S.A.M. #33: Monster Multiplanes

Don't be afraid of this beast. The Saturday Air Mail will do you no harm!

Remember the WWI Caproni bombers? They looked weird with their puller-pusher twin-boom layout but their inflight stability was exceptional and performance was great at all altitudes, allowing for using them as ground force cooperation aircraft.

After the Armistice, Società Italiana Caproni started the development of civilian conversions of their bombers, the first being the Ca.48, rebuilt from a Ca.42 triplane.

A huge cabin was constructed between the twin booms, with seats for 17 passengers. They had to sit on long benches, face-to-face. Large windows offered a great view. The entrance was in the nose of the nacelle and a further six passengers were housed on top of the cabin, thus probably making it one of the first two-deck civilian airliners. The crew of two pilots also sat on top.

The Ca.48 was powered by three 400hp Liberty 12-N engines – two mounted in the middle wing and a third in the rear of the fuselage. The undercarriage consisted out of two wheelsets, four wheels each. The twin booms carried an elevator and three fins.

One triplane airliner was displayed at the First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam – ELTA (August – September 1919) and enjoyed immense popularity. The Dutch Prince Consort, HRH Prince Hendrik, visited the impressive aircraft. It is very unlikely the Ca.48 ever entered airline service and was possibly only used for promotional work.

A triplane four-engine seaplane, designated Ca.49, was also planned - but never came off the drawing board.

Another experimental airliner was the Ca.57 biplane (above). The Ca.5 bomber was the basic model for this civilian post-war conversion and it was based on the experience gained with the Ca.3. The three-engine biplane was again of a wooden construction and fabric-covered. A large passenger cabin, including toilet and luggage compartment, had replaced the central nacelle. The empty weight was reduced, to allow seating for eight passengers and a two–member crew. The Caproni Ca.57 have also made  an appearance at the ELTA exhibition. It was displayed on a special stand of the Italian section. Unfortunately, its arrival was marked with problems on the sandy underground but the aircraft escaped any serious damage and after the landing it was towed and pulled to safety.

The Caproni Ca.58 and Ca.59 were a development of the Ca.48, powered by either Fiat A.14 or Isotta-Fraschini V6 engines. The cabin was a little bit smaller, regular seats installed instead of benches, increasing the number of passengers to no less than 30 on both decks. The triplane liner was fitted with a bar, a toilet and a luggage hold. It had five engines (four tractor, mounted on the middle wing, one pusher in the fuselage rear), 2,000 hp total output. Like in the Ca.48, the crew sat in an open cockpit in front of the upper cabin. The Caproni Ca 59 was intended to be an export version of the Ca.58, but none of the aircraft were ever exported.

Next in line was a great... gross... grandiose failure. Well-known and already mentioned in our community, it still deserves a special place. Count Gianni Caproni, creator of the finest WWI bombers, chose for some reason to build a giant flying boat with no fewer than nine wings and eight 400hp Liberty engines.

With this, or an even bigger version, he hoped to fly over 100 passengers across the Atlantic. The cabin was described as a grand ‘scafo-cabina’. Amidst all the struts and wings, the absence of any tail surfaces could easily be overlooked. Reportedly making a short hop without incident, the official first flight was less successful.

On 4 March 1921 the Ca.60 Noviplano took finally to the sky over the Lake Maggiore, but only reached a height of 60 feet before it crashed and was destroyed beyond repair. It sank to the bottom of the lake, killing two crew members. Some said that testing had shown the need for a lot of lead ballast and that this had shifted in flight. Test pilot Semprini crawled out of the wreck unscathed. Later a mysterious fire destroyed the remains and ended the Count's transatlantic dream.

Watch the video (uploaded by Bomberguy):

Sources: Rob Mulder's article on his European Airlines blog (highly recommended), Virtual Aircraft Museum

  • Dan G.

    INCREDIBLE! . . . .Caught this in a little aside vid on YouTube. The Monster really can fly! Well, at least in a scale model format.

  • lord_k

    Great video. Caproni's dream finally comes true.

  • Cap'n Tony

    Love it!  The Caproni Ca.60 is almost a living epitome of the hopes, dreams, visions, and ultimate Babel-like unsupportability of the Diesel Era.  Those videoes were BRILLIANT!  Even in the model the underperformance and poor yaw characteristics of the design stood out.