A mammoth reception was given, with Mussolini, Balbo, and representatives
of the Crown warmly receiving the aviators as they at last stepped upon
the soil of their homeland. At the banquet that followed, Balbo conferred
upon Pinedo the sobriquet of Lord of Distances, and soon gramophones in
the Little Italies of America were crackling out a stirring, musical account
of his journey, 'O Volo 'e De Pinedo, romantically performed in dialect
by Neapolitan songstress Gilda Mignonette. "He returned to Rome in
victory", the verses concluded, "and the whole world now speaks of him!".
was a hero, but Lindbergh was evolving into a demigod
But in truth, the aviator of whom the whole world was speaking was the
American Charles Lindbergh, not Col. Francesco De Pinedo of the Regia Aeronautica
Italiana. The Italian press worked hard reminding the public that
Pinedo hadn't set out to win a race. Every purpose of his goodwill
tour had been fulfilled with qualified success. Having logged 29,180
miles, he had racked up an impressive list of achievements, and Italians
had every right to be as proud of their hero as the Americans were of theirs.
Regia Aeronautica recruitment posters were already echoing the point, displaying
his image and asking young men, "Don't you want to be another de Pinedo?"
Outside of Italy, though, few were paying attention. Pinedo was a
hero, but Lindbergh was evolving into a demigod, with most of the world
still caught up in the euphoria of his feat.
wasn't the only man who flew an airplane in 1927.
British government, in an admirable show of good sportsmanship, did present
the Neapolitan with its Air Force Cross "for distinguished service to aviation".
This decoration, also bestowed on Lindbergh just weeks before, was normally
reserved for British flyers, and it was indeed a rare occurrence for it
to be awarded to two foreign pilots in such a short span of time.
But many Britons were annoyed with all the adulation being heaped on Lindbergh
while their own transatlantic flyers Alcock and Brown hadn't received half
as much eight years earlier. Like the Italians, they, too, might
have wanted to remind everyone that Lucky Lindy wasn't the only man who
flew an airplane in 1927.
the immutable fact remained that Lindbergh's swift, one-day, triumph totally
overshadowed the four month effort of the Italian flyers. Pinedo's
return flight had been anti-climatic. A conqueror of the gravest
challenges, he was defeated by bad timing and has been penalized by obscurity
|all voyages would be conducted by whole squadrons...
Promoted to the rank of General, Pinedo was quietly absorbed
back into the bureaucratic framework of the Regia Aeronautica, assigned
once again to the desk and file cabinet world of an administrative position.
Meanwhile, Balbo was making it clear that the government would not support
any future flights that involved a single aircraft. The Regia Aeronautica
would still sponsor goodwill tours, but all such voyages would be henceforth
conducted by whole squadrons of planes to more closely reflect Fascist
Italy’s growing military strength and unity of purpose.
If Pinedo had any urges to recapture a prominent place in aviation
history, he would have to satisfy them on his own. That was precisely what
he intended to do when he resigned from the Regia Aeronautica in 1933.
Traveling under the transparent pseudonym of "Mr. Smith", he arrived in
United States, purchased a Bellanca monoplane and dropped hints to the
press of his plan to set a new long distance record by flying non-stop
from New York to Baghdad.
|... the Bellanca and its ill-starred pilot
vanished in a burst of flames.
Initiated at dawn on September 3, the attempt ended abruptly
and tragically when Pinedo lost control of his plane during takeoff from
Bennet Field. The Bellanca, laden with more than a thousand gallons
of fuel, skidded off the pavement and crashed into a steel fence adjacent
to the runway. Pinedo was literally hurled from the cockpit on impact,
but quickly got on his feet and rushed back to shut off the engine of his
smoldering plane. The fuel vapors ignited just as he climbed up to reach
the control panel, and the Bellanca and its ill-starred pilot vanished
in a burst of flames.
The U.S. Government and the City of New York sponsored an imposing
memorial service for Pinedo, with his remains being carried in a solemn
procession to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, while a squadron of American military
planes circled overhead. The coffin was then placed aboard the Italian
liner Vulcania and taken back to his homeland for burial with full military
The End? The Beginning?
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