A day in the clouds

04 Sep

Coming home from Arabba we passed through the city of Trento and the museum dedicated to Gianni Caproni and his planes. Hubby decided that this would have been our next destination. So, as soon as I had an unexpectedly day off, we took our bike and drove there. The Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics  is Italy’s oldest aviation museum, as well as the country’s oldest corporate museum. It was established in 1927 as the Caproni Museum by Italian aviation pioneer and aeronautical engineer, Giovanni Battista “Gianni” Caproni and his wife, Timina Guasti Caproni. The museum was originally located in Taliedo, in the suburbs of Milan. The aircraft in the collection were moved to Venegono Superiore during World War II, and the exhibition was reopened in Vizzola Ticino (in the province of Varese) in the 1960s. At the end of the 1980s, the museum moved to its present location. The current museum building, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) south of Trento and adjacent to the Trento Airport (itself dedicated to the memory of Gianni Caproni), was opened on 3 October 1992.

Just outside the museum and airport, a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter is pointed to the sky, and stands as a gate guardian. Its presence is dedicated to the memory of Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) general Licio Giorgieri.

Giovanni Battista Caproni, better known as Gianni Caproni (1886 – 1957) was a civil and electrical engineer who was renowned for his designing and flying several pioneering aircraft between 1910 and 1913. Small, single-engine aircraft, like the Caproni Ca.1, Ca.6 and Ca.12 were important milestones in the early development of Italian aviation. During World War I, Caproni became one of the most important Allied aircraft manufacturers, responsible for the design and manufacture of large, multi-engine long-range bombers like the three-engined Caproni Ca.32, Ca.33, Ca.36 and Ca.40. These bombers were some of the most significant examples of the time, in the field of heavy aircraft. During the interwar period, with the strategic bombing theories of Giulio Douhet being debated, the operational use of Caproni bombers was seen as an important landmark in the history of aviation. By the end of the war the Caproni company was well established, but the decrease in military orders that followed the end of the conflict compelled the firm to start producing civil aircraft to keep its business running. Some of the wartime bombers were converted to the airliner or cargo role. New models were developed as well, being specifically designed as airliners – among them the Caproni Ca.48, Ca.59 and the remarkable Ca. 60 Transaereo, (the latter being tested unsuccessfully). Besides his talent for engineering, Gianni Caproni was convinced of the importance of preserving and honouring the historical heritage related to the birth and early development of Italian aviation in general, and to the Caproni firm in particular. He began to gather an expansive collection not only of aircraft and aviation-related technologies, but also collecting related documents and memorabilia. From an early period, Caproni also collaborated and supported artists, as well as assembling a collection of paintings and other pieces of art. His wife, Timina Guasti Caproni, was of like mind and both had a strong artistic sensibility. Their collections reflected not only a love for aviation history but also art history. In the second half of the 1920s, the Capronis decided to open a museum meant to house a display of all the material they had collected. In 1927, the Caproni Museum was established in Taliedo, not far from Milan. The museum’s original goal was to preserve the items of historical interest about the development of the Caproni aircraft manufacturing company, but its scope soon came to include every aspect of the history of human flight as well as those facets of art and other disciplines that had an aviation connection.

Since the Caproni Museum retained its status as the most important institution of its kind in Italy, it started to evolve towards becoming a general aviation museum in which all types of materials of general aeronautical interest were to be collected. The museum also undertook the responsibility to preserve and properly display such materials. Additionally, the Caproni Museum started its publishing activity in this period; among the volumes published in the 1930s were: Gli aeroplani Caproni, Studi, progetti, realizzazioni 1908–1935 (Caproni aircraft, projects, studies and achievements 1908–1935), Francesco Zambeccari aeronauta (Francesco Zambeccari, aeronaut) and L’aeronautica italiana nell’immagine 1487–1875 (Italian aeronautics in pictures 1487–1875). The Caproni Museum retained its original location just outside Milan, near the company’s plants in Taliedo, until after the outbreak of World War II. However, during the first half of the 1930s, the collection had been kept stored in the plants themselves, in locations not environmentally suitable for their preservation and display of the artifacts. After 1935, the necessity of building a permanent, purpose-made exhibition hall became evident; subsequently, one of the large hangars of the Taliedo Airport, close to the factory, was converted to this purpose so that the now rich and important collection of the Caproni Museum could be properly housed.

Starting from 1942, it became necessary to move some of the Caproni Museum’s aircraft away from Milan to prevent them from being damaged or destroyed by Allied bombing. In spite of the precautions that were taken, however, some aircraft were destroyed (this was the case with the only existing Ca.42, which was destroyed in a fire) or lost (as it happened to the C.N.A. Eta and to the parts of the Macchi-Nieuport 29 and Roland VIb). Nonetheless, most of the museum’s holdings, including not only the aircraft but also the library and the archives, survived the war. At the end of the war, the Caproni Museum’s aircraft were gathered in Venegono Superiore, a little town in the province of Varese; the institution’s documentary collection, instead, was kept in Rome. Even though lacking a museum building suitable for housing the exhibition and allowing to keep the collection visible to the public, the Caproni Museum remained an important institution in the field of preserving aviation-related historical heritage. The museum continued to participate in aviation events and in acquiring or being gifted new items for the collection. Between the 1940s and the 1950s, the museum’s operations were furthered due to the work of the co-founder, Timina Caproni. In the 1960s, finally, a new exhibition pavilion was opened in the old Caproni factory in Vizzola Ticino, still in the province of Varese and close to the location in which the Malpensa Airport would later be built. The Caproni Museum was once again open to the public and kept on increasing its collection. The presence of a 600 metres (1,969 ft) grass runway, very close to the museum’s buildings, allowed some of the new acquisitions to get to the museum by air, thus ideally ending their operational career and also guaranteeing the best possible state of conservation at the time of their accession. This was the case with the Avia FL.3 and the Macchi MB.308 aircraft that flew to the museum, and are still on display at the museum in Trento. Some of the aircraft in the Caproni Museum underwent important restoration and conservation at this time. Those aircraft that were in good condition were on display in the representative hangars, dating from World War I.The others were stored in the Caproni family villa at Venegono Superiore. When the founders died, their children, Giovanni and Contessa Maria Fede Caproni, took their place in managing the institution. The work of the founders’ offspring allowed the museum to maintain its level of importance on a national and international scale, with the collection being constantly enriched by new acquisitions.

In the 1980s, the financial decline of the aeronautical works company which Gianni Caproni had started long before, forced the museum in Vizzola Ticino to close. However, due to the generous intervention of Martino Aichner, an agreement was signed in August 1988 between the Caproni family and the Trentino; in such agreement, the latter, the autonomous province of Trento, agreed to restore the collection and to provide an exhibition building to be constructed in a location close to the Trento Airport; the museum was to be named Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics. In April 1989, aircraft restoration began under the supervision of the Masterfly company of Rovereto. On 2 December of the same year, the construction of the museum’s central exhibition building was started.The new exhibition pavilion featured a 1,400 square metres (15,069 sq ft) hall that initially housed 17 aircraft in controlled environmental humidity and temperature conditions. The main building of the new facility was opened on 3 October 1992. In spring 1999, the Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics became a territorial section of the Tridentine Museum of Natural Sciences, thereby becoming a part of a network of 18 scientific and historical museums which are ultimately overseen by the province of Trento. Among others, the museums in the Tridentine Museum of Natural Sciences group include the Alpine Botanical Garden at Viote on Mount Bondone, Lake Dwelling Museum at Molina di Ledro, Arboretum of Arco Climatology Observatory at Roncafort and “Julius Payer” Glaciology Centre at Mandron. In April 2011, a new hangar, adjacent to the northern wall of the main exhibition hall, was opened. The display of the aircraft that were already housed in the museum was reorganized and some additional aircraft, previously stored in the museum’s warehouse, could be put on display. The opening of the new northern hangar occurred during an event called “The Challenge of Flight” An Ansaldo A.1 Balilla, the Caproni Ca.53 and the surviving components of the Caproni Ca.60 were moved from the warehouse north of Trento to the main hall of the museum, thus becoming a part of the permanent exhibition. An Agusta Bell AB 47G, Minzolini Libellul II and North American T-6 Texan were added to the collection and located in the new hangar, along with a Bücker Bü 131, Caproni Ca.193, Macchi MB.308 and Saiman 202M that had previously been on display in the museum’s main hangar. The new hangar, the opening of which was the first expansion of the museum since 1992, was a temporary solution – as a sort of preview of a further, permanent and more consistent enlarging of the exhibits, due to the construction of a larger hangar with more suitable accommodation for the preservation of aircraft. In autumn 2011, the northern hangar was closed to allow the start of the new revitalization project


The plane hubby is so interested about in the photo above is an Ansaldo S.V.A.,the name of a family of Italian fighter and reconnaissance biplanes developed in 1916–1917 and best known for d’Annunzio‘s flight over Vienna on 9 August 1918. The S.V.A. 5 on display at the Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics took part in this raid, piloted by Gino Allegri.

Below, one the leaflets of the raid over Vienna

The Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics also houses the reconstruction of Gianni Caproni’s design study

It also features a reconstruction of a 1920s propeller manufacturing workshop, built by Caproni.

It was late when we finished the visit to the museum, we took our bike and drove a few kilometers to a village called Lavis for lunch.

We had lunch at the oldest hotel/restaurant in the village, once the oldest tavern there, dated back in the 15th century

mushrooms and sausage risotto

and a typical trentino dish, carne salada

The road back home was a sunny, and relaxing one, with a pit-stop for a cold coffee…..

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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Uncategorized


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