Pilot Journal
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Emerald Goddess

Saved from the scourges of war, a glorious Italian biplane rises from the ashes to lead la dolce vita

The Caproni group became one of Italy's largest industrial enterprises during the inter-war years. Caproni aircraft filled the skies. The piston single-engine altitude record of 56,046 feet, set in 1938 by Italian pilot Mario Pezzi flying a Caproni 161bis, remains unbroken to this day.

The Ca100 biplane and seaplane were popular with the Italian military for its training missions, continuing in service until 1939. There were 14 at one time at Aero Club Como alone.

One day, many years after his introduction to the joys of aviation, Gavazzi happened upon an old biplane wreck. It was a Ca100, the same type he had learned to fly in. By now, he was a well-established accountant, running his own prosperous Studio Gavazzi firm in Milan. He looked into the cockpit and shook his head. Covered in dust and grime, it was a sad end for such a wonderful, reliable old bird.

He found the registration plate, wiped it off and read the numbers. A chill went up his back. He checked his logbook. It was the same airplane he had flown for the first time in the 1960s! Gavazzi bought it on the spot and vowed to bring her back to life, piece by piece.

"You know, it is crazy to do these things," he says, relaxing on the deck of Aero Club Como. "You must stay very much involved in every aspect of the restoration. It takes lots and lots of time. From the economic point of view, it's completely ridiculous! Maybe it ends up costing 10 times the market value. But," he says, flashing his dazzling smile, "it is the return of my first love."

And how can you put a price on that?

Over the next six years, Gavazzi put his heart, soul and a Roman treasure-barge's worth of money into the restoration. Today, the cool green biplane proudly shows the efforts of the restorer's art in its every nuance. The inter-war paint scheme is authentic and flawless. The engine, a Colombo S63 in-line six-cylinder 130 hp cranks right up.

"I found a company with an old employee who knew these engines very well," says Gavazzi. "It took a very long time, but he made one engine from the parts of three that he found." Gavazzi also located an old Caproni factory worker to help in similar fashion with the airframe rebuild.


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