Text & Pictures: Robert Vrydagh - Translation: David Niemegeerts  © sbap 2016
 

  

The Italian Air Force Museum is situated in the old seaplane station of Vigna di Valle, the oldest one in Italy, located on the south shores of Lake Bracciano where in 1904 the first Experimental Aviation Yard was established in accordance with the wishes of Major Maurizio MORIS of the Corps of Engineers and the acknowledged father of Italian Aviation. Here, in 1908, the first Italian Military Airship, the N1, which was the work of two engineers named Gaetano Arturo CROCCO and Ottavio RICALDONI, lifted off.
The Museum, built by the Italian Air Force as a worthy home for the rich heritage of Italian Aviation, is set amongst the buildings and structures of the seaplane base, the only site of this kind where the typical architecture of an Aviation center that evolved from the birth of aviation to the 1980's was preserved completely untouched. The Italian Air Force Museum, with its 13,000 square meters of covered exhibition space, is one of the largest and most interesting flight museums in the world. It is divided into four large hangars that are now used as exhibit halls, housing over sixty aircraft and a vast collection of engines as well as mementos of all types that tell, in chronological order, the history of military aviation in Italy, and of the men who lived and shaped it. The museum tour winds through the various sectors dedicated to the Pioneers, the Airships, the First World War (TROSTER Hangar); the General NOBILE epic Polar Flights, the Great Flights in Mass Formation, the Schneider Trophy, the airplanes of the era between the two World Wars (VELO Hangar), the Second World War, and the large airplanes (BADONI Hangar); it ends with the last hall displaying the post-war revival of the Italian Air Force, including jet aircraft of today (SKEMA Hangar).

 
 

Missions: 
The Italian Air Force Historical Museum is charged with collecting, restoring, conserving, displaying and optimizing aviation-related material of historical and documentary interest. It also serves as a center for the promotion of the history and culture of aviation, be it scientific or educational.

The "UMBERTO NOBILE" Documentation Center":
The Documentation Center, part of the Museum complex, holds mementos of the Polar expeditions and General Umberto Nobile's personal library and archives. This material, of considerable scientific and historical interest, forms the core of the Centre which also has a library of more than 6.000 volumes, a collection of designs and plans, letters, documents of interest to aviation, a substantial collection of newspapers and interesting photographic archives. Each year, more material (mainly from private donations) is added. People wishing to use the "Umberto Nobile" Documentation Centre need to book by telephone number 0699887503-4. Alternatively, bookings can also be made by e-mail: aeromuseo@aeronautica.difesa.it.

Collections:
 The Museum holds interesting collections of photographic equipment, radio and electric appliances, weapons and on-board equipment for individuals and crew. Of particular interest are the paintings (by Balla, Tato and Annigoni), the medals and the historical mementos and souvenirs, almost all of which have been donated to the Museum by private individuals. RESTORATION AND OTHER ACTIVITIES One of the most important of the Museum's activities is the recovery and restoration of historical aircraft. Highly skilled technicians recondition the airplanes using techniques of the period when they were first built, using original materials such as cloth, wood, glue and small metallic items, all of which are increasingly difficult to find on the market. The Museum mounts a large number of aviation displays each year in Italy and abroad. Another important task is the promotion of the history and culture of aviation through participation in conferences, lectures, seminars and rallies, and by films and guided visits for members of Armed Forces Associations, other groups and organizations, school children and individual visitors. Each year, the Museum is used for important cultural events like concerts, openings of art exhibitions, seminars, meetings and press conferences. 

Bookshop:
Like every good museum, Vigna di Valle also has a souvenir and a bookshop. Really important for the aviation minded visitors to get the mandatory souvenirs. In the Museum's bookshop you can purchase a wide range of items related to the Air Force and to flying: model aircraft, books, key rings, T-shirts, caps and model aircraft assembly kits. Also clothing items and games connected with the world of flying are available there..

Some History:
At the initiative of the then major Giulio Douhet, commander of the Battalion of Engineers, the first aviation exhibition to be put on display in Italy was mounted in 1913 in Castel S. Angelo in Roma where the Historical Museum of the Engineering Corps was located. It brought together all of the aviation-related material in Italy from 1884 (the date of the establishment in Rome of the first Aerostat section, part of the Corps of Engineers) onwards. In 1933, ten years after the Air Force had been established as one of the Italian Armed Forces, the material on display at Castel S. Angelo was moved to the barracks of the lower Battery next to the river Tiber in Rome and then later transferred to a more appropriate location on Lungotevere delle Vittorie in 1939. Regrettably, a great deal of aviation material of extremely great interest, particularly aircraft and engines, was destroyed during and immediately after the Second World War. In the years of reconstruction of Italy from 1950 onwards, the idea surfaced again of setting up a Historical Aviation Museum similar to those that other countries had established or were in the process of establishing. So the first searches for an appropriate site for a permanent museum began. But what was found was only partly suitable and temporary, and did not meet the requirements of an appropriate space to house properly the historical aircraft, engines and the numerous mementos held by the Armed Forces. In 1961, the first location for the Air Force Historical Museum was found in the Palazzo della Vela in Turin. The Air Force rented the building up until 1974, at which point the local authorities asked for it to be handed back as they had decided another use for it. Another idea of setting up an Aviation Section in the Science and Technology Museum in Milan came to life, because of the very high cost of building all the necessary infrastructure from scratch. As a result, the aviation material held by the Air Force was moved virtually entirely to the airport at Vigna di Valle where a center for the collection of historical and scientific material related to flight had already been set up. The final solution had not yet been found but there was an increasingly urgent need for the Air Force to find an appropriate location as soon as possible, where all of the existing aviation material could be brought together and displayed and protected against damage from the weather, or a lack of maintenance. It was clear that it was not going to be possible for financial reasons to have the museum in any of the major cities, even in publically owned locations, so in 1975 the choice fell on Vigna di Valle where existing buildings could be used at a relatively low cost. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Vigna di Valle, the oldest aviation site in Italy, became the first Experimental Aviation Shipyard and it was there that the first Italian military airship, the N.1, was built in 1908 by Crocco and Ricaldoni. Later, the airport served as the Experimental Seaplane and Naval Armament Centre up until 1945. It was the headquarter of the 88th Maritime Fighter Group and after the war it became the Search and Rescue Command, home for the 84th Seaplane Group. It should be recorded that the current Italian Air Force Historical Museum was built in record time thanks to the interest in the history of aviation of Air Force general, G. Pesce, who at the time was Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. He had the full support of the then Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, general D. Ciarlo, and enjoyed the cooperation of other officers such as general Nencha, colonel E. Ripamonti, colonel R. Gasperini, lt. colonel V. Zardo, major A. Rampelli and the young captain O. Ferrante.

 
The Museum
 
Outside...

            Grumman HU-16A "Albatross"

Piaggio P.166
  Piaggio Douglas PD.808
  
Troster Hangar...
 
         Wright N°4 S.I.T. Blériot XI-2
            Caproni Ca.36 Macchi-Hanriot HD-1
           SPAD S-VII (Ruffo di Calabria) SPAD S-VII (Cabruna)
               Ansaldo SVA.5 Very nice paint work!
         Lohner L-127 Ansaldo AC.2
                    Gnome and Rhone engine World War I relics
 
Velo Hangar...
 
N1 Airship "Italia"
            Libratore Bonomi BS.17 "Allievo Cantù" Caproni Ca.100
Many historical exhibitions... ...Like the famous Italo Balbo raid
       Fiat C.29 Macchi M.39
      Macchi M.67 Macchi MC.72
            Fiat AS.5 engine from the Macchi MC.72 (1000 CV) Isotta Fraschini  Asso 750 RC35 engine (955 CV)
Imam RO.37 bis "Lince" Imam Ro.43 "Grillo"
Hispano HA-132-L (Fiat CR-32) Fiat CR.42 "Falco"
SIAI S.56 Isotta Franschini 12DB engine
Campini-Caproni 2
 
Badoni Hangar...
 
Cant Z.506 S "Airone" Fiat G.212
SIAI SM.82 PW "Marsupiale" SIAI SM.79 "Sparviero"
Macchi MC.200 "Saetta" Macchi MC.202 "Folgore"
Macchi MC.205 "Veltro" Fiat G.55 "Centauro"
Nardi FN.305 Fiat G.46
Fieseler Fi-156 "Storch" Douglas C47-DC3 "Dakota"
North American P-51 D "Mustang" Supermarine Spitfire MK-IXe
Imam RO-41
Junkers Jumo 004
 
Skema Hangar...
 
SAI Ambrosini "Canguro Palas" SAI Ambrosini Super S.7
Aerfer Ariete Aerfer Sagittario II
Aermacchi MB.323 Fiat G.59 4B
Macchi M.416 De Havilland DH-113 NF Mk.54 "Vampire"
Macchi MB.308 North American T-6G "Texan-Harvard"
Canadair CL13 (F-86E) "Sabre" Mk-4 Fiat (North American) F-86 K
Republic F-84G "Thunderjet" Republic F-84F "Thunderstreak"
Republic RF-84F "Thunderflash" Lockheed RT-33
Agusta Bell AB.47 G2 Agusta Bell AB.47 J
Agusta Bell AB.204-B Agusta Sikorsky SH-3D/TS
Fiat G.80 Fiat G.91 PAN
Fiat G.91 R Fiat G.91 T
Fiat G.91 Y Grumman S2F-1 "Tracker"
Stinson L5 Sentinel SIAI SF.260AM
Aermacchi MB.326 Aermacchi MB.339PAN
Lockheed F-104G "Starfighter" Panavia Tornado ADV
AMX international "Ghibli" Some jet engine are also exhibed
From early years to space adventure
  
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