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Decades Before Lambo, This Tri-Engined Biplane Bomber Was the Most Bonkers Italian Vehicle
You probably think bonkers Italian engineering is some sort of modern phenomenon. Or that the whole craze began when Ferrari and Lamborghini started duking it out for the crown of the most insane designs possible in the late 60s.

Decades Before Lambo, This Tri-Engined Biplane Bomber Was the Most Bonkers Italian Vehicle

That line of thinking leaves out all the lunacy of the pre-Ferrari Italian car designs, and the philosophy didn't just apply to cars, but aircraft too. Check out this insane Italian bi-plane bomber from the pioneering days of aviation.

But before that, let us introduce you to the late-great Italian engineer Gianni Caproni. If there was ever a man who lived the Italian stereotype of bonkers and overly ornate engineering, it was this remarkably skilled engineer, decades before Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini took the mantle of the most respected name in ludicrous Italian vehicles.

In his time as an aeronautical engineer, Caproni bumped shoulders with other famous inventors like the Romanian designer Henri Coanda argued by some to be the inventor of the jet engine, although this is disputed. Whatever conversations those two got up to must have been particularly fruitful because their collaborative work on sailplane designs was just the start of Caproni's long and illustrious career.

Caproni's designs would be manufactured not just in the Italian province of Milan but also in France, The United Kingdom, and, amazingly, the U.S. Many of Caproni's designs were aimed at fields like airliners and civilian floatplanes. But his bizarre triple-engined 36 foot long (11 m) biplane was destined from the getgo to be a heavy military bomber.

First flown in 1916, this wooden wonder's construction came from Italian timber suppliers, and a majority of its design is made with the material. The wings consist of a wooden skeleton with layers of canvas and fabric filling in the spaces. In the very early days of flight, aircraft engines simply weren't powerful enough to lug around metal components unless absolutely necessary.

The four-person crew consisted of a pilot, co-pilot, a front gunner to man one of the plane's two 7.7 mm machine guns, and a rear gunner/flight mechanic at the back of the aircraft to man the other. Powering this behemoth was a set of three six-cylinder Isotta-Franchini piston engines making a combined 450 horsepower, hence the plane's original name of Caproni 450 hp. Not great, considering a modern family SUV could reach those figures with only one engine, but not too bad for the time period.

It's estimated that anywhere between 250 and 300 of these lumbering beasts saw service with the Italian Army and Navy as torpedo bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, and trainers. Current estimates peg its retirement being as late as 1929, a staggering 13-year service run. So much for Italian engineering being unreliable. Considering the wings might as well be made of pigskin, that's all the more impressive.

The example of the CA.36 we have for you today is one of only two remaining on the entire planet. One resides in The Museum of the Italian Air Force in the region of Lazio, and the other sits here at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. We recently took a trip to the largest military museum in the world, and the Caproni has to be the absolute highlight of their early aviation exhibits.

Only when viewed up close and in person does the sheer scale of Caproni's achievement start to make sense. At an aforementioned 11 meters long, this bomber is considerably larger than a great many flying machines of its period. When compared to the size of most of the planes the Caproni sits alongside in its current hangar, one begins to realize just how complicated and fascinating this machine truly is. All the more reason to make the trek out to Dayton.

Editor's note: Photograps presented are a combination of self taken photos and official photographs used with the permission of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This article was not sponsored or supported by a third-party.


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