The Caproni Ca.1 was an experimental biplane built in Italy in 1910. It was the first aircraft to be designed and built by aviation pioneer Gianni Caproni, although he had previously collaborated with Henri Coandă on sailplane designs.
The Ca.1 had an uncovered rectangular truss as a fuselage; its two-bay wing cellule featured unstaggered mainplanes of equal span. Although the engine was mounted in the nose, it drove propellers mounted in front of the wings on long struts. The landing gear consisted of a dual mainwheel and skid arrangement, with outrigger wheels at each wingtip and a tailwheel.
The Ca.1 flew for the first time on 27 May 1910; although the flight was rather successful, the aircraft crashed while landing and was heavily damaged; it was repaired, but never flew again. The Ca.1 is now on display at the Volandia aviation museum in Italy.
Gianni Caproni had begun his experiments in the field of aviation in 1908. In that year, together with his Romanian friend and colleague Henri Coandă, he designed and built a biplane glider whose flights took place in the surroundings of Blaumal (in the Ardennes) and were largely successful, leading Caproni to carry on his aeronautical studies. In 1909 he met several aviators and aircraft designers in Paris, where he also witnessed the flights of some of the most recent aeroplanes.
While still in France, Caproni began designing his first engined aircraft. In June 1909, after going back to Italy, he made an attempt to collect the money he needed to build the machine in Alessandria; however, he didn't manage to convince the local investors of the worthiness of his projects. It was only in December, after spending a period of time in Belgium in order to complete his specialization in electrical engineering, that Caproni went back to his hometown, Arco, and was finally able to gather some collaborators thanks to whom he would begin the construction of the experimental biplane that was going to become known as the Caproni Ca.1.〔 (Reprinted in a facsimile edition edited by Romano Turrini (2004). Trento: Il Sommolago – Museo dell'Aeronautica G. Caproni – Comune di Arco.)〕
Between December 1909 and the first few months of 1910 Caproni worked on the construction of the Ca.1 in an improvised workshop which he had set up inside a warehouse with the help of three carpenters. However, because of the lack of any surface suitable for having an aircraft take off and land in Trentino, Caproni decided to move to Lombardy in order to carry out the test flights. He thus joined his elder brother, Federico (who had graduated from the Bocconi University of Milan shortly before), and asked the Arma del Genio (the military engineering corps of the Esercito Italiano) for permission to settle at the ''cascina'' of Malpensa, in semi-desert area which at the time was in use as a training ground for the cavalry. The permission was granted and so, after building a hangar close to the ''cascina'', on April 5, 1910 the two Caproni brothers and their collaborators, Ernesto "Ernestin" Gaias and Ernesto "Erneston" Contrini from Arco, moved to Malpensa.〔 The parts of the Ca.1 that had already been assembled were transported from Arco to Ala on carriages, and then reached Gallarate by train; their journey started on April 8 and ended in Malpensa on 11 April.〔Turrini, Romano. Introduction to 〕
The four men were going to spend one year living in a primitive accommodation and working in the hangar, which also served as a workshop. There were no comforts and the project of building and flying the Ca.1 was very demanding from both a technical and financial point of view. However, Caproni was later to think back of the first period he spent in Maplensa as a time of happiness and peace of mind.
The aircraft was assembled in a few weeks, but Caproni still had to find an engine and a pilot. He tried to solve the first problem by buying an engine built by the recently-founded Miller company of Turin; the engine wasn't expensive and the Trentine engineer was glad to use an Italian-built piece of technology, because of his irredentist sentiments;〔Turrini, Romano. Introduction to 〕 however, the 4-cylinder W engine proved quite unreliable and was apparently unable to run smoothly for more than a few minutes at a time.〔 As far as the second problem was concerned, Caproni decided to have Ugo Tabacchi, a Veronese-born Trentine chaffeur who had recently joined Caproni's team, pilot the maiden flight of his aircraft. Although some licensed pilots (mostly trained on Wright aircraft) were already available in Italy, Caproni couldn't afford to hire any of them.
The aircraft was ready for the first test flight in May 1910.
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