Showing posts with label aeroplanes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label aeroplanes. Show all posts

5 July 2023

Italian aviators set distance flying record

Rome-Brazil flight makes history

The Savoia-Marchetti S64 on the runway at Montecelio airfield, near Rome
The Savoia-Marchetti S64 on the runway
at Montecelio airfield, near Rome 
Italian aviation enthusiasts were celebrating on this day in 1928 when two pilots of the Regia Aeronautica - the Italian Air Force - landed their aircraft in Brazil having set a world record for the longest straight-line non-stop flight. 

The duo - Carlo Del Prete and Arturo Ferrarin - had taken off from a military airfield at Montecelio near Rome 49 hours and 19 minutes earlier, crossing Northwest Africa and the South Atlantic in their Savoia-Marchetti S64 monoplane on a single tank of fuel.

They were credited with a distance of 7,188km (4,466 miles), that being the great-circle distance (the formula used to calculate the distance between points on the surface of a sphere) between Montecelio and the flight’s intended destination - after several changes of plan - at Natal on the northeastern tip of Brazil.

In fact, after making a series of manoeuvres en route because of weather events, the two had covered around 8,100km (5,033 miles) and, fearing they would run out of fuel before they could reach Natal, took the decision to land on a beach at Touros, some 70km (43 miles) further up the coast.

Carlo Del Prete had flown across the Atlantic twice before
Carlo Del Prete had flown across
the Atlantic twice before
Both Del Prete and Ferrarin were experienced in long-haul flying and had taken on several endurance challenges.

Del Prete, born in Lucca in 1897, was a major in the Regia Aeronautica. He had been chosen as co-pilot by Francesco De Pinedo, one of the Italian pioneers of long-distance flying and a friend from their time in the Italian Navy, for an epic transatlantic journey from Europe to the Two Americas, flying over three continents - Africa, South Africa and North America - and crossing the Atlantic twice, covering a total distance of 43,820 km (27,228 miles).

Ferrarin, who hailed from Thiene in the province of Vicenza, was a former Regia Aeronautica pilot who specialised in aviation contests, acquiring fame through a 1920 race from Rome to Tokyo, stopping in Greece, Syria, India, Burma, Thailand, French Indochina (now Vietnam), China, and Korea, over a distance of 8,000km (4,971 miles). He and fellow Italian Guido Masiero, together with their respective engineers, were the only two finishers from 11 aircraft that began the race.

Together, Del Prete and Ferrarin had set a record earlier in 1928 for the longest distance over a closed circuit, in the same Savoia-Marchetti S.64, completing 51 circuits of a route between Torre Flavia, near Ladispoli, and Anzio along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast, covering 7,666km (4,763 miles) and staying continuously airborne for 58 hours 34 minutes.

The transatlantic flight was planned for the first days of July so that the night hours of the flight would benefit from a full moon.  The monoplane, which had been built specifically for long-distance flying, complete with a bunk bed behind one of the seats, took off from Montecelio on a purpose-built runway at 6.51pm on the evening of July 3. 

Arturo Ferrarin clashed with Fascist politician Italo Balbo
Arturo Ferrarin clashed with
Fascist politician Italo Balbo
The original planned destination had been Rio de Janeiro, but for technical reasons it was changed shortly before departure to Bahia (now Salvador), further to the north.

Weighed down heavily with the fuel necessary for the journey, the plane was able to climb only at 0.25 metres per second. It took 3km (1.8 miles) to reach an altitude of 15m (49ft).

The first difficulty the pilots encountered came as they flew over Africa, when hot winds caused their engine to burn fuel more quickly, prompting them to change their course in order to find cooler temperatures further north. 

The next problem was a belt of equatorial thunderstorms, which required them to climb to a safer altitude rather than risk putting the aircraft through stresses of the storm.

The sighting of the Brazilian coastline on the morning of July 5 came as a relief, confirming that that mid-flight route re-calculations had been accurate. 

Yet there was more drama ahead with another encounter with bad weather as they headed towards Bahia, this time in the shape of fog, forcing another change of plans. The new destination was now Natal, where they expected to land on the Latécoère airfield . However, worried about their fuel reserve and still hindered by poor visibility, Ferrarin and Del Prete eyed a strip of sand at Touros and decided to put down there. 

The landing was not without damage to the plane as its wheels quickly sank into the sand. Nonetheless, the two airmen clambered from the cockpit triumphant.  Yet the story had three tragic postscripts.

The Savoia-Marchetti S64 on the beach at  Touros in Brazil after its emergency landing
The Savoia-Marchetti S64 on the beach at 
Touros in Brazil after its emergency landing
While still in Brazil, Ferrarin and Del Prete were asked by the company who built the plane for them to carry out a demonstration flight in their Savoia-Marchetti S.62 seaplane for an audience of potential buyers in Rio. During the flight, the aircraft’s wing assembly collapsed and the aircraft plunged into the sea. Ferrarin escaped serious injury but Del Prete was left with damage to both legs, one of which had to be amputated.  An infection set in and he died in Rio on August 16, five days before his 31st birthday.

On his return to Italy, Ferrarin was awarded the Gold Medal of Aeronautic Valor. However, in 1929 Italo Balbo, a powerful member of Mussolini's Fascist government, who had become the Minister of the Italian Air Force, banned any further participation by Italian airmen in races and competitions on the grounds that they gave prestige to individuals rather than highlighting the power of the regime’s air weaponry. After Ferrarin and Balbo clashed over the decision, Balbo demanded that Ferrarin leave the Air Force. 

He joined the aviation division of auto giants Fiat, where his duties included flying company founder Giovanni Agnelli’s seaplane. On one such flight in 1935, with Agnelli’s son, Edoardo, his passenger, he hit an object in the water off Genoa and overturned. He escaped unharmed but Edoardo was killed.  Ferrarin himself died five years later in another air accident.

The S64, meanwhile, improved the closed circuit record again in 1930, with pilots Fausto Cecconi and Umberto Maddalena at the controls, flying continuously for a distance of 8,188 km (5,088 miles) and remaining in flight for 67 h 13 min.  Sadly, the following year, the S64 crashed into the sea and was never recovered, taking Cecconi and Maddalena and the engineer Giuseppe Da Monte down with it.

The airfield at Montecelio, with its Fascist-era architecture, as it was in the 1930s
The airfield at Montecelio, with its Fascist-era
architecture, as it was in the 1930s
Travel tip:

The Montecelio airfield is now part of a municipality known as Guidonia Montecelio, about 25km (15 miles) northeast of Rome, which comprises the ancient hilltop town of Montecelio, the history of which goes back 6,000 years, and the modern town of Guidonia, built in 1937. Once the home of a fortified Roman fort, Montecelio in the Middle Ages featured a fortress built at the highest point of the town, the remains of which are still visible. A maze of streets and alleyways tumble down the hillside, radiating from a pleasant central square, the Piazza San Giovanni.  Guidonia was originally built to house the officers and civilian employees based at the airfield. Built under the guidance of lead architect Alberto Calza Bini, it followed the orthogonal layout of streets typical of other Fascist-era new towns. 

Lucca's walls provide a full 4.2km circuit of the city and are popular with walkers, cyclists and joggers
Lucca's walls provide a full 4.2km circuit of the city
and are popular with walkers, cyclists and joggers
Travel tip:

Lucca, where Carlo Del Prete was born, is situated in western Tuscany, just 30km (19 miles) inland from Viareggio on the coast and barely 20km (12 miles) from Pisa, with its international airport.  It is often overlooked by travellers to the area in favour of Pisa’s Leaning Tower and the art treasures of Florence, 80km (50 miles) to the east, yet has much to recommend within its majestic walls, where visitors can stroll along narrow cobbled streets into a number of beautiful squares, with lots of cafes and restaurants for those content to soak up the ambience, but also a wealth of churches, museums and galleries for those seeking a fix of history and culture.   The Renaissance walls, still intact, are an attraction in their own right, providing a complete 4.2km (2.6 miles) circuit of the city popular with walkers and cyclists.

Also on this day:

1466: The birth of military leader Giovanni Sforza

1966: The birth of footballer Gianfranco Zola

1974: The birth of motorcycle racer Roberto Locatelli

1982: Paolo Rossi’s World Cup hat-trick

1982: The birth of footballer Albert Gilardino

1984: Diego Maradona signs for Napoli


26 April 2017

Samantha Cristoforetti - astronaut

Record-breaker spent almost 200 days in space

Samantha Cristoforetti in full spacesuit for her official ESA portrait
Samantha Cristoforetti in full spacesuit for
her official ESA portrait
Italy’s first female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, was born on this day in 1977 in Milan.

A captain in the Italian Air Force, in which she is a pilot and engineer, Cristoforetti holds the world record for the longest space flight by a woman, which she set as a crew member on the European Space Agency’s Futura mission to the International Space Station in 2014.

Cristoforetti and her two fellow astronauts, the Russian Anton Shkaplerov and the American Terry Virts, left Kazakhstan in a Soyuz spacecraft on November 23, 2014 and returned on June 11, 2015, having spent 199 days and 16 hours in space – four days longer than the previous record for a female astronaut, held by the American NASA astronaut Sunita Williams.

The mission was supposed to have ended a month earlier but had to be extended after a Russian supply freighter failed to reach the ISS. The extra time also allowed Cristoforetti to set a record for the longest time in space by a European astronaut of either gender.

While Williams was hailed as the first person to complete a marathon in space when she ran 26 miles and 385 yards on the ISS’s on-board treadmill at the same time as the 2007 Boston Marathon was taking place on earth, Cristoforetti can proudly claim to be the first person to have brewed an espresso coffee in space using a machine sent to the crew as a gift.

Cristoforetti celebrated her 28th birthday in space with crewmates Anton Shkaplerov (left) and Terry Virts
Cristoforetti celebrated her 38th birthday in space with
crewmates Anton Shkaplerov (left) and Terry Virts
Although born in Milan, Cristoforetti spent her childhood in Malè, a small town in an Alpine valley - Val di Sole – in Trentino.

Her interest in space began in childhood and was cemented at the age of 18, when she participated in a United States foreign exchange programme and attended Space Camp.

After going to college in Bolzano and Trento, she graduated from the Technical University of Munich with a degree in mechanical engineering.  She attended a French space institute – the École nationale supérieure de l'aéronautique et de l'espace in Toulouse – and the Mendeleev Russian University of Chemistry and Technology in Moscow.

Returning to Italy and pursuing her career with the Italian Air Force, she graduated in aeronautics sciences at the Accademia Aeronautica in Pozzuoli, near Naples, and became one of the first Italian women to be a lieutenant and fighter pilot, since when she has also completed NATO flight training.

Cristoferotti's photographs included this amazing view of the Italian peninsula at night
Cristoforetti's photographs included this amazing
view of the Italian peninsula at night
Cristoforetti, who described her time in space as “a magical experience”, was selected from among 7,000 applicants to the European Space Agency astronaut programme in 2009 and had been training for three years when it was announced she had been chosen for the 2014 mission.

The mission involved maintenance work on the Space Station as well as almost continuous programme of scientific experiments.  Cristoforetti did not take part in any space walks but was responsible for the safety of her two colleagues while they were outside the ship.  Communications were never a problem as she speaks five languages – Italian, German, English, Russian and French.

Cristoforetti, in the 'cupola' of the Space Station,  savours the first espresso brewed in space
Cristoforetti, in the 'cupola' of the Space Station,
savours the first espresso brewed in space
In addition to the work, Cristoforetti tweeted many photographs to her 900,000 Twitter followers, both of her and her crewmates inside the Space Station and of views of the earth.  She took part in a series of videos to illustrate life in space in zero gravity, including hair-cutting, ‘showering’ and cooking - and brewing espresso, which was made possible by the specially designed ISSpresso machine, created by the coffee maker Lavazza and the engineering firm Argotec and sent to the crew as a gift on the April 2015 supply freighter.

A month after returning to earth, Cristoforetti was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president. The Order of Merit is the senior order of knighthood, the highest ranking honour of the republic.

A beautiful wintry scene of the Noce river near Malè
A beautiful wintry scene of the Noce river near Malè 
Travel tip:

The town of Malè can be found on a plateau in the Val di Sole valley, sitting alongside the valley’s main river, the Noce.  The administrative and cultural centre of the valley, Malè has a civic museum, and a parish church dating back to the 16th century and an ancient sawmill and smithy, Marinelli del Pondasio, a rare preserved example of a hydraulic smithy. Nearby is the Stelvio National Park the Adamello Brenta Nature Park. Malè is a centre for alpine sports, including hiking, climbing and rafting during the summer, and is a short distance from the ski areas of Marilleva-Folgarida and Madonna di Campiglio.

Nisida, former home of the Accademia Aeronautica
Nisida, former home of the Accademia Aeronautica
Travel tip:

The Accademia Aeronautica, the academy of the Italian Air Force, can be found at a purpose-built facility on a hill overlooking the port town of Pozzuoli, on the northern shore of the Bay of Naples, having previously been housed in the grand surroundings of the Royal Palace in Caserta, just to the north of Naples, and then on the island of Nisida, near the Marechiaro district of Naples, which is linked to the mainland by a causeway.

More reading:

Aviation pioneer Enea Bossi and the first human-powered flight

How Camillo Castiglioni recognised the potential of aeroplanes

The ground-breaking academic who paved way for women in science

Also on this day:

1925: The birth of the man who invented Nutella spread

(Picture credit: Wintry scene by Giogio Galeotti via Wikimedia Commons)


25 April 2017

Ferruccio Ranza - World War One flying ace

Fighter pilot survived 57 aerial dogfights

Ferruccio Ranza in the cockpit of a Nieuport fighter plane
Ferruccio Ranza in the cockpit of a Nieuport fighter plane
Ferruccio Ranza, a World War One pilot who survived 465 combat sorties and scored 17 verified victories, died on this day in 1973 in Bologna, at the age of 80.

Ranza, who also saw service in the Second World War, when he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, was jointly the seventh most successful of Italy’s aviators in the 1914-18 conflict, and would be placed third if his eight unconfirmed victories had been proven.  In all, he engaged with enemy aeroplanes in 57 dogfights.

The most successful Italian flying ace from the First World War was Francesco Baracca, who chalked up 34 verified victories before he was killed in action in 1918.  Ranza served alongside Baracca in the 91st Fighter Squadron of the Italian air force, the so-called ‘squadron of aces’.

Ranza was born in Fiorenzuolo d’Arda, a medium-sized town in the province of Piacenza in what is now Emilia-Romagna, in 1892. Both his parents, Paolo and Maria, were teachers. 

Ferruccio Ranza, second left, with other member of the 91st Squadron, including Francesco Barraca (far right)
Ferruccio Ranza, second left, with other member of the 91st
Squadron, including Francesco Baracca (far right)
After attending the Istituto Tecnico ‘Romagnosi’ in Piacenza, he joined the Italian army in December 1913. He was a second lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Engineers when the First World War began in 1914.

Italy had been part of the Triple Alliance at that time, along with Germany and Austria-Hungary, but delayed entering the conflict and by the time it did, in April 1915, it was on the side of the Triple Entente, with Russia, France and Britain, having been promised territorial gains in the Adriatic Sea region.

Ranza attended the flying school at Venaria Reale, just outside Turin. His first assignment, in October 1915, was to fly reconnaissance missions with the 43rd Squadron. He won a Bronze award of the Medal for Military Valor for carrying out an artillery spotting mission under heavy fire.

His success in aerial warfare began when he mastered the French-built Nieuport fighters and joined 77th Squadron in June 1916, scoring his first success after only five days when he downed a Hansa-Brandenburg CI, an aircraft designed by Ernst Heinkel, who would provide much of the Luftwaffe’s air power during the Second World War.

A scale model of the Nieuport 11 in which Ranza scored many of his victories after joining the 91st Squadron
A scale model of the Nieuport 11 in which Ranza scored
many of his victories after joining the 91st Squadron
In November 2016, Fulco Ruffo di Calabria was removed from command of 77th Squadron because of combat fatigue and Ranza was appointed to succeed him in command.

He was transferred to the crack 91st Squadron under the command of Francesco Baracca in May 2017, achieving his first kill the following month when he downed a two-seater armed reconnaissance plane in the skies above Barco, a small town near Vicenza in what is now the Veneto.

Ranza remained with the 91st until the end of the war, by which time he had won three Silver awards of the Medal for Military Valor, the Serbian Order of the Star of Karađorđe, four war crosses (two Italian, one French, one Belgian), and the Military Order of Savoy.

Even after the war had finished, with Italy counting a heavy cost in lives lost and economic consequences, Ranza continued his military career, seeing service in Africa and Albania as Mussolini pursued an aggressive foreign policy. 

Ferruccio Ranzo in 1944
Ferruccio Ranza in 1944
When Italy entered World War Two, Ranza was in charge of Italy’s air force in Albania, providing support for Italy’s campaign in Greece.  He had an escape in 1941 when, flying a transport plane, he was attacked by an Italian fighter who mistook him for an enemy. Ranza’s plane was hit and badly damaged but he managed to crash land and avoided serious injury.

By 1943, as the Allied invasion of Italy began, he was the commander of Italy’s airforce in the south of the peninsula, based in Bari, and after Mussolini’s overthrow was able to persuade the Allied command to allow Italian planes to contribute to the nation’s liberation by flying missions against the Germans.

Ranza retired in 1945 and was living in Bologna at the time of his death.  His body was returned to Fiorenzuolo d’Arda for burial in the family chapel at the town’s cemetery.

Travel tip:

Fiorenzuola d’Arda is a town of about 15,000 inhabitants situated about halfway between Piacenza and Parma in the plain of the Po Valley, in the Emilia-Romagna province. The Arda river flows through the town before joining the Po. It is a pleasant town built, at the centre of which, on Piazza Molinari, is the Collegiate Church of San Fiorenzo, the construction of which began in the 13th century.

The Royal Palace, Reggia di Venaria Reale
The Royal Palace, Reggia di Venaria Reale
Travel tip:

Venaria Reale is a town, on the north-west edge of the Turin metropolitan area, of historical significance for the presence of the Reggia di Venaria Reale, a palace of the Royal House of Savoy, which was designed and built from 1675 by Amedeo di Castellamonte, having been commissioned by duke Charles Emmanuel II as a base for his hunting expeditions in the countryside north of Turin. The town’s historic centre was also designed by Di Castellamonte to provide an appropriate backdrop to the palace.

More reading:

How Armando Diaz led decision World War One victory at Vittorio Veneto

Enea Bossi and the pedal-powered aeroplane

The Calabrian veteran who survived two world wars

Also on this day: