Garbiele Lanzo Reports:
We had the opportunity to visit the Jonathan Collection in the province of Treviso, in the northeast of Italy, at the private airstrip that the Jonathan Collection Foundation calls home. The foundation, founded and run by famed aviator Giancarlo Zanardo is tasked with educating the public of Italy about their country’s long and storied history in aviation, of which many are ignorant.
The collection has an impressive assortment of WWI-era aircraft and its airstrip and period WWI hanger is situated near Nervesa della Battaglia, at the foot of Montello Hill which is especially appropriate as the site was part of the battle lines during the Great War’s 1918 Battle of the Piave River, when a massive Austro-Hungarian offensive was driven back by the Italians and Allied forces.
Hoping to create a culture Italy that is aware of their history and might even celebrate it, like the British do, Zarnardo took a page from the Duxford Air Show and American reenactment events and staged a WWI re-enactment last month, replete with re-enactors in period military garb, smoke effects, gunshots and a pyrotechnics along with flying examples of WWI aircraft. The effect, particularly at this historic battlefield setting and with the Group’s authentic restored WWI Bessoneau Type H Hangar within the frame was quite compelling and we felt as though we had stepped back in time. Ignoring for the moment the large crowd of spectators that had come from the surrounding regions, there were quite a few well-outfitted re-enactors dressed as armed soldiers, red cross personal and fighter pilots that really brought the scene from this earlier era to life.
There was much activity as all scrambled to get the show ready and finally the Fokker Dr.1 (painted in Red Baron Livery of course) was started and with Giancarlo Zanardo at the controls, the craft taxied, took off and eventually disappeared behind the mountain. After the drone of the Fokkers engine had disappeared there was palpable silence for several minutes. Suddenly we could hear the engine as the plane swooped down over the mountain and pandemonium broke out on the show field as the Red Baron attacked! Soldiers fired their weapons at the invading Fokker and the aerial defense commander ordered two of the Tiger Moths stationed at the base to defend the field. It was quite thrilling to watch the manual start of the Tiger Moths racing against the clock to defend the airfield.
Within a seconds that seemed like minutes the Tiger Moths were first sputtering and then roaring and took to the sky to combat their foe. Meanwhile the Red Baron had taken advantage of the time it took to get the Tigers in the air to drop a bomb on the airfield, which in and of itself was interesting to be able to see the procedure involved in dropping the payload. Of course the wonder of that moment was soon drowned out by the detonation of the bomb as it struck the apron and the mixture of smoke, sounds and smell made the experience quite exhilarating.
Good as the pilot of the Fokker was, he didn’t stand a chance against the two Tigers and after several minutes of dogfighting the two planes the red plane was hit and forced to make an emergency landing and the pilot was captured and taken into custody by the soldiers after the plane had reached the ground. A hero’s welcome greeted the victorious Tiger Moth pilots as they brought their craft down and to a stop, the crowd had lost themselves in the immersive experience.
After our little slice of World War One had ended there were some formal moments, raising the flag, blessing the foundation’s new hangar by a local priest and some information given about the foundations present state of operation and the status of ongoing projects.
The Jonathan Collection is mainly focused on WWI period, so they have three flying de Havilland DH82A Tiger Moths, the aforementioned Fokker Dr.1 Replica, a Blériot XI-2M and in a short time will be possible to see a flying model of Caproni Ca.3 which is presently being completed and is expected to fly this summer. Other aircraft worth mentioning are a flying 3/4 scale replica of a P51 Mustang, a flying reproduction of a Wright Flyer, an Avionautica Rio M-100S glider and a RotorWay Scorpion Helicopter that Zanardo and James Naibo built from a kit in 1971 and was the first amateur-built helicopter to be issue a certificate of airworthiness in Italy.
Italy may have a long way to go before its people become as engaged and enamored with their history as the Brits, but if anyone can accomplish such a sea change in their culture, as evidenced by this spectacular WWI reenactment, it’s Giancarlo Zanardo.
Some great video, of the Red Baron battling the Flying Moths taken on the day on which we’re reporting (Video provided by LuckyPlane):