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INTERNATIONAL AIR RACES AND POLITICS—1920

THE ROAR OF the Roaring Twenties could well have been airplanes setting new records. World War I aviation technology would be transformed into peaceful endeavors of air mail and the like. However, international airspace was not immune to politics. Here are tidbits from 1920, both involving the country of Syria. (Another story “as timely as today’s headlines”?)

The Raid Roma-Tokio. Details of the 1920 Rome-to-Tokyo competition appeared here at SimanaitisSays. The raid was the idea of Italian poet/patriot/wacko Gabriele d’Annunzio, famed for bombing Vienna with his poetry during WWI.

In March 1919, D’Annunzio met with Harukichi Shimoi, a Japanese poet who had enlisted in the Special Corps of the Italian army after having moved to Italy to study Dante. The raid, with Italian government support, evolved from this meeting.

At one point, the Italian government hoped D’Annunzio would be one of its flyers, if for no other reason than to distract him from his political ambitions. Instead, D’Annunzio chose to organize the event, not fly. Independent of this, he declared himself Comandante of Fiume, a territory disputed between Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

Ferrarin, Masiero, and the Raid. D’Annunzio invited nine Italian aircraft pilots to take part in the raid. Two others, Arturo Ferrarin and Guido Masiero, talked their way in and, indeed, piloted the only two planes to make the trip successfully.

Ferrarin and his mechanic Gino Cappannini flew an Ansaldo SVA-9; Masiero accompanied by Roberto Maretto were in another. It was an SVA-9, by the way, that D’Annunzio used in his Vienna poetry bombing.

An Ansaldo SVA. Image from The San Diego Air and Space Museum.

The Rome-to-Tokyo itinerary was anything but nonstop. In fact, Masiero and his mechanic traveled between Delhi and Calcutta by train to pick up a spare Ansaldo. Also, they and the plane traveled between Canton and Shanghai by ship.

Ferrarin and Cappannini spent considerable time in the Chinese city of Tsingtao (of beer fame). They combined repair and flight testing there with daredevil aerial exhibitions. Here are examples of Ferrarin’s brio (not all in the SVA-9 biplane).

Itinerary, Rome to Tokyo, 1920.

Ferrarin’s Career—and Politics. In 1928, Ferrarin and copilot Carlo Del Prete set a world distance record by flying nonstop from Guidonia Montecello near Rome to Touros in northeast Brazil. Their flight of 4465 miles took 49 hours 19 minutes.

Upon return, Ferrarin was awarded Italy’s Gold Medal of Aeronautic Valor. But his favor didn’t last. Mussolini’s Minister of the Air Force, Italo Balbo, preferred glorifying the fascist regime rather than individual achievements. He and Ferrarin quarreled in 1930, their relationship deteriorated, and Ferrarin got a leave of absence, i.e., the boot.

Arturo Ferrarin, 1895–1941, Italian pioneer aviator. He qualified as a pilot in 1916 and subsequently was decorated for military valor in WWI.

Arturo Ferrarin died, age 46, in the crash of an experimental aircraft on July 18, 1941.

Timing… or Luck. The two Ansaldo SVAs of Ferrarin and Masiero arrived in Tokyo on May 31, 1920, having included Aleppo, Syria, as one of their stopovers.

According to Chronicle of Aviation, editor-in-chief Bill Gunston, JL Publishing, 1992, Australian aviator Bert Hinkler wasn’t so fortunate: “England, June 10, 1920. Bert Hinkler arrives back in England, having given up his attempt to fly to Australia when he realized in Rome that a current war in Syria would prevent him from progressing further eastward.”

Bert Hinkler and his Avro Avian.

Ferrarin and Flight. In matching D’Annunzio-like prose, Ferrarin wrote in his Mio Roma Tokio 1929, “Dedico questo libro alla Vita, all’Amore, alla Morte, ed al mio motore, sempre ubriaco di benzina e di spazio, che ha squarciati i Silenzi dell’Infinito coll’urlo rauco dei suoi 250 HP.” “I dedicate this book to Life, to Love, to Death, and to my engine, always drunk with gasoline and space, which has ripped apart the Silences of Infinity with a hoarse cry of its 250 HP.”

Bravo, Ferrarin! Bravi, tutti! ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

2 comments on “INTERNATIONAL AIR RACES AND POLITICS—1920

  1. earlyaviationguy
    March 21, 2020

    Great story. Heard of Hinkler.

    When you were at Case, did you know Dean Burton Dean?

    Roy Mize

    Mountain View, CA (Silicon Valley)

    • simanaitissays
      March 21, 2020

      Hello, Roy,
      Thanks for your kind words. I entered grad school through the Western Reserve University side, not the Case Tech side. That is, the merger came en passant. I had a choice for my Masters degree, either CWRU or WRU. Being the classicist I am, I opted for the latter.

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