconi, Captains Bedendo and Nuvoli (Enginering branch) and Lt. Fossati.
In 1925, various units of the Italian Royal Air Force were allocated between Turin, Mirafiori and Venaria Reale. The headquarters of No. 19 (Reconnaissance) Squadron was in Turin, Mirafiori hosted No. 13 (Daylight fast bomber) Squadron ( the Iron Squadron) while Venaria Reale hosted No. 2 (Fighter) Squadron.
1926. The public at the celebrations for the 3rd anniversary of the foundation of the Air Force. In the background the aircraft of the 13th B.T. Squadron.
In 1933, No. 3 (Fighter) Squadron, one of the most important military aviation units, was transferred from Bresso (Milan) to Mirafiori. As of 1936, along with with No. 2 Squadron, this was transformed into an Air Brigade under the command of Gen. Mazzucco.
In 1936, the 53rd Fighter Squadron was constituted at Mirafiori. This became one of the most important and famous squadrons of the Italian Air Force. In 1938 the newly opened military airport at Caselle Torinese became home to the 151st group of 53 (Fighter) Squadron.
In 1940, No. 56 (Fighter) Squadron was set up at Mirafiori under the command of General Chiesa. With Italy’s entry into the 2nd World War, this was augmented by No. 2 Fighter Squadron, then the aircraft from both Mirafiori and Venaria Reale left for the Libyan front.
On the 18th of May 1930, the Aero Club Gino Lisa with the patronage of the newspaper “La Stampa” organized the first “Circuit of the Castles of Piedmont”. 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 1,000 lire, a monetary prize of 2,000 lire and a silver medal offered by the Royal Aero Club of Italy (raci).
The route went from the Mirafiori airfield, to the Castle of Rivoli, the Castle of Stupinigi, the Maddalena hill and back to the Castle of Rivoli again, four circuits for a distance of some 150 kilometers.
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