Italy built the first Successful Jet Aircraft – Caproni Campini N.1

The Caproni Campini N.1, a significant yet often overlooked aircraft, marks a critical juncture in the history of aviation.

Designed during an era of rapid technological advancements, it symbolizes the relentless pursuit of innovation and the dawn of the jet age.



Secondo Campini, an Italian engineer, is a notable figure in the history of aviation for his pioneering work in jet propulsion technology.

Secondo Campini.
Secondo Campini.

Born in the early 20th century, Campini was fascinated by the potential of jet-powered flight from a young age.

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His interest in this field led him to study and experiment with various concepts of jet propulsion, a subject that was still largely theoretical at the time.

Campini’s vision and determination positioned him as one of the early advocates and developers of jet technology.

He believed that this technology could revolutionise air travel, providing greater speeds and efficiencies compared to the propeller-driven aircraft of his era.

His work was marked by innovative approaches and a keen understanding of the technical challenges involved in making jet propulsion a reality.

One of Campini’s most significant contributions was his collaboration with the Italian aircraft manufacturer Caproni.

Campini along with Caproni introduced the N.1.
Campini along with Caproni introduced the N.1. Photo credit – Bergfalke2 CC BY-SA 3.0.

Together, they developed the Caproni Campini N.1, an experimental aircraft that was among the first in the world to demonstrate the practical application of jet propulsion.

The N.1, which first flew in 1940, utilized a unique thermojet engine—a precursor to the more advanced turbojet engines that would later become the standard in aviation.


The aircraft’s design reflected a transition between the era of propeller-driven aeroplanes and the emerging jet age.

It had a sleek, streamlined fuselage, which was quite advanced for its time, and a conventional tricycle undercarriage.

The N.1's fuselage was certainly a little unconventional.
The fuselage was certainly a little unconventional.

Its cockpit was positioned forward on the fuselage, offering the pilot a clear view.

The overall design, while incorporating elements from existing aircraft, was geared towards optimizing the performance of its unique propulsion system.

In terms of size and appearance, the N.1 was comparable to the fighter aircraft of its time, but its mission was entirely experimental.

It was not designed for combat or commercial use but rather as a testbed for understanding the dynamics and potential of jet-powered flight.

This event was a significant achievement, showcasing Italy’s contribution to the evolution of aviation technology.

In the air, the N.1 looked awkward. But was about the size of comparable fighters of the time.
In the air, the N.1 looked awkward. But was about the size of comparable fighters of the time.

Despite its pioneering status, the Caproni Campini N.1 did not lead to immediate developments in jet aviation.

The onset of the Second World War and the rapid advancements in aeronautical technology soon overshadowed its achievements.

The N.1’s Motorjet

The engine was a notable example of early jet propulsion technology, representing a unique phase in the evolution of aircraft engines.

The ‘motorjet’ was distinctive because it was not a pure jet engine in the modern sense, but rather a hybrid between a jet engine and a conventional piston engine, known as a thermojet or motorjet.

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At the heart of the N.1’s propulsion system was a conventional piston engine, which was not used to drive propellers as in typical aircraft of the time.

The first two compressor blades of the Motorjet engine. Photo credit - Catalogo collezioni CC BY-SA-4.0
The first two compressor blades of the Motorjet engine. Photo credit – Catalogo collezioni CC BY-SA-4.0

Instead, this engine was employed to power a compressor. The compressor played a crucial role in the engine’s operation. It drew in air and compressed it, significantly increasing the air pressure. Once the air was compressed, it was mixed with fuel in a combustion chamber.

This mixture of fuel and compressed air was then ignited. The combustion of this mixture produced a high-pressure, high-velocity stream of exhaust gases.

These exhaust gases were expelled through a nozzle at the rear of the aircraft.

Some testing being done with the N.1
Some testing being done with the N.1.

The ejection of gases at high speed from the rear nozzle created thrust, propelling the aircraft forward.

This principle of operation is akin to Newton’s third law of motion, where every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

The innovative aspect of the Caproni Campini N.1’s engine was this method of using a piston engine to generate the necessary air pressure for combustion, differing from later turbojet engines where the compressor is powered by a turbine driven by the jet exhaust.

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Was the Motorjet Any Good?

However, this design had inherent inefficiencies. The piston engine and compressor added significant weight and complexity to the system, and the overall thrust produced was relatively modest compared to later pure jet engines. This limited the aircraft’s top speed and altitude capabilities.

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Despite these limitations, the N.1’s engine was groundbreaking for its time.

It demonstrated the basic concept of using jet propulsion for aircraft, a significant departure from the propeller-driven engines that dominated aviation.

This engine can be seen as an intermediate step, bridging the gap between the piston engines of early aviation and the turbojets that would power the next generation of aircraft.

The N.1 flying Rome in 1941.
The N.1 flying Rome in 1941.

First Flight

The Caproni Campini N.1 made its maiden flight on August 27, 1940, piloted by Mario de Bernardi. This historic flight, albeit modest in speed and altitude, represented a significant leap in aviation technology.

The N.1 demonstrated that jet propulsion was not just a theoretical concept but a viable means of powering aircraft.

However, its performance was limited by the inefficiencies of the thermojet engine, which could not match the speeds or altitudes achieved by later turbojet-powered aircraft.

Pushing the Boundaries

The N.1’s contribution to aviation history is twofold. Firstly, it served as a tangible proof of concept for jet propulsion.

Its successful flights validated the theories and research that would pave the way for the development of more advanced jet engines. Secondly, the N.1’s existence during a tumultuous period in world history, amidst the throes of World War II, underscored the potential military applications of jet technology.

The N.1.
The N.1.

While it did not see combat or further development due to its limitations, it undoubtedly influenced the design and strategic thinking surrounding military aircraft in the post-war era.

Today, the Caproni Campini N.1 is recognised as a pioneering step towards the jet age. It represents an important, albeit brief, chapter in the evolution of aircraft propulsion. The N.1 reminds us of the relentless human spirit to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible.

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Its story is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of engineers and visionaries who dared to dream of a faster, more powerful means of conquering the skies.

In conclusion, while the Caproni Campini N.1 may not have been the most efficient or the fastest, its role in aviation history cannot be understated. It bridged the gap between propeller-driven aircraft and the jet-powered behemoths of the modern era, laying the groundwork for a revolution in air travel and military aviation.

Its legacy endures as a symbol of innovation and a stepping stone to the jet age.