Simanaitis Says

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GABRIELE D’ANNUNZIO: POET, PATRIOT—FLYGUY

GABRIELE D’ANNUNZIO, the Italian poet and patriot, also became enamored with aviation. At the 1909 air show in Brescia, in northern Italy, d’Annunzio conned his way aboard flights with aeronaut competitors, including a star of the event, America’s Glenn Curtiss.

A characteristically focused Glenn Curtiss gave d’Annunzio, right, a flight at the Brescia air show in 1909. Images from A Passion for Wings, by Robert Wohl.

The short flights ignited d’Annunzio’s passion for aviation to the point of his giving it prominence in a romance novel, Forse Che Si, Forse Che No (Perhaps Yes, Perhaps No).

Maybe a bit overflown by modern literary taste, he certainly brought romance to aviation: “Just as an eagle in a sandy valley does not leap into flight but starts with a rapid step, runs accompanying the run with a growing quivering of feathers….thus the machine left the ground, its three light wheels racing amidst the clear blue smoke from the exhaust, almost as if the dry grass of the field were burning beneath it.”

Later, almost at the end of World War I, d’Annunzio achieved an amazing feat of aerial warfare—bombing the city of Vienna not with explosives but rather with his poetry.

Natale Palli, right, served as d’Annunzio’s pilot in what was inherently a single-seat aeroplane. The poet/patriot sat forward on a fuel tank enlarged for the mission.

On August 9, 1918, he and his pilot Natale Palli led a squadron of S.V.A. Ansaldo Scout biplanes from San Pelagio, in northern Italy near Trieste, on their bombing mission to Vienna, some 270 miles away.

The S.V.A. had a sharply tapering fuselage and an unequal wingspan of particularly thin airfoil. Its wing struts were unorthodox, of the Warren truss type. Image from Profile Publications Number 61 The S.V.A. (Ansaldo) Scouts.

There, the squadron circled the enemy city for 30 minutes while they dropped thousands of messages that said, in a poetic way, nah nah, nah NAH nah.

Robert Wohl, in his wonderful book, A Passion for Wings, translates this in part, “we only come for the joy of the exploit…to demonstrate what we can dare…”

Then they returned to San Pelagio, their complete flight rather more than 625 miles, 500 of it over enemy territory.

Quite a guy, d’Annunzio. ds

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