First fighter for Museum of Flight

First fighter for Museum of Flight

What is claimed to be the world’s first fighter aircraft, the 1914 Italian Caproni Ca 20 monoplane, was acquired by the Museum of Flight in May 1999 and was placed on public display on 20 October 1999, Obtained from the children of the man who designed the plane – Italian aviation pioneer Gianni Caproni – the Ca 20 is the only example of the design built. The museum’s new aircraft will offer visitors a rare opportunity to study a very early vintage aircraft in original condition. Both the airframe and fabric covering date from 1914 – the year the Ca 20 was built.

“As the world’s first fighter, the Ca 20 is a valuable icon of aviation history and a highly desirable museum piece, Its existence is nothing short of remarkable,” states Museum of Flight Senior Curator Dennis Parks. First flown in 1914, the Ca 20 was exhibited at the aviation trade show Esposizione dell’Aeronoutica Italiana in Rome during 1936. Twelve years later, the craft was placed in storage in a monastery on the Caproni family estate in Venegono, Italy, where if remained for 51 years until its acquisition by the Museum of Flight.

The Ca 20 was designed purposely as an offensive platform, a monoplane which integrated a moveable, forward-firing Lewis machine gun two feet above the pilot’s head. The gun had a false sight at eye level that enabled the pilot to aim through the propeller arc while the gun fired from above, With its 110-hp LeRhone rotary engine and streamlined, enclosed spinner inlet, it was one of the better performing aircraft of the time with a top speed of 102-mph.

The first Caproni fighter marked a turning point in military aviation. Airplanes had been used in combat as early as 1911, but their role was limited to reconnaissance and bombardment. It wasn’t until August 1914 that an airman fired his revolver at an enemy plane. After this, scout aircraft were armed with rifles and later machine guns. The addition of machine guns in two-set airplanes raised the stakes even further. It was clear that an offensive airborne weapon was needed to combat the scout and recon aircraft, but progress was slow and the first fighter squadrons weren’t formed until the summer of 1915. What is not commonly known is that Gianni Caproni had anticipated the use of the aircraft in an offensive combat role in 1914 — the result was the Ca 20. Ironically, it was Caproni’s heavy bombers that saw action in WWI. The world’s first fighter never entered production.

Copyright Challenge Publications Inc. Jan 2000

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