The Caproni Ca.60, known as the Noviplano or Capronissimo, stands as a bold testament to early 20th-century aviation ambition.
This prototype of a large flying boat was envisioned as a 100-passenger transatlantic airliner.
Its bold design featured eight engines and a set of triple wings, embodying the audacious spirit of early 20th-century aviation.
But, despite its innovative design and the vision behind it, the Ca.60’s journey was marred by a catastrophic accident that ultimately led to the project’s abandonment.
- The Nine-Wing Beast
- The Powerplant
Giovanni Battista “Gianni” Caproni was an illustrious figure in the early days of aviation, whose contributions began in the first decade of the 20th century.
Born in 1886 in Arco, Italy, he showed a strong inclination towards engineering, which he pursued with a qualification in civil engineering.
His fascination with aeronautics soon turned into a pioneering career that would mark significant milestones in the history of aviation.
In 1908, Caproni founded the aircraft manufacturing company that would bear his name, Società Italiana Caproni.
The initial years were marked by experimentation and innovation, with the first flight of a Caproni aircraft taking place in 1910 at Cascina Malpensa in Somma Lombardo.
This endeavour set the stage for what would become a legendary entrepreneurial journey in the aviation industry.
Caproni was responsible for constructing the first Italian-made aircraft in 1911.
His company, which started as Società de Agostini e Caproni and later became Società Caproni e Comitti, was central to several pioneering designs.
Notably, in 1914, Caproni tested Italy’s first multi-engined aircraft, the three-engine biplane known as the Caproni Ca.31, which demonstrated his growing expertise and innovative approach to aircraft design.
Throughout his career, Caproni remained dedicated to advancing the aeronautical industry, marked by his creativity and innovative spirit.
His achievements between 1910 and 1913 especially underscored his status as a visionary in aircraft design.
This period was crucial for Caproni, who was not only an aeronautical engineer but also a civil and electrical engineer, showcasing his diverse expertise in engineering disciplines.
Caproni’s influence extended beyond his immediate industrial achievements. In 1929, he founded the first Italian company museum dedicated to the national aviation history and tradition.
This act of preservation reflects the deep respect and commitment Caproni had for the aeronautical field and its history, ensuring that the legacy of early aviation innovation would not be forgotten.
The Nine-Wing Beast
The design of the Ca.60 Transaereo was a bold and unprecedented venture in early aviation. Conceived by Gianni Caproni, this prototype flying boat was intended to carry up to 100 passengers across the Atlantic, featuring a distinctive set of three triple wings and powered by eight engines.
Caproni’s aviation company, which had found success during World War I with heavy multi-engine bombers, pivoted to the civil aviation market post-war.
Inspired by the possibility of aerial travel to remote areas and improving transport in countries with vast territories and lacking infrastructure, Caproni envisioned the Ca.60 as a revolutionary step in international travel.
Safety was a paramount concern for Caproni, especially given the scepticism from critics like Giulio Douhet.
The Ca.60’s multiple engines were designed to ensure the aircraft could continue flying even if one failed, and while Caproni considered adding “backup engines,” this idea was eventually discarded.
The seaplane design also aimed at enhancing passenger safety with the capability of emergency water landings.
Comfort was not overlooked, as Caproni intended to use turbochargers and variable-pitch propellers to achieve higher cruise altitudes for a smoother passenger experience.
The enclosed passenger cabin was outfitted with wide panoramic windows to provide expansive views.
Seating was arranged so that passengers would sit in pairs on wooden benches, facing each other, with two seats facing forward and two backward.
Additionally, the cabin included a lavatory at the rear end for passenger convenience.
Access to the open-air cockpit for the pilot in command and co-pilot was via a ladder from inside the fuselage, and the flight deck was positioned above and slightly behind the forward windows, with the pilot’s area elevated above the passenger cabin floor.
This design was quite advanced for the time, focusing on both the visual experience and the practical needs of passengers on long flights.
Most importantly, the Ca.60 was a flying boat, which means its fuselage also served as a hull, designed to land on and take off from water.
This hull design was integral to its intended use as a transatlantic passenger aircraft, where it would potentially make use of the world’s oceans as its runways, avoiding the need for long and costly-to-build airstrips.
Thanks to her massive size, the Ca.60 needed a lot of power to get airborne. This was provided thanks to eight Liberty L-12 engines.
The L-12 was a significant technological achievement of its time, designed with a focus on a high power-to-weight ratio and the ability to be mass-produced.
This American water-cooled 45° V-12 aircraft engine had a displacement of 1,649 cubic inches (27 litres) and was capable of producing 400 horsepower.
It was widely used in aviation and, once modified for marine use, in racing and runabout boats.
The engine was conceived in 1917 by two of America’s top engine designers, Jesse G. Vincent of Packard and Elbert J. Hall of Hall-Scott, who were tasked by the Aircraft Production Board to design an aircraft engine superior to those of Great Britain, France, and Germany.
The design was completed in just five days at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., and featured a single overhead camshaft and rocker arm valve train.
The War Department placed a substantial order for these engines in the fall of 1917, and the production was shared among several prominent automobile and engine manufacturers.
Ford, in particular, played a significant role by manufacturing all the cylinders for the engines, and Lincoln constructed a new plant specifically for Liberty engine production. The plant eventually produced around 2,000 engines in 12 months.
By the end of World War I, the companies had produced 13,574 Liberty engines and continued production after the war, totalling 20,478 engines built between 1917 and 1919.
The test flight of the Caproni Ca.60, which took place over Lake Maggiore in 1921, proved to be both its first and last.
The prototype, aiming to revolutionize transatlantic flight, encountered trouble shortly after takeoff.
During its climb to a height of approximately 18 meters (60 feet), the aircraft stalled and crashed into the lake. This resulted in the destruction of the prototype.
The pilot, Captain Semprini, sustained only minor injuries. Following the crash, the damaged aircraft was towed to shore, which caused further destruction.
Despite Gianni Caproni’s ambition to rebuild, the project was deemed too costly to continue and was subsequently abandoned and the Ca.60 met its demise.