of Neapolitan patricians, a lawyer's son schooled in literature, music
and art, Francesco de Pinedo had little in common with the rough and tumble
depiction of the typical aviator of his day. In a profession perceived
to be manned by roguish daredevils and mavericks, he never failed to project
the image of a cultured gentleman. Short, slender, still retaining
clean, boyish features beneath a carefully combed, head of hair, he was
a believer in order and neatness, subscribing faithfully through life to
the spit and polish code from his days as a cadet at the Royal Italian
Naval Academy. To catch him with a scuff on his shoes or a wrinkle
in his finely cut attire was almost impossible.
While good-natured and
affable among friends, Pinedo had a natural tendency toward shyness that
caused him to seem reserved, even a bit uneasy and stiff at public functions.
More often than not, however, his calm, studious expression, well-groomed
appearance and ramrod-erect posture combined to present the classic depiction
of a refined and genial Latin aristocrat.
Pinedo's name was, in
fact, inscribed on the registers of nobility, the title of Marquis having
been conferred upon him by His Majesty, Vittorio Emanuele III, the King
of Italy, in recognition for the prestige and glory he had brought to his
He also received a sobriquet,
“The Lord of Distances”, bestowed upon him by Benito Mussolini after the
Neapolitan flyer had succeeded in touching down on virtually every continent,
save Antarctica, in a series of unprecedented, tour-de-force demonstrations
of the feasibility of global air travel.
Yet, flying the Atlantic
twice in an era when few dared to attempt it once, and breaching passages
through regions forbidden to all but the bravest were feats that demanded
more than the "cold tenacity and consummate skill" ascribed to Pinedo by
the Fascist prime minister. Challenges were never thrust upon him
as often as he thrust himself toward challenges. His irrepressible
initiative allowed the outside world a glimpse at the feverish passion
for adventure that blazed beneath his temperate demeanor.
Figuring, as it does,
so intimately into the consciousness of every Neapolitan, (Pinedo was born
in Naples in 1890), the sea had been an important factor in his life from
the moment he was old enough to wander along the piers and dream of visiting
the lands of minarets and magic carpets that his boyhood imagination placed
just beyond the horizon. He joined the navy as a teenager, and even
after he volunteered for air duty in 1917, Pinedo remained forever a sailor
The vehicle that permitted
him to be at once both sailor and airman, of course, was the seaplane,
and when, in later years, he became a vigorous proponent of intercontinental
flight, he focused his enthusiasm exclusively on maritime aviation.
Seaplanes were employed in each of his great aerial odysseys, and when
not flying them, he spent much of his time eloquently declaiming their
Pinedo's was by no means
a voice crying in the wilderness. It was a common conviction back in the
1920's that the future belonged to maritime aviation. With water
covering two thirds of the Earth's surface, aircraft that were as much
at home on the waves as in the sky seemed best suited for opening intercontinental
air routes, especially those over the oceans where a forced landing would
not necessarily mean disaster. Any reasonably straight and unobstructed
stretch of water was all the machines needed for a runway, and in an age
when airports were not yet integral to every major municipality this was
perhaps their most notable asset.
"Civilization is built
on water", went Pinedo's oft-heard sermon, "The world's principal cities
are mirrored by seas, rivers or lakes. Why not utilize these immense,
ready-to-use, natural air strips in place of costly airports?"
He confidently envisioned
the seaplane's eventual role not only as the primary provider of worldwide
air service, but also as a common conveyance for individual commuters who
would take off each morning from suburban ponds and moor their flying boats
in marina parking lots along city harbors.
The correlation between
sky and sea, not surprisingly, were blended early in his military career.
As an ensign fresh out of the academy, Pinedo saw action at sea, serving
destroyer duty in the Aegean during the Italo-Turkish War in 1911, a conflict
which saw the Italians launching the first military deployment of aircraft
in history. Intrigued, he later signed up for a spot in the Royal
Italian Navy's air division, sped through his training in forty five days,
and spent most of the First World War flying reconnaissance.
Pinedo was stationed
again at sea for a brief time after the Armistice, but was soon back in
the cockpit, making milestone flights to the Netherlands and Turkey in
the early post-war years. By then, his technical talents and organizational
skills were well known, and in 1924 he was transferred from the navy to
help structure the newly created Regia Aeronautica.
Here Pinedo was guaranteed
a prestigious and secure future as a high ranking staff officer.
But this wasn't what he wanted. He saw only a series of desk jobs
ahead and he dreaded the tedium of bureaucratic life. Already in
his mid-thirties, he was yearning for a chance to get back in the sky.
Barely a year on the job, he requested and received a leave of absence
to embark on a program of demonstration flights built on three purposes.
His first was to bring
about the evolution of long distance air travel from concept to reality.
The second was to do so through the exclusive agency of the seaplane.
The third was to demonstrate his country's ability to lead the way.
It was principally this third purpose, which so closely matched the policies
of the Royal Italian Government under Mussolini, which won the approval
of his proposals.
Il Duce, in fact, declared
him Messaggero d’Italianita’, a winged envoy to all parts of the world,
whose heroic deeds exemplified the indomitable resolve that could henceforth
be expected of the New Italy. Always a staunch patriot, Pinedo accepted
the role readily. To the millions of Italian immigrants who labored
in the distant lands that he visited, he carried a message of pride and
encouragement. For everyone else, his daring exploits bore testimony
to the Italian Kingdom's resolve to play second to no other nation, in
the air or on the ground.