Wednesday, April 3, 2019


There it is an interesting discussion in academic circles about the first "jet" airplanes created in the world during the XX century. Usually the Germans are judged as the first to create such a modern aircraft, but some researchers think that the Italians could have been the first. Here it is what I have found about:

The Italians created the "Campini Caproni" in the 1930s (read for further details:

This creative study was the first about an airplane moved by jet propulsion. I have written in my controversial April 2017 issue (if interested in the full article, please read: that <...we have to remember that Italian engineer Secondo Campini submitted a report on the potential of jet propulsion to the Regia Aeronautica, and demonstrated a jet-powered boat in Venice: in 1934, the Regia Aeronautica granted approval for the development of a jet aircraft to demonstrate the principle used by Campini and made a contract with him in order to receive 2 aircrafts with "propulsione a reazione" (jet propulsion) in the second half of the 1930s... >.
The Caproni Campini CC2 in an Italian Museum. It is the first jet airplane in History to have done a "regular" flight, because the German Heinkel He 176 & 178 were experimental jet-prototypes that did "tentative" flights of only a few minutes

Outside of Italy, the first studies for a turbojet engine date back to the 1920s thanks to the Englishman Frank Whittle and yet until the end of the 1930s no jet aircraft were built. The Italian Campini Caproni was started to be created in 1935.

Indeed on December 17, 1935, engineer Secondo Campini drafted a US patent (No. 2024274) for the construction of a jet plane, which unfortunately was not built. The deadline for the delivery of the prototypes was established on December 31, 1936, but due to some technical difficulties and mainly to increasing costs, the Undersecretary of the Italian Aeronautical government Department -General Valle- was asked to postpone to later dates.

Engineer Secondo Campini
However a fuselage was then built for static tests, preserved today at an Italian Museum, and the engine, which gave a fixed point thrust of about 700 kg and two prototypes with military serial number MM487 and MM488 called "Campini-Caproni CC2" (sometimes called "Campini Caproni N1") were then prepared. This delay allowed the Germans to "anticipate" the first flight of a jet aircraft!

So, in June 1939 the german "Heinkel He.176" rocket plane flew for a few minutes, followed in August of the same year by the Heinkel 178 driven by a jet engine with centrifugal compressor, while only in August 1940 the Campini Caproni flew.

This unique aircraft is therefore one of the first in the world to have flown with jet propulsion. The aircraft, with hybrid propulsion, was defined as a "motor-reactor" because it was driven by a reciprocating engine that operated an axial compressor and by an afterburner through which the air flow, previously accelerated, was mixed with fuel and then burned causing propulsion jet.

Certainly far from a traditional jet engine - composed of compressor, combustion chambers, turbine and exhaust nozzle - this aircraft must be counted among those that contributed to the subsequent development of aviation technology.

Indeed Campini's engine used an ordinary piston engine to compress air which was then mixed with fuel and ignited.

Modern jets are based on the turbojet principle, but Campini's jet was nevertheless a true jet, since it was the reactive force of the burning exhaust gases that pushed the plane along.

However the Italian aircraft designer Luigi Stipa (1900-1992) contended that his "Stipa-Caproni" experimental aircraft, a ducted-fan design of 1932, was the first aircraft to employ what he called an "intubed propeller" -- essentially the motorjet principle -- and that he therefore deserves the credit for the invention of the jet engine. The Caproni-Campini N.1 (or CC2) did employ many of the principles first tested in the Stipa-Caproni aircraft, albeit in a more advanced form.

Caproni built the Stipa aircraft, as per the Regia Aeronautica requirements, at their plant near Milan in 1932. The unusual design caused a number of sceptical comments and the original design intention of increasing the efficiency of the propeller by reducing the losses was generally misunderstood. The wide fuselage was practically a tunnel with a profile similar to the wings. And could have been considered to be a "circular wing". A 120 HP Gipsy III engine was mounted inside a tapered duct driving a two-blade tractor propeller, in effect utilising the Bernoulli Principle related to fluids moving in a venture duct. Stipa idea was, in fact, an important step towards the achievement of jet propulsion.

Princetown University Press published "High Speed Aerodynamics and Jet Propulsion" in 1959 and in Vol. XII stated: "The Stipa Aero plane built by Caproni in 1932 should be classified as a Jet Aircraft. 'The Stipe Aero plane can be considered as a predecessor of the Jet Aircraft of today". In this video can be seen the "tube-engine" typical of jets:

The Regia Aeronautica however, decided that the advantages of the duct fan were not sufficient to continue with the development and the project was dropped. Stipa was called to France in 1938 to develop his "Stipa 203" fighter, but the start of WW II ended this project. He patented the principle of the "pulsating jet engine" in 1938 in Italy, Germany and the United States and remained convinced to his death in 1992 that the Germans used his patent to develop the famous "V-1" engine (bombing London).

The "unusual design" of the Caproni-Stipa in 1932 (read:

We have to pinpoint that the story of the Heinkel He 176 rocket powered aircraft has been clouded in mystery and incorrect information for many years. Only in the last few years have some of the real facts emerged. Although there had been a few german rocket powered planes earlier (Espenlaub's E 7 and the Opel-Sander Rak-1), these both used solid fuel rockets.The He 176 was to be the first aircraft in history to fly using only liquid-fueled rocket power. A proposal was first put forth in Berlin in May 1935 by Major Wolfram von Richthofen to develop a rocket-powered interceptor for the use against high flying bombers. This led to the Heinkel He 176 prototype, and eventually the Messerschmitt Me 163, the world's first rocket-powered combat interceptor.Design work was begun in late 1936, with detailed engineering drawings being completed around July 1937. Construction of the prototype began at the same time.

The first official flight of the Heinkel He 176 V1 was on June 20, 1939 flown by Erich Warsitz. On the next day, June 21, the He 176 was demonstrated in front of some german leaders (Ernst Udet, Erhard Milch). Udet was not impressed, and prohibited further tests due to the inherent dangers of rocket flight. This ban was twice lifted and twice issued again until July 3, 1939, when another demonstration was arranged at Roggentin for Adolf Hitler and more of the Third Reich leadership. An official order was issued on September 12, 1939 terminating any further work on the He 176 project.
On 27 August 1939 the Heinkel He 178 became the first aircraft to take to the skies powered entirely by a turbojet engine: the He 178 first took to the air on 24 August 1939, when it left the runway for a short time, but its first proper maiden flight came on three days later. This flight was only a partial success, as the engine was badly damaged by a bird strike soon after take-off, but the test pilot, Erich Warsitz, still had time to make a circuit of the airfield and land safely without power. The second test flight didn't come until 1 November 1939. The engine had been modified to produce the HeS 6, which produced 1,300lb of thrust, giving the aircraft a top speed of 373mph. This second flight was observed by a number of senior figures in the Luftwaffe and German Air Ministry, including Udet, Milch and Lucht, but despite the aircraft's obvious high speed there was very little official interest until the end of the year. The German Air Ministry had its own jet engine development section, and wasn't interested in private developments, at least until the then head of the department moved on.

His successor was more encouraging, but even then work on the single engined He 178 V1 soon came to a halt. Heinkel produced a design for the model V2, which would have had a retractable undercarriage and new wings, but this aircraft probably never flew. Instead work moved onto twin engined aircraft, with the Heinkel He 280 and finally with the famous Messerschmitt Me 262.

The first flight of the He 178 came almost exactly one year ahead of that of the Italian jet aircraft, the Caproni-Campini CC2, and twenty months ahead of that of the second turbojet aircraft, the British Gloster E.28/29, which took to the air on 15 May 1941.
Finally we have to pinpoint that the further development of the Italian jet design was shown in the futuristic (for those years) shape of the controversial "Reggiane Re2007" (read ).Even if initially studied as a pre-project in 1942 (after the Caproni Campini CC2's flights), this Reggiane "caccia" (jet-fighter) was well ahead of his time. Secondo Campini, having formed a partnership with another Italian aircraft company (Reggiane) and aircraft designer Roberto Longhi, commenced work on an entirely new design: the Reggiane Re2007. This was a significant departure from the Campini Caproni N.1, including the successive decision to abandon the indigenous Italian engine it used in favour of a German-provided counterpart: the Jumo 004 reactor. At the moment of Italian armistice in September 1943, this project of engineer Roberto Longhi was ready at 70%, according to historian Piero Baroni (read:

This Reggiane project began to be built in Reggio Emilia (Emilia-Romagna) in October 1943, while the search for materials soon after. The whole project was based on the essential contribution of the Germans: the Junkers JUMO 004 reactor was necessary to propel the plane. But the project did not progress until January 1944, because of the lack of information on the performance and structure of the machine (read The project was never completed because of the difficult relations between German and Italian authorities: the two Jumo 004 reactors requested were sent to Italy, but too late to adapt to the plane that had already been built, before the German-Italian forces did surrender in spring 1945. That said, the plane could have constituted a formidable opponent for the Allied propeller fighters: flying at more than 1000 km/h, the plane could beat all his opponents in speed; indeed the best Allied fighters did not exceed 700 km/h. By being well armed, with four 20mm cannons in his muzzle, he could have been a formidable interceptor for the huge waves of Allied bombers flying in the skies of northern Italy: difficult to strafe, from a bomber it would have been even very hard to defend from this Reggiane Re2007 effectively. The defense of such devices was ensured at the time by machine gunners shooting at the vision of the aircraft, but it was difficult for a human being to have enough reflexes to shoot on a plane flying at nearly 1000 km/h.

Models of the "Reggiane Re2007" and the "Caproni Campini CC2"

However there are some experts who argue that this jet was a fake invention. They complain that no manager of the Reggiane has ever had knowledge of this project, but other experts argue that it was a secret project and only a few were informed about this Reggiane Re2007. Additionally historians like Baroni argue that the two Jumo 004 reactors were sent without doubts to Italy for an experimental fast aircraft (he wrote: "for what reasons if the jet was fake?"). The drawings were lost during the Reggiane factory bombing by Allies, but the pictures & drawings -made after WW2- are indicative of a modern jet. Anyway, what more strikes all of us is the similar shape with some Russian "Migs" of the late 1940s (like the Mig9 with a nearly identical tail, built in 1946; see Baroni surmises that probably the remaining project documents were stolen, after the factory destruction, by some members of the Italian communist party (very strong in this region) and sent to the Soviet Union!


The first jets were Italian? The answer -in my opinion- is yes and no.

No, because undoubtedly the first jet flight was done as a tentative experiment by the German Heinkel He 176 in June 1939, even if lasted only a few minutes. Yes, because the first "real" flight (without huge experimental "risks") was done by the Italian Campini Caproni CC2 in August 1940.....and this jet did also a first "commercial" flight when later worked as a mail transport between the two main Italian cities (Rome and Milan).

Additionally we must remember that the Campini Caproni CC2 was a complete "operative" aircraft authorized officially to operate by the Italian government and that had a not-flying prototype assembled in 1936 (there it is still the original first "experimental" fuselage in an Italian Museum: While the German Heinkel He 176 was a prototype that was started to be designed & created one year later, in 1937: it was quickly used in a risky flight in June 1939, rejected by the German authorities after doing only four dangerous minutes take off from the ground.

The Caproni-Stipa first flight in 1932

Furthermore we have to remember that the first airplane to fly using the "ejection air principle" (the word "jet" comes from "eJEcTion") was the Stipa Caproni in, as the Princeton University Press stated, "The Stipa Aero plane built by Caproni in 1932 should be classified as a Jet Aircraft.The Stipe Aero plane can be considered as a predecessor of the Jet Aircraft of today". In other words, if classified as jet aircraft that means that it was the first jet aircraft! However, I personally think that this opinion is "a bit excessive". But something can be taken for true.