The first Italian who flew did so on board a balloon in 1784. Exactly 100 years after Paolo Andreani's flight, the Army of the young Italian state was equipped with a number of balloons that took part in the first Italian expedition to East Africa in 1890.
Experimentation with aircraft in Italy was given a push by the visit of the French pioneer Delagrange (1908), and by Wilbur Wright, who flew in Italy and gave lessons on flying practice to two young Italian aviators. After that, aeronautical flight received a tremendous increase in activity and expansion, culminating in the first national event, the aerial circuit of Brescia in 1910.
While it is difficult to say who was the first designer and which was the first design of an Italian aircraft, it is important to note that the country was the first nation to employ aircraft for military applications-using it for observations (photography) as well as the launching of hand-bombs during the Libyan War in 1911.
At the beginning of World War I, the Italian aircraft industry was almost nonexistent and the Armed Forces were equipped with a very poor fleet (60 aircraft, 5 airships, and 12 seaplanes). However, aircraft were used for the launching of propaganda leaflets over Vienna in 1915.
The Italian aircraft industry started to take its first steps in 1910 when Gianni Caproni built a factory to produce large bombers. But the industry expanded tremendously during the war. By the end, 12,000 airplanes and 25,000 engines had been produced. Italy had become the fourth aeronautical power in the world, after France, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
The end of the war necessitated a re-conversion of the aeronautical industry in order to ensure the continued employment of the 300,000 people involved. Caproni was the first to promote and encourage the construction of large civil airplanes. But commercial airline companies had not yet been established in the country and the Italian industries had to market themselves to the foreign market. For this reason, Ansaldo Aviazione and Caproni organized several demonstration trips to European and South American countries.
The period between the two wars was characterized by great Italian exploits in sorties, air cruises, records, and sport victories. Among these were: speed record for seaplanes, as yet unbeaten (Macchi, 1934); the two air cruises through the Atlantic under Italo Balbo's leadership (South America, 1930; North America, 1934); and the Schneider Cup for seaplanes, which was won four times by the Italians.
The events of World War II were unsuccessful for Italy and its military aviation, essentially because of the overwhelming superiority of the Allied fleets in the central and final periods of the war. The MG 202, 205, the FIAT G55, and Italian fighters couldn't compare with the performance of American and British aircraft. At the end of the conflict, the Italian aviation industry no longer existed.
The period following WWII, though, can be considered the Renaissance of Italian aviation. In commercial activities, Alitalia is one of the most prestigious companies in the world. It started in 1947 with a very small fleet, and now its aircraft travel everywhere in the world. The Italian aeronautical industry had and still has its major representative in Alenia, the former Aeritalia. Under the direction of first-class designers such as Gabrielli, and eventually of his pupils and successors Cereti and Vallerani, Alenia has been involved in several military projects (Tornado, AMX, and EFA-Typhoon) and civil aircraft (Boeing 767, MD80s, and ATR42/72).
Provided to the AIAA for the sole purpose of its Evolution of Flight Campaign.