s 1925 flight to Tokyo had its origins in an analysis of Arturo Ferrarin's
earlier journey, in which the pilot speculated that while aircraft had
endured admirably, a seaplane might have been better suited for the journey.
By late 1924, Pinedo had requested and received permission to take leave
of office and attempt his own tour of the Orient. But he didn't intend
to simply duplicate Ferrarin's feat with a different type of aircraft.
Pinedo's voyage would cover a record shattering 34,000 miles as he blazed
a trail to Australia as well.
The aircraft he selected was
a Savoia S-16ter, a five-seater biplane of the type being built
at the time for the Royal Italian Navy. He removed three of the seats
to make room for additional supplies and fuel, and christened the plane
the Gennariello, after San Gennaro, patron of his beloved Naples.
Arrangements were made with Shell Oil Company, the British government,
and local authorities for refueling along the way. With all preparations
in place, Pinedo and his companion, mechanic Ernesto Campanelli took off
from the S.I.A.I. plant at Sesto Calende into the rainy, predawn skies
of April 20th, 1925.
oil was replenished with forty bottles of castor oil...
Pinedo had spent a considerable
amount of time planning the voyage, studying the normal weather patterns
of the regions through which he intended to pass, and plotting his route
accordingly to minimize hazards. But destiny had no thought of making
the going easy. Campanelli's stock of spare parts, necessarily limited
by weight considerations, was not always sufficient to handle on the spot
repairs. In every such instance, the mechanic was obliged to call his resourcefulness
into play and fashion makeshift parts out of whatever was on hand in the
exotic locales where the Gennariello had touched down. A copper frying
pan obtained from a kitchen in Baghdad provided the metal to patch a leaking
oil tank. When an engine seal ruptured, a new one was cut from a
pair of leggings. Lost motor oil was replenished with forty bottles
of castor oil bartered at a marketplace in Dummagudin, India.
Gradually nudged off schedule
by unforeseen layovers due to bad weather or lengthy repairs, their arrival
in Indochina coincided with the start of the monsoon season. The
open cockpit offered the no refuge from the elements as the aviators battled
near-constant rain and gale-strength winds.
But plane and crew endured
until they reached the Australian coast on May 31st. Their tour,
a virtual circumnavigation of the continent, which included visits to Melbourne,
Sidney and Brisbane, was completed by the second week of August.
Upon departing, Pinedo could claim to have piloted the first seaplane there
from Europe, and the first plane of any type which had not only managed
to reach Australia from such a distance, but had transversed that massive
land and then proceeded onward.
(Only two airplanes had
preceded the Gennariello from Europe to Australia; In 1919, the Fifth Continent
was reached with a Vickers Vimy by a four-man Australian crew after a 28
day journey from England. A second, though somewhat faltering, flight
was made there the following year in a De Havilland DH 9 by an Australian
and a Scot, again with England as the starting point. In both
previous instances, of course, Australia was the final destination as opposed
to being one segment of a much broader itinerary, as in Pinedo's case)
His next "first" would
be opening the first air route between Australia and Japan, a feat he completed
when the Gennariello landed at Tokyo on September 26th. A
welcome every bit as clamorous as the one given to Ferrarin five years
earlier awaited Pinedo and Campanelli upon their arrival. For a solid
week, the Japanese showered them with honors, lavish eulogies and all the
gifts their plane could carry. Then, after the Gennariello
had been fitted with a replacement engine, the Italians returned to the
sky for home.
a victorious Caesar returning from his conquests amid the wildly cheering
citizens of Rome
On November 7th, Pinedo brought
down his well-weathered aircraft upon the lazy, brown waters of the Tiber,
like a victorious Caesar returning from his conquests amid the wildly cheering
citizens of Rome. Mussolini, quick to utilize such parallels, lionized
the airman as the paragon civus romanus, one of the new Italic breed who
were destined restore the imperial Latin glories of the past.
Silent diligence was expected
of such 20th century legionnaires, and for this Pinedo's laconic manner
was made to order. But the sparse comments offered by the aviator
at the press conferences that followed his return were due more to his
tendency toward shyness and to the curious conviction that talking too
much brought bad luck. Incongruously, Pinedo allowed superstitions
more suited to an 18th century Neapolitan fisherman than a modern, educated
military officer to dwell in a corner of his otherwise pragmatic mind.
He shunned publicity and spoke sparingly about his exploits to reporters
for fear of provoking future misfortune.
taciturnity even tried Mussolini’s patience
Pinedo's taciturnity even
tried Mussolini’s patience. Before embarking on his journey, the
aviator had been given orders to keep his superiors notified of his progress,
but his compliance extended no further than dashing off telegrams to Rome
that briefly stated his latest point of arrival. The single word
brevity of the reports was annoying to Mussolini, who had to rely on newspaper
articles to learn what Pinedo was actually doing. Upon reaching Tokyo,
Pinedo was presented with stern instructions from his government to wire
a full and detailed account of the flight at once. The aviator's
reply, his longest communication yet, was classic.
part of journey. Arrived late owing to grave difficulties in Zamboanca-Tensui
region due to storms and strain on motor. Machine and crew in excellent
condition. Am overhauling machine. Will wire when ready to
Pinedo’s second, great journey was based on a suggestion by Benito Mussolini,
who saw the need to promote a sense of national pride among those Italians
who had emigrated abroad, particularly to the Anglo-Saxon nations of North
a place in the record books for all time
Pinedo subsequently sketched out a route that would begin with an Atlantic
crossing to Brazil. From here he would proceed with a lengthy tour
of South America, peppering up the trip with a daring, exploratory flight
over the Brazilian jungles. From there he would make his way to North
America, visit major U.S. and Canadian cities, then wrap up the voyage
with a second Atlantic crossing back to Italy. The variations in
climates and topography covered in the course of the journey would satisfy
Pinedo's original purpose of demonstrating the versatile durability of
an Italian seaplane, and the round trip ocean crossing, never before accomplished,
would win a place in the record books for all time. The proposal
won Mussolini's wholehearted backing, and Italo Balbo, the Air Ministry's
newly appointed Undersecretary, was instructed to give the project unlimited
an S-55 flying boat originally designed by
In choosing his aircraft, Pinedo turned once again to the S.I.A.I. firm
at Sesto Calende, which had supplied the rugged Gennariello for his Oriental
tour. This time he opted to employ an S-55 flying boat originally
designed by Alessandro Marchetti as a torpedo bomber for the Regia Aeronautica.
Having recently captured fourteen world records in its class for speed,
distance, altitude, and load capabilities, the aircraft had emerged as
S.I.A.I.'s top of the line product. With its two, sleek hulls joined
like Siamese twins by a single, broad and sweeping wing, even the plane's
appearance was outstanding. The cockpit was situated in the center
of the wing itself, above which was perched two tandem-mounted Isotta Fraschini
V-6 engines capable of developing more than 1,000 H.P. In the way
of accessories, the plane was equipped with top quality navigational instruments,
a saltwater distiller, a life raft, and, with clever thoughtfulness, a
complete array of fishing gear.
Captain Carlo Del Prete
The size of the S-55 afforded a three-man crew, and de Pinedo enlisted
his old navy comrade and navigation expert Captain Carlo Del Prete and
mechanical trouble-shooter Sgt. Vitale Zacchetti to accompany him on the
flight. But the voyage called for special considerations, even for
a machine as exceptional as the S-55, which, of course, hadn't been designed
as a long-distance touring vehicle.
of hefty engine power were naturally penalized by larger fuel consumption.
To attend to this, de Pinedo had the plane fitted with tanks capable
of holding more than a thousand gallons of gasoline. But now the
additional weight posed potential take-off problems. To maintain
a careful balance, the tightest route between points was positively essential.
Consequently, the actual starting point for the ocean crossing was planned
to be at Portuguese Guinea on Africa's jutting western coast, which offered
the narrowest gap between the hemispheres.
aircraft was christened
Construction of Pinedo's S-55 was completed on January 30th, 1927.
The aircraft was christened the Santa Maria, and transferred to the southern
tip of Sardegna. Balbo and several Regia Aeronautica officials
arrived to preside over a brief, torchlight departure ceremony, and the
Santa Maria soared off beneath the stars on the frigid, early morning hours
of February 13th.
Within hours, the aviators were skirting over the Algerian coast, and Morocco,
the Gibraltar, and the desolate beaches of the Spanish Sahara. Here
they spotted the bleached, eroding remains of two French airmail planes,
their pilots slaughtered by bandits, and were reminded that the ravages
of nature might not be the only perils ahead.
A quick refueling
stop was made at Villa Cisernos, and by 8 o'clock the following morning,
the Santa Maria reached Bolama in Portughese Guinea. Here the Italians
paused to prepare for their Atlantic crossing, set for February 16th, de
Pinedo's 37th birthday.
The weather at Bolama was sweltering, and when the hour for departure arrived,
broiling ambient temperatures caused the engines to rapidly overheat whenever
the plane tried to pull itself off the surface. The Italians had
no recourse but to lighten the machine by dumping a great quantity of gasoline.
They then flew back north to the Cape Verde Islands, where cooler weather
was reported. Take-off was managed on February 23rd, but only after
the fuel load was limited to the calculated minimum required to get over
the ocean, and every bit of excess weight, meaning the crew's luggage and
almost anything else that wasn't absolutely essential, was shed from the
would bring him, like Columbus, to the shores of the New World.
Once in the sky, de Pinedo entrusted the Santa Maria to the gentle guidance
of the tradewinds that would bring him, like Columbus, to the shores of
the New World. Cruising pleasantly along, the crew relaxed and uncorked
a bottle of red wine. They were permitted brief repose. Nearing the
equator as they cut their diagonal path toward Brazil, the Italians soon
found themselves immersed in a ferocious squall. Rain poured down
so heavily upon the aircraft that Pinedo likened the experience to flying
through a waterfall.
Unable to surmount the storm, the Santa Maria hugged low to the ocean surface,
dropping a mere 150 feet above the waves. But there was more to contend
with than rough weather. Once again, the cooling system temperature
began climbing at a fearful rate until billows of steam were hissing from
the radiator. Fresh water evaporated as fast as Zacchetti pumped
it in from the reserve tank, and this supply was soon exhausted.
He then turned to mineral water from the crew's provisions, and when that
was gone, to rain water sopped up with a sponge and collected in buckets!
Zacchetti's dilligence gradually reduced the engine temperature to a safe
level, the storm tamed down to a drizzle, and the Santa Maria proceeded
onward without further incident. At about 3 pm, the Italians spotted
Fernando de Noronha Island, indicating that the South American continent
was only 270 miles ahead. As they proceeded onward, the storm returned,
growing worse as the final hours of their journey passed. By the
time the Brazilian port of Natal came in sight, the wind and waves had
turned so turbulent that Pinedo decided to double back for Fernando de
Noronha rather than risk damaging his plane in a rough landing. His
precaution paid no dividends. The waves were just as choppy at the
island, but now, his fuel supply nearly spent, Pinedo had no choice but
to bring the Santa Maria down.
Once on the surface, the Italians exchanged signals with the nearby Brazilian
cruiser Barroso, which was approaching to tow them to port. The heaving
waves made it impossible for boats to be dropped to reach the plane, and
the Santa Maria could be secured only by tossing ropes from the deck of
the steamship. To do this, the ship had to move in dangerously close
to the bouncing aircraft, and in the process of linking up, the two vessels
slammed into each other.
Pinedo cringed at the horrid sound of the collision. The S-55's right
aileron was in splinters, and the Brazilians, all apologetic, took every
possible measure to assist in its immediate repair. In less than
twenty four hours, the plane was restored and the Italians were on their
way. By four o'clock the following afternoon they reached Natal,
and from there they began their American tour.
the Italians such a good time that they were reluctant to leave.
Working their way southward, the aviators made landings at major Brazilian
ports, their arrivals invariably marked by parades, banquets, and general
merry-making. Rio de Janiero welcomed them with its most festive,
carnival atmosphere and showed the Italians such a good time that they
were reluctant to leave. A regiment of policemen had to rescue the
flyers when they were nearly smothered by a sea of cheering admirers upon
disembarking at Buenos Aires.
After an equally frenzied reception at Montevideo, they proceeded inland
to Assuncion, where city officials ordered the closing of schools and businesses
to properly celebrate the event. The festivities culminated with
the official name-changing of a downtown avenue to Rua F. de Pinedo.
was indisputably the man of
The Neapolitan was indisputably the man of the hour. Although never
really comfortable in the role of celebrity, he sportingly sat through
dozens of interviews, signed thousands of autographs, and made countless
speeches in which he extolled the virtues of the seaplane and its future
role in intercontenental air travel. That the soft-spoken Pinedo
was no fiery, gesticulating Mussolini at the podium did not mean yawning
audiences. Instead, his concise but genial way of speaking, in stark
contrast to his daring exploits, only confirmed his reputation as a composed
and courageous hero.
Considering what he and his companions were about to attempt, their bravery
could hardly be doubted. Waiting for them like a grim netherworld
as they began their northward advance across the continent was Brazil's
vast Matto Grosso region, the densest jungles in the hemisphere.
Few Europeans, and certainly none in airplanes, had ever penetrated the
entire extent of this tangled wilderness, where civilization was restricted
to a handful of sparse outposts. Scattered tribes of indigenous peoples,
some known to be unfriendly to intruders and most of them yet to advance
beyond the stone age, were the region's chief inhabitants. Those
outsiders impertinent enough to invade the Matto Grosso were often never
heard from again. Such a fate had befallen an expedition led by the
capable and experienced British explorer Percy Fawcett only two years previous.
While Brazilian authorities had guaranteed the availability of fuel in
the settlements and villages along the route, the Italians knew that they
couldn't count on ready assistance once they penetrated the dark rain forests.
Equipped with a only set of river maps of questionable accuracy, they began
their flight through the Matto Grosso on March 16th.
Pinedo's strategy was to follow the Paraguay River to the Guapore and Madiera
Rivers, which snaked their way ever northward toward the Amazon basin.
Once underway, it became clear that this simple plan wouldn't be so simple
to follow. Surrounding vegetation was so thick that it was all but
impossible to distinguish the waterways from above, and the Italians had
to limit their altitude to just a few feet over the treetops to stay on
course. Landing was utterly impossible under such circumstances,
and the aviators could only ask Providence to spare them any reason to
have to attempt a descent.
To their relief, a clearing came into view as they approached the village
of Sao Luis de Caceres, some thirteen hundred miles north of Assuncion.
The plane needed fuel, so the Italians gratefully seized the moment and
ducked under the branches to the Paraguays's vine and tree trunk-crowded
surface. Even as they were still skimming down upon the river, it
was clear that their troubles were scarcely over. Besides having
to contend with an obstacle course of dangling vines and low-slung branches,
the aviators saw that the river's twisting course simply did not provide
a long or straight enough stretch on which to accelerate to a take off.
hired a passing
tow his plane to
The S-55 was refueled at the village dock only to flounder on the Paraguay
until Pinedo hired a passing boat to tow his plane to a suitable takeoff
point. But to the crew's misery, it took several hot and dreadful
days to find one. While the Santa Maria was hauled along over the
meandering river, the Italians spent their hours staving off a constant
assault by mosquitoes and flies. Del Prete found it helpful to snap
on a pair of rubber gloves to protect his hands from insect bites, and
the three men took their meals in shifts, one eating while his companions
blasted bugs away with sprays of kerosene. At one point, Pinedo suggested
seeking relief from the oppressive heat by taking a swim, only to prudently
change his mind upon spotting the menacing eyes of an alligator.
This brought gales of laughter from the Brazilian boatmen, who advised
the Italians of far more treacherous dangers lurking below. Alligators,
they merrily explained, at least can be seen. It's the pirana, the
tiny razor-toothed fish, that one must really fear in these waters.
Fascinated, Pinedo later worked an experiment by tying a piece of meat
to a string and dropping it under the surface. Feeling a tug, he
jerked it up and brought up several piranas clamped tightly to the bait.
Just before midnight on March 18th, after covering two hundred slow and
weary miles, the Santa Maria was brought at last to a stretch of water
sufficiently long and clear to permit an unhindered take off. The
Italians bedded down for the night, but at the first hint of dawn, they
were soaring out of their oppressive, jungle prison and into the refreshing
coolness of the open skies.
had ever before appraised the wondrous immensity of these rain forests
from the air
No humans had ever before appraised the wondrous immensity of these rain
forests from the air, and the crew marveled at the unending, deep green
blanket that sprawled beneath them toward every horizon. Cutting
over to the Guapore River, they could discern the majestic peaks of Bolivia
looming up far to the west, the continuity of the gray slopes occasionally
breached by thundering waterfalls.
After about seven hours, however, the crew's attention began turning from
the magnificent panorama to the steadily dropping needle on their fuel
gauge. With mounting concern, they searched for the refueling depot
that the Brazilians were supposed to have set up for them along the river,
but no sign of it was detected. Pushing on for another 350 miles,
the Santa Maria coasted down at the village of Guajara Mirim just as the
final drops of gasoline trickled from its tanks.
The impoverished residents of this tiny, malarial hamlet welcomed their
visitors with a touching display of generosity, and enough gas was secured
to put the plane back on course for the Madiera River. To repay their
hospitality, Pinedo agreed to deliver a sack of mail from the town's post
office so that humble Guajara Mirim could boast thereafter of being the
first in the region to enjoy air mail service.
The Italians ran headfirst into a brutal thunderstorm as they proceeded
on their jungle excursion, and had to escape its fury by making an impromptu
descent on the rolling surface of the Madiera. Not to be undone,
Pinedo and Del Prete, veteran sailors, managed to pilot the flying boat
safely downstream until the rains slowed up enough for them to return to
performance of Madama Butterfly was given at the city's opera house in
honor of the music-loving Pinedo
On March 20th, they burst out of the jungle and landed at the city of Manaos
in northeastern Brazil. Here the usual welcoming festivities awaited,
but their first business in town was to march straight to church and give
thanks for their survival through the mighty rain forests. A parade
down streets strewn with flower petals and festooned with Italian flags
followed Mass, and the celebration carried on well into the evening.
That night, a special performance of Madama Butterfly was given at the
city's opera house in honor of the music-loving Pinedo. But minutes
after Pinedo sank into the thickly-upholstered chair reserved for him in
the center of the house, he was lulled into deep slumber by Puccini's delicate
melodies. Never having slept for more than four consecutive hours
since he left Assuncion, the Neapolitan was simply exhausted. This
fact was well known to his hosts, who looked on with gentle smiles even
when his very audible snores began competing with the soprano on stage.
The next morning, the Santa Maria plunged back into the jungle tracing
an eastward path over the Amazon River, bound for the city of Para near
the Atlantic coast. While making the thousand mile run, the plane
again flew into so violent a storm that its propellers were warped out
of shape. Lightning bolts darted down within inches of the S-55,
and the aircraft was bombarded by monstrous raindrops with the force of
pelted rocks. Visibility deteriorated to nonexistence.
The cockpit flooded. The engines shuddered and trembled, and building
pressure perforated the overheated radiator in twenty spots. Only
through relentless struggle were the Italians able to reach Para, the journey
completed after eleven, punishing hours. Once safely docked at the
city, Pinedo wearily inspected his plane's damage and confided to his companions
his certainty that they wouldn't have survived had their ordeal lasted
a half hour longer.
But the roughest part of their voyage was behind them, and the airmen had
once again demonstrated their mettle. Three days later, well rested
and their plane put back in shape, they were ready to take on the second
half of their tour. On March 25th, they flew to Georgetown, Guyana,
their final South American stop. The next day, they crossed the Carribbean
Sea, making brief visits at Pointe-a-Pitre, Port-au-Prince, and Havana,
where all the boats in the harbor sounded a chorus of bells and whistles
for thirty minutes to greet them. Their next landing was at New Orleans.
for itself the distinction of being the first foreign airplane to fly to
the United States.
With swanlike grace, the Santa Maria touched down upon the Mississippi
River on the afternoon of March 29th, claiming for itself the distinction
of being the first foreign airplane to fly to the United States.
While in South America, the Italians had replaced the wardrobes they had
left behind on the beaches of Africa, Pinedo preferring golf suits to his
Regia Aeronautica uniform, and were in the habit of making room in their
cramped cockpit to wash and shave before landing at every major point.
Expecting three haggard and disheveled wayfarers to stumble from the plane,
Americans were surprised to see the trim, tanned, and well-groomed officers
robustly stepping ashore in crisp clothes and polished shoes.
years one would need only an airline ticket to repeat
Reporters and photographers, Pinedo later recalled, swarmed about him as
thickly as the mosquitoes of Matto Grosso, anxious to record anything he
might utter. Asked about the significance of his exploits, he described
his tour as but a preview of what would soon be common. In ten years,
he assured, one would need only an airline ticket to repeat his travels.
In response to the query of what sort of diet had sustained him through
his adventures, Pinedo promptly replied that the Santa Maria was well stocked
with the Italian staples of bread, cheese, and wine. Raised eyebrows
at the mention of wine instantly reminded him of America's Prohibition
laws, and he won laughs by hastily adding that his crew had been careful
to polish off the last of their supply just before arriving in the States.
the urging of their hosts, the Italians stayed on in New Orleans for the
next several days, and when not attending the usual receptions and banquets,
Pinedo spent his time answering the thick stack of congratulatory telegrams
and invitations arriving from all parts of the country, examining maps
and weather reports, and sitting down to swap stories and compare notes
with his American counterparts. Interestingly, he took note of the
plight of African Americans during his brief visit, and took time to make
his own observations of their situation in New Orleans. He found
this interesting enough to include a short section on the racial problems
of the American South in his memoirs.
...flying over Texas
The U.S. tour got underway on April 2nd, with the Italians making a five
hour flight to Galveston, then moving on to Lake Medina, at San Antonio.
Over the next few days, their route took them along the course of the Rio
Grande, into New Mexico, and over the Rockies, where they used the Southern
Pacific Railroad tracks twisting around the peaks and crevices below as
a guide map. By April 6th, they were cutting across Arizona.
Pinedo expected to dock his plane at San Diego before the day's end, and
his crew was looking forward to the grand reception being prepared for
some photographs! I want a final memory of my child!"
The business of a quick refueling had to be taken care of first, though,
and at 10:14 on that sunny morning, the S-55 landed on Roosevelt Reservoir,
a manmade lake some sixty miles east of Phoenix, where a depot had been
set up for the job. A few local officials, including the state manager
of the Standard Oil Company, Pinedo's fuel supplier, stood by to welcome
the Italians. Pinedo was given a quick, walking tour of the reservoir's
facilities, and then taken to the Apache Lodge, a nearby hotel where an
informal luncheon was scheduled. As he and his hosts were entering
the building, they heard a great commotion coming from the direction of
the reservoir. "I turned toward the lake", Pinedo remembered,
"and the blood curdled in my veins!”. A great wall of flames and
rolling plumes of black smoke swelled up around his plane. The entire
party darted to the scene, and the horror-struck Pinedo watched Del Prete
and Zacchetti, who had been supervising the refueling, leap overboard to
escape a fiery death. A frantic but futile effort was made to rescue
the aircraft. Realizing the hopelessness as he saw his beloved plane
reduced to a mass of crackling cinders, Pinedo turned to the crowd and
desperately implored, "Somebody take some photographs! I want a final
memory of my child!".
Gnawed by the flames, the engine supports collapsed and sent the engines
plummeting sixty feet to the lake's floor. Within minutes, the only
remnant of Pinedo's plans to conquer the American skies was the Santa Maria's
smoldering bones bobbing wanly against the banks of the reservoir.
possibility of anti-Fascist sabotage was immediately suspected
Since the tour was under Mussolini's auspices, the possibility of anti-Fascist
sabotage was immediately suspected, especially after onlookers reported
seeing someone fleeing from the scene just after the fire burst out.
Henry Fletcher, the American ambassador at Rome, promptly assured Mussolini
that if such was the case, the culprit would be apprehended and brought
to justice. But it took only hours for Fred Paine, a reporter for
the Arizona Republican to track down the fugitive, an 18 year old laborer
named John Thomason who had volunteered to help with the refueling.
The young man dolefully admitted responsibility for the disaster, having
thoughtlessly discarded a lit cigarette into the water. Pools of
gasoline floating on the surface ignited instantly, dooming the unfortunate
The fact that a single cigarette butt had destroyed the Santa Maria after
it had survived 18,000 miles of nature's cruelest assaults was more than
a little unsettling, but Pinedo accepted it's fate gracefully. He
met privately with the remorseful Thomason, and returned to soothe fears
of a diplomatic crisis by remarking to the press, "The misfortune which
overtook the Santa Maria was the result of one, small boy's carelessness.
In no way can the tragedy be connected to a plot. It was purely an
accident, and I'm certain that my Government will view it in no other light
(7)." Hours later, Mussolini issued a somewhat more elaborate statement
declaring, "The interruption of Commander de Pinedo's flight, thus far
so successfully carried out, wounds us most painfully. But while
I have full confidence that Commander de Pinedo, despite this mishap, will
be able to conduct his titanic venture to its conclusion, I wish to express
full assurances that Italy, linked by such strong chains of friendship
to America, sees absolutely no connection between this painful incident
and the fact that it occurred on American soil."
San Diego, California
His words diffused the tension, but as he indicated, Mussolini wasn't about
to let the prestige that Fascist Italy had been garnishing by Pinedo's
headline-winning tour come to such an inglorious end at a desolate lake
in rural Arizona. Declining American offers to replace the aircraft,
Italo Balbo ordered the construction of an exact duplicate and arranged
for its shipment by boat to New York.
meantime, Pinedo and his crew were flown to San Diego courtesy of the U.S.
Navy, and from there proceeded by rail to the East Coast to await the replacement
aircraft. As they crossed the breath of the country, the Italians
paid visits to the major cities along the way, including Washington D.C.,
where they were greeted by President Coolidge, and a sumptuous, thousand-plate
banquet was thrown for them.
Sacco and Vanzetti case was still in the national spotlight
Arriving in New York on April 25th, they were given an official welcome
at city hall, during which the dapper and diminutive Mayor Jimmy Walker
traded light-hearted jokes with Pinedo, expressing his delight at seeing
that the famous aviator was "another little fellow" like himself.
Of course, none welcomed the flyers more fervently wherever they went than
the country's Italian communities. The infamous Sacco and Vanzetti
case was still in the national spotlight, as were the illicit activities
of men with names like Capone, Torrio, and Genna. Weary even then
of being perceived as a race of anarchists, gangsters, and fruit peddlers,
America's Italian population hailed Pinedo and his crew as powerful antidotes
to these stereotypes. But there were others, opponents of Fascism,
who regarded the flyers as propaganda puppets of the Mussolini regime,
and objected to their very presence in the United States. Untoward
scenes began to occur, the worst on the night of April 26th, when a riot
involving an estimated twelve thousand people erupted as militant pro and
anti-Fascists clashed outside a hall where the Pinedo was speaking.
The aviator reacted with typical nonchalance to the disturbance, and complained
bitterly only when Walker ordered constant police protection for him.
With unhidden annoyance, he reminded his hosts that he had risked his life
under far graver circumstances in the past, and he could not believe that
anyone wished to personally harm him.
The Santa Maria II
At 9:30 pm on May 1st, the Italian steamer Duilio arrived at Staten Island
carrying the partially assembled Santa Maria II and a team of mechanics,
technicians, and a heavily armed, stern-faced Fascist militia that kept
round-the-clock surveillance over the machine. The plane was rushed
to the National Guard airbase at Miller's Field for final assembly, overseen
by Del Prete who boasted of the ability to rebuild the S-55 in his sleep.
Tight security was maintained during the process, though reporters were
permitted to view the aircraft from a distance of 75 feet.
With a sharp crack, a ribbon-laced bottle of mineral water, substituting
the traditional, but outlawed champagne, was shattered against the bow
of the fully assembled Santa Maria II at its christening celebration on
May 8th. Pinedo studied his new plane and marveled at Balbo's thoroughness
in duplicating its predecessor, even down to the most minute detail.
The only detectable differences were autographs and notes of good wishes
scribbled all over the hulls by workers from the Isotta-Fraschini and S.I.A.I.
plants, and a most appropriate Latin inscription in the center of the wing,
authorized by Balbo. It read POST FATA RESURGO ("I Arise After
Death"), the motto of the mythological phoenix, which, consumed by fire,
had risen from its own ashes.
A full month had been lost because of the Arizona incident, and ostensibly
to return to Italy on schedule, Pinedo revised his itinerary by eliminating
all points west of the Mississippi. But he had another good reason
for wanting to speed things along. Perhaps sparked in part by his
own exploits, interest in the Orteig Prize had sharply increased and the
world's attention was focused on the North Atlantic, with a non-stop flight
between America and France emerging as the big challenge of the moment.
Activity in the competition had stepped up greatly during the weeks in
which the Italians awaited their replacement aircraft, though all attempts
thus far had had tragic conclusions. On April 26th, the American
contenders Noel Davis and Stanton Wooster were killed when their Keystone
Pathfinder crashed on takeoff. The veteran French pilots Charles
Nungesser and Francois Coli, making their try on the very day of the new
S-55's arrival at New York, simply vanished somewhere over the ocean and
were never seen again.
largely unknown, former airmail pilot named Charles Lindbergh
But other aviators, including Clarence Chamberlin, Richard Byrd, and a
young, largely unknown, former airmail pilot named Charles Lindbergh, had
made their intentions clear. It seemed probable that one of them
would succeed in making the flight within the next few weeks.
Pinedo, of course, hadn't registered as a contender for the Orteig Prize.
Participation in any competition, especially one involving a cash prize,
was out of bounds for his goodwill tour. Besides, the range of the
S-55, about thirteen hundred miles, would never have taken him to Paris
without at least one refueling stop along the way. But there was
another aspect to be considered. Public enthusiasm for the Orteig
contest was rapidly approaching the mania level, and unless he wanted to
see his achievements of the past four months eclipsed forever by the more
glamorous feat on some other flyer, Pinedo knew that he'd better make his
ocean crossing first.
Boarding their new plane, Pinedo and his companions took a few days to
mop up their East Coast tour with stops at Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston,
before doubling back to New Orleans, which would serve as a springboard
for token coverage of the Midwest. From here they planned to soar
up to Newfoundland by way of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.
By May 21st, at the very latest, they expected to be eastbound over the
forced Pinedo to cancel a brief stop at St. Louis...
Before reaching New Orleans, the Italians made a refueling stop at Pensacola,
and Pinedo wired ahead to request that no receptions or festivities be
prepared for him, since he planned to stay in Louisiana but a few hours.
Constant rains had flooded the Midwest throughout the spring of 1927, and
Santa Maria departed from New Orleans against yet another heavy thunderstorm,
beginning its northward run over the swollen Mississippi on May 14th.
Headwinds severely taxed the plane's fuel supply, and the Italians had
to make an unscheduled stop at Memphis, passing the night there to wait
out the storm. The delay forced Pinedo to cancel a brief stop at
St. Louis, and the disappointed citizens of that city, who had lined the
river banks under umbrellas in anticipation of the S-55's arrival, were
given only a quick glimpse of the flying boat as it sped across the gray
Minutes later, Pinedo switched over to the Illinois River. Here he
was met by squadrons of American military planes from Chanute and the Great
Lakes Naval Center, which lined themselves up in honor guard formation
and escorted the Santa Maria directly to Chicago's lakefront. A din
of horns, bells, sirens, and whistles from the surrounding boats rose up
with the cheers of thousands of Chicagoans as a Coast Guard tender pulled
the plane in for mooring at the Chicago Yatch Club. The aviators
stepped on shore and were literally mobbed by the city's Italians, who
surged forward to greet them with embraces, kisses, and hearty slaps on
That afternoon, Pinedo heard Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, and afterwards
paid a visit to Cardinal Mundelein, who eloquently praised the flyer for
his achievements. During a banquet that evening at the Palmer House,
he concluded his speech by humorously noting that the absence of alcohol
obliged him to postpone the pleasure of properly toasting Chicago.
Within a very short time he would be back in Italy, and there, he pledged,
he would lift a glass to the city.
impatience to get on his way was impossible to conceal.
But the next day, Pinedo might have wondered if he'd ever get the chance
to keep his promise. Crashing waves on a turbulent Lake Michigan
drenched his plane's engines out of service, and one more day was lost
in his race to get back to Rome. He passed the hours pleasantly,
touring Chicago sites and attending a reception and dinner at the Italian
Consulate. But though he joked that the delay gave him a rare chance
to relax, his impatience to get on his way was impossible to conceal.
Before sunrise the following day, the Italians hastily checked out of the
Drake Hotel and made their way back to the lake escorted by motorcycled
police. At 7 o'clock, they were in the sky, tracing a great circle
overhead to bid farewell to the hat-waving spectators who had come to see
them off, then vanishing into the hazy, eastern horizon.
Foregoing earlier scheduled stops at Detroit and Buffalo, Pinedo cut across
southern Michigan and veered to the northeast over Lakes Erie and Ontario.
By the evening of May 17th, the Italians were in Montreal, where precautions
for their safety were taken when anti-Fascists again voiced threats.
No incidents occurred, and the aviators forged their way ahead against
persistently inclement weather until they arrived at Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland
on May 20th. Their North Atlantic crossing was finally at hand.
caught sight of the Spirit of St. Louis as it passed
At 7:52 on that very morning, Charles Lindbergh hopped into his Ryan monoplane
at New York's Roosevelt Field, and took off in the drizzling rain, pointing
himself toward Paris. Had conditions been right, Pinedo might have
heard the drone of its engine or even caught sight of the Spirit of St.
Louis as it passed over Newfoundland on its way to the open seas.
But at least for the moment, Pinedo was still the big name, and the Newfoundland
Post Office was already putting its money on his success. That day,
it issued the world's first commemorative stamp honoring an individual
aviator, and on it was Pinedo's name.
The S-55's range made the Newfoundland-Azores-Portugal route blazed by
the U.S. Navy planes in their 1919 crossing the logical path home, since
it provided the essential, mid-way refueling point. But even under
favorable conditions, it would be a tough and risky run. Harsh weather
continued to prevail, but predictions of improving conditions encouraged
Pinedo to set his departure for 2 am on May 21st. But when the hour arrived,
sheets of freezing rain and violent gusts of wind repeatedly put his plane
back down to earth. A few hours later, after a day and a half flight
that instantly became a legend, Lindbergh touched down at Paris, completing
the first, solo non-stop Atlantic crossing. And Pinedo still hadn't
even gotten his plane in the air.
the tailwind that had helped pushed Lindbergh to glory had vanished.
Not until 4 am the next morning, in fact, was he able to make a successful
takeoff from the crashing waves off Trepassey Bay, and to do so he had
to dump some of his precious fuel. Managing to pull the plane off
the water by no means ended his bad luck. By then, the tailwind that
had helped pushed Lindbergh to glory had vanished. Barely an hour
in the air, dense fog swallowed the Santa Maria II, and by ten o'clock
it was bucking furious, southeasterly headwinds that made fuel consumption
skyrocket. While battling the elements, the Italians started drifting off
course, and though they regained their bearings by early afternoon, Pinedo
knew that they'd never reach the Azores before the gas tank was dry.
At that desperate point, they sighted the Portuguese fishing boat Infante
de Sangres sailing below. Pinedo brought the plane down to the surface
and signaled for assistance. The Italians explained their predicament,
and the fishermen readily offered to tow the aircraft for the remaining
two hundred miles to the Azores.
Route map of the North American
Since neither the plane nor the boat carried a radio, Pinedo's fate remained
unknown to the rest of the world during these hours. That he had
left Newfoundland and was long overdue at the Azores was all that was known.
At Rome's Palazzo Venezia, Mussolini spent the night pacing before his
telephone, unable to sleep until news of his aviators arrived. At
ten the next morning, he was relieved to learn that a British steamship
had sighted a schooner pulling what appeared to be a white seaplane southwest
of the Azores. This was soon followed by a similar report from a
Spanish ship, and the Italian steamer Superga was ordered to meet the Infante
de Sangres and assume the task of towing the S-55 to port.
at Horta Bay in the Azores revealed damages suffered by the plane in towing,
and a week of repairs were required to make it airworthy again. When
the work was done, the ever-concise Pinedo resumed his flight by returning
to the spot where he'd been rescued by the Portuguese, and from there proceeded
on his trip home. After stops in Portugal and Spain, he reached Ostia
harbor, just west of Rome, on June 16th.