Giovanni Battista Caproni was an Italian aviation pioneer who created an aircraft manufacturing company named Società Italiana Caproni in 1908. Known as ‘Gianni’ he was born in 1886, graduated with a qualification in civil engineering and developed a passion for aeronautics. The first aircraft prototype his company developed was the Caproni Ca.1 and the first flight took place in 1910. Gianni Caproni designed numerous military aircraft that were used during the First World War.
After the war, his company moved into the design of civilian aircraft and realised that it would be better to design new aircraft, rather than adapt existing military aircraft. The Caproni Ca.60 Transaereo was one of them, but disaster struck on its maiden flight.
Caproni Ca 60 Transaereo
The Ca.60 was a flying boat designed to transport passengers across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. It was also known as ‘Capronissimo’. With a capacity of up to 100 passengers, it was powered by eight 400 horse power Liberty L-12 engines and had nine wings, with a wingspan of almost 30 meters. The aircraft was basically three triplanes attached to one another with a fuselage and two pontoons to provide stability. It was over nine meters in height and weighted 15,000kg. The maximum take off weight was 25,000kg. It was estimated to have a maximum speed of 87 miles per hour (140km/h) and a cruising speed of 68 miles per hour (110km/h). The main fuel tank in the hull pumped fuel to feeder tanks, from where the engines were gravity fed with fuel.
In common with aircraft of the time, the cockpit was open to the elements. Passengers would have been seated in enclosed cabins on wooden benches. Four seats were provided in each compartment, configured with two benches facing each other.
Maiden and final flight
It was a complex design and build but it only took around 18 months to construct the aircraft. It was constructed in a hangar on Lake Maggiore and was completed at the end of January 1921. Initial trials began shortly after. Technically, its first flight was in February 1921 but this was only an extremely short trial on the water. A number of technical issues were identified and modifications were made.
The first test flight took place on 4 March 1921. Unfortunately, this was also the last flight. Three people were on board, the pilot and two engineers. The pilot was Federico Semprini.
The aircraft was loaded with a ballast of sandbags, to replicate the weight of around 60 passengers. It lifted up from the lake and reached a height of around 60 – 70 feet. Making a turn, the pilot lost control of the aircraft and a wingtip hit the surface of the water, the aircraft then stalled, before crashing into Lake Maggiore. It was quickly attached by ropes to boats to save it from sinking and towed closer to shore, but sustained further damage during the operation.
There are several theories for the cause of the crash. One reported cause of the accident was that the sandbags used for ballast were not stored properly and moved during the flight, causing the aircraft to become unstable. It was also reported that the cause was due to the design, as it did not provide sufficient stability and was underpowered. It is believed that some components broke during the ascent due to the pilot climbing too fast.
The fate of Caproni Ca.60 and Gianni Caproni
Only one Ca.60 was built and it was damaged beyond repair in the crash, so it never flew again. Parts of the aircraft can be viewed in the Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics in Trento. Surviving parts on display include an engine, the control panel and some of the floats. Società Italiana Caproni continued to successfully design and build aircraft until the company ceased in 1950. Gianni Caproni then died in October 1957.