Tag Archives: Regia Aeronautica

11 April 1934

Renato Donati prepares for high altitude flight, 11 April 1934. (Caproni)
Renato Donati prepares for high altitude flight, 11 April 1934. (Società Italiana Caproni Milano)

11 April 1934: Commander Renato Donati of Italy’s Regia Aeronautica flew a modified Società Italiana Caproni Milano Caproni Ca.113 two-place biplane named Alta Quota from Montecielo Airport, outside Rome, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record altitude of 14,433 meters (47,352 feet).¹

At such high altitudes, airman must not only be provided with oxygen, but it must be under positive pressure. In this photograph, Commander Donati is being prepared for the flight with a special pressurized suit made of “gutta percha” (a type of rubberized fabric).

Renato Donati in the cockpit of the Caproni Ca.113 A.Q., 11 April 1934. (Caproni)
Renato Donati in the cockpit of the Caproni Ca.114, 11 April 1934. (Società Italiana Caproni Milano)

The Chicago Daily Tribune reported:

     ROME, April 11.—Renato Donati, 40 year old Italian war ace, hung up a world’s altitude record today when he spiraled his specially constructed Caproni airplane nine miles up into the skies of Rome, to the very limit of the earth’s air envelope.

     Seventy-five minutes after he took off from the Monticello airport on his Icarian adventure Donati dropped back onto the field. He collapsed from the nervous and physical shock of such a swift change of atmospheric conditions, for his instruments registered a height of 14,500 meters [47,560 feet] and temperature of 66 degrees below zero, Centigrade [67.3 degrees below zero Fahrenheit]. With medical aid Donato quickly recovered. . .

Chicago Daily Tribune, Volume XCIII.—No. 88, Thursday 12 April 1934, Page 11, column 1. Article written by David Darrah, Chicago Tribune Press Service.

Renato Donati after his world record-setting flight, 11 April 1934.

The Società Italiana Caproni, Milano Caproni Ca. 113 Alta Quota was developed from the Ca.113 trainer. It was powered by a British-built Bristol Pegasus, the same type used by the Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition to fly over Mount Everest the previous week. It was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) nine-cylinder radial engine, with a compression ratio of 5.3:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 525 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), and produced a maximum of 575 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). It drove a four-blade ground-adjustable metal propeller.

Caproni Ca.113 Alta Quota at Montecelio airport, 11 April 1934. (Luce Cinecittà)

The production Ca.113 was a single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear, built in Italy and at Caproni’s subsidiary in Bulgaria. The airplane was designed to be aerobatic. It first flew in 1931. It was constructed of steel tubing and wood, covered wit aluminum sheet and doped fabric. The Ca.113 was  24 feet, 5 inches (7.442 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 5 inches (10.490 meters) and height of 9 feet, 2 inches (2.794 meters). The lower wing was staggered behind the upper. It had an empty weight of 1,797 pounds (815 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,348 pounds (1,065 kilograms).

The Ca.113 was powered by an Alfa-Romeo engine developed from the license-built Bristol Pegasus. It had a Normal Power rating of 525 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), and produced a maximum of 575 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).

The Ca.113 had a maximum speed of 143 miles per hour ( kilometers per hour), and was capable of climbing to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) in 15 minutes.

The following year, Commander Donati’s Ca.114 (Ca.113 R, equipped with an Alfa Romeo Pegasus S.2 engine) was flown by aviatrix Contessa Carina Negrone, to a women’s record altitude of 12,043 meters (39,511 feet).²

Caproni Ca.113 A.Q.
Caproni Ca.114.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8170

² FAI Record File Number 12166

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 April 1933

M.C. 72 (FAI)
Macchi-Castoldi M.C.72 MM 177 (FAI)

10 April 1933: At Lago di Garda, Brescia, Italy, Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica, flew the Macchi-Castoldi M.C. 72, MM 177, the first of five float planes in the series, over a 3-kilometer course to set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record of 682.08 kilometers per hour (423.83 miles per hour).¹

The following year, 23 October 1934, Agello would fly the fifth M.C. 72, MM 181, to 709.21 kilometers per hour (440.68 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer course, breaking his own record by almost 30 kilometers per hour. ²

Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica
Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica
Side line drawing of the Macchi-Castoldi M.C. 72. (NASM-SI-73-554)
Ing. Mario Castoldi

The Macchi-Castoldi M.C.72 was designed by Ing. Mario Castoldi for Aeronautica Macchi-S.p.A. It was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane float plane constructed of wood and metal. It was 8.32 meters (27 feet, 3½ inches) long with a wingspan of 9.48 meters (31 feet, 1¼ inches) and height of 3.30 meters (10 feet, 10 inches). Surface radiators were placed on top of each wing and surface oil coolers on the floats.

The M.C.72 had an empty weight of 2,505 kilograms (5,523 pounds), loaded weight of 2,907 kilograms (6,409 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight of 3,031 kilograms (6,682 pounds).

In this photograph of a Macchi-Castoldi M.C. 72 during an engine test, the surface-mounted oil coolers on the pontoons are visible.

The M.C. 72 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 50.256 liter (3,066.805 cubic inch), Fiat S.p.A. AS.6 24-cylinder dual overhead cam 60° V-24 engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 7:1. The engine produced 3,100 horsepower at 3,300 r.p.m. with 11.5 pounds of boost (0.79 Bar). It drove two counter-rotating, two-bladed, fixed-pitch propellers with a diameter of 2.59 meters (8 feet, 6 inches) through a 0.60:1 gear reduction. Each counter-rotating blade cancelled the torque effect of the other. The Fiat AS.6 was 3.365 meters (132.48 inches) long, 0.702 meters (27.638 inches) wide, and 0.976 meters (27.64 inches) high. It weighed 930 kilograms (2,050 pounds).

Illustration of the Fiat AS.6 V-24 aircraft engine, right side. (Old Machine Press)

Five Macchi M.C.72 float planes had been built for the 1931 Schneider Trophy race, but problems with the Fiat AS.6 engine, which was essentially two AS.5 V-12s assembled back-to-back, prevented them from competing. Four test pilots, including Francesco Agello, had been selected to fly the airplanes for speed record attempts. Two of them, Captain Giovanni Monti and Lieutenant Stanislao Bellini, were killed while testing the M.C.72, and the third died in the crash of another type. The cause of the accidents were explosions within the engines’ intake tract. Though they ran perfectly on test stands, in flight, they began to backfire, then explode.

It was discovered by Francis Rodwell (“Rod”) Banks,³ a British engineer who had been called in to develop a special high-octane fuel, that the Fiat engineers had overlooked the ram effect of the 400 mile per hour (644kilometers per hour) slipstream. This caused the fuel mixture to become too lean, resulting in predetonation and backfiring. A modification was made to the intake and the problem was resolved.

Francesco Agello

Francesco Agello was twice awarded the Henry De La Vaulx Medal by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, and also awarded the Medaglia d’oro al valore aeronautico. In part, his citation read, “A high speed pilot of exceptional courage and, after competition in difficult and dangerous test flights during the development of the fastest seaplane in the world, twice he conquered the absolute world speed record.”

Capitano Agello was killed in a mid-air collision, 26 November 1942, while testing a Macchi C.202 Fogore fighter.

Macchi M.C.72 at Aeronautica Militare
The world record setting Macchi-Costoldi M.C.72, MM 181, at the Museo Storico dell’Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force Museum) in Vigna di Valle, Italy.

¹ FAI Record File Number 11836

² FAI Record File Number 4497

³ Air Commodore Francis Rodwell Banks, CB, OBE, Hon. CGIA, Hon. FRAeS, Hon. FAIAA, FIMechE., Finst. Pet., FRSA, CEng., MSAE; Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur; Commander, Legion of Merit; Орденъ Св. Станислава (Military Order of St. Stanislaus (Imperial Russia) (22 March 1898–12 May 1985)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 November 1926

Major Mario de Bernardi with his record-setting Macchi M.39, 1926.
Major Mario de Bernardi with his record-setting Macchi M.39, 1926. (FAI)
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica

17 November 1926: At Hampton Roads, Virginia, Major Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica, broke his own record, set just four days earlier, when he flew the Aeronautica Macchi M.39, number MM.76, to a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course with an average speed of 416.62 kilometers per hour (258.88 miles per hour).¹

Ing. Mario Castoldi

The Macchi M.39 racing float plane was designed by Mario Castoldi. It was a single-place, single engine monoplane with two pontoons, or floats. The wing is externally braced, has 0° dihedral, and incorporates surface radiators. The M.39 was 6.473 meters (22 feet, 2.8 inches) long with a wingspan of 9.26 meters (30 feet, 4.6 inches) and height of 3.06 meters (10 feet, 0.5 inches). The empty weight of the Schneider Trophy racer was 1,300 kilograms (2,866 pounds) and its maximum gross weight was 1,615 kilograms (3,560 pounds).

With its cowling removed, the Macchi M.39’s Fiat AS.2 engine can be seen. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The M.39 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403 liter (1,916.329 cubic inch) Fiat AS.2 60° DOHC V-12 direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. It used three carburetors and two magnetos, and produced 882 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch metal propeller designed by Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed. The AS.2 engine was designed by Tranquillo Zerbi, based on the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company’s D-12 engine. The engine was 1.864 meters (6 feet, 1.4 inches) long, 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.4 inches) wide and 0.948 meters (3 feet, 1.3 inches) high. It weighed 412 kilograms (908 pounds).

The Macchi M.39 could reach 420 kilometers per hour (261 miles per hour).

Macchi M.39 MM.76 is in the collection of the Aeronautica Militare museum.

Macchi M.39 at Hampton Roads, 1926. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Macchi M.39 at Hampton Roads, 1926. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

¹ FAI Record File Number 11835

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 November 1926

Regia Aeronautica Macchi M.39, MM.76, winner of the 1926 Schneider Trophy Race. (U.S. Air Force)
Regia Aeronautica Macchi M.39, MM.76, winner of the 1926 Schneider Trophy Race. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica

13 November 1926: The 1926 race for the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (the Schneider Trophy) was held at Hampton Roads, a large natural harbor between southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, two states on the Atlantic coast of the United States. There were an estimated 30,000 spectators. The race consisted of seven laps of a 50 kilometer (31 miles) triangular course.

The location of each race went to the country whose national team had won the previous year. Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, had won the 26 October 1925 race at Baltimore, Maryland, flying a Curtiss R3C-2 to an average speed of 232.57 miles per hour (374.29 kilometers per hour).

The 1926 Schneider Race included three Italian and three American airplanes. The British team’s aircraft were not ready so they did not compete.

Captain,Arturo Ferrin, Regia Aeronautica (1895–1941)
Captain Arturo Ferrarin, Regia Aeronautica (1895–1941)

All three Regia Aeronautica pilots, Major Mario de Bernardi, Captain Arturo Ferrarin, and Lieutenant Adriano Bacula, flew Macchi M.39 seaplanes, powered by the Fiat AS.2 V-12 engine.

The American team used three different Curtiss biplanes, each with a different Curtiss V-12 engine. 1st Lieutenant Christian Frank Schilt, United States Marine Corps, flew a Curtiss R3C-2, serial number A.7054, carrying race number 6. Schilt’s airplane was powered by a Curtiss V-1400. Lieutenant William Gosnell Tomlinson, U.S. Navy, flew a Curtiss F6C-3 Hawk, A.7128, with race number 2. This airplane was equipped with a Curtiss D-12A. Lieutenant George T. Cuddihy, U.S. Navy, flew a Curtiss R3C-4, A.6979, with race number 4, with a Curtiss V-1550.

Christian Frank Schilt in the cockpit of the Curtis R3C-2 racer, number 6. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
1st Lieutenant Christian Frank Schilt, U.S. Marine Corps, in the cockpit of the Curtis R3C-2 racer, A.7054, race number 6. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The Italian team celebrates their victory (Virginia Aviation) by Roger Connor at Page 42

The race was delayed for two days because of adverse weather conditions. The race began at 2:35 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, with the first of three Italian racers entering the course.  Airplanes departed at intervals to avoid coming too close to each other while flying the course.

De Bernardi finished the seven laps in 52 minutes, 56.22 seconds, averaging 246.496 miles per hour (396.697 kilometers per hour). Schilt finished in second place in 56 minutes, 23.96 seconds, at 231.364 miles per hour (372.344 kilometers per hour). Bacula was third at 59 minutes, 51.31 seconds, at 218.006 miles per hour (350.847 kilometers per hour). Fourth place went to Tomlinson, completing the course in 1 hour, 35 minutes, 16.72 seconds, at 136.954 miles per hour (220.406 kilometers per hour). Ferrarin’s airplane had an oil line break and he made a precautionary landing at the end of his fourth lap. A fuel pump on Cuddihy’s airplane failed, and his engine stopped. He touched down short of the finish line on his seventh and final lap.

Aeronautica Macchi M.39, circa 1926. (Unattributed)
Aeronautica Macchi M.39 at Lago di Varese, August 1926. (Unattributed)

The Macchi M.39 racing float plane was designed by Mario Castoldi. It is a single engine, single-place, low-wing monoplane with two pontoons, or floats. The wing is externally braced, has 0° dihedral, and incorporates surface radiators. The M.39 is 6.473 meters (22 feet, 2.8 inches) long with a wingspan of 9.26 meters (30 feet, 4.6 inches) and height of 3.06 meters (10 feet, 0.5 inches). The empty weight of the Schneider Trophy racer is 1,300 kilograms (2,866 pounds) and its maximum gross weight is 1,615 kilograms (3,560 pounds).

The M.39 is powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403 liter (1,916.329 cubic inch) Fiat AS.2 DOHC 60° V-12 direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. It used three carburetors and two magnetos, and produced 882 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch metal propeller designed by Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed. The AS.2 engine was designed by Tranquillo Zerbi, based on the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company’s D-12 engine. The engine was 1.864 meters (6 feet, 1.4 inches) long, 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.4 inches) wide and 0.948 meters (3 feet, 1.3 inches) high. It weighed 412 kilograms (908 pounds).

The Macchi M.39 could reach 420 kilometers per hour (261 miles per hour).

Macchi M.39 MM.76 is in the collection of the Aeronautica Militare museum.

Macchi M.39 MM.76 (Bergefalke2/Wikipedia)
Macchi M.39 MM.76 (Bergefalke2/Wikipedia)

Mario de Bernardi served in the Italian Army during the Italo-Turkish War, 1911–1912, and became a pilot during World War I. He rose to the rank of colonel in the Regia Aeronautica. He set several world aviation records and continued his work as a test pilot. He died in 1959 at the age of 65 years.

Adriano Bacula also set several world records. He was killed in an airplane crash in Slovenia, 18 April 1938.

Arturo Ferrarin, another world record holder, was killed while testing an experimental airplane, 18 July 1941.

Christian Frank Schilt enlisted as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1917. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Nicaragua, 6–8 January 1928. During World War II, Schilt served as Commander, Marine Air Group 11 during the Solomons Campaign, and later went on to command Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. He retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of General in 1957, and died in 1987 at the age of 91 years.

William Gosnell Tomlinson was a 1919 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. During his career in the U.S. Navy, he commanded the aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24), Carrier Division 3, USS Boxer (CVA-21), USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) and served as Commander, Task Force 77 (CTF 77) during the Korean War. During World War II, Tomlinson was awarded the Navy Cross, and twice, the Legion of Merit with Combat “V”. He retired in 1953 as a Vice Admiral, and died in 1972 at the age of 75 years.

George T. Cuddihy was a 1918 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. he was the Navy’s chief test pilot. He was killed while testing a Bristol Type 105 Bulldog II fighter, Bu. No. A8485 (c/n 7358) at Anacostia Naval Air Station, 25 November 1929.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1927

Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica

4 November 1927: At Venezia, Mario de Bernardi flew a Macchi M.52 seaplane to a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course of 479.29 kilometers per hour (297.82 miles per hour).¹

Macchi M.52 number 7. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Macchi M.52 number 7. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Aeronautica Macchi built three M.52 seaplanes for the Regia Aeronautica (the Italian Air Force) for use in the 1927 Schneider Trophy Races. The M.52 was designed by Mario Castoldi. Like the earlier M.39, it was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane float plane constructed of wood and metal.

The three racers were each powered by a 2,116.14-cubic-inch-displacement (34.677 liter) liquid-cooled Fiat Aviazone AS.3 dual overhead camshaft, four-valve 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. The design of the AS.3 was based on the Curtiss D-12, although it used individual cylinders and water jackets instead of the American engine’s monoblock castings.

With its cowlings removed, the 1,000 horsepower Fiat AS.3 DOHC V-12 engine of the Macchi M-52 is visible. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
With its cowlings removed, the 1,000 horsepower Fiat AS.3 DOHC V-12 engine of the Macchi M-52 is visible. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

¹ FAI Record File Number 11828

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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