While the British Handley Page and German Gotha bombers receive their fair share of notoriety in World War 1 text, both Italy and Russia were ahead of the development curve in terms of applying workable heavy daytime, long range bombers into modern military usage. These two nations had already developed serviceable heavy bombing platforms by the opening salvos of the war and the Ca.1 was at least one a testament to this fact. The "Societa de Aviazone Ing Caproni" bureau (better known simply as "Caproni") proved something of a pioneer in the field, resulting in their first impressive attempt sometime in 1913 as the "Caproni 260hp". This version sported a "pusher" engine and a pair of "pusher" engines - these Gnome rotary engines all being mounted in-line along a central fuselage nacelle. The two pusher systems drove propellers mounted at the tail booms via a tractor arrangement. A modified version was then later trialled in October of 1914. In the post-war years, these respective systems came to be designated as the Ca.30 and Ca.31.
The Heavy Bomber
Heavy bombers were a fine addition to any military arsenal, regardless of era. They supplied a world power with long-range attack capabilities and greater payloads than that of scouts or fighters, making good use of multiple engine layouts and requiring the use of multiple crew. As such, defensive measures were supplied in the way of trainable machine guns to cover the critical quadrants about the aircraft. Eventually, these day-only bombers graduated to become the massive monsters that complimented the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Today, the heavy bomber more-or-less exists in the new range of stealth-oriented implements and multi-role fighter systems.
Making a Better Product
After a period of evaluation, it was determined that these new larger bomber platforms were wholly underpowered. Caproni set to achieve better performance from his "giant" and moved the puller engines to the tips of each tail boom, keeping the pusher system in its centralized nacelle approach from earlier. This allowed each wing-mounted engine to directly drive its propeller in a more efficient manner. The French-based Gnome rotary engines were then replaced with Italian FIAT A.10 inline types and produced the new company designation of "Caproni 300hp". First flight occurred in late 1914. FIAT would eventually supply over 15,000 engines of all types during the First World War.
This revised development caught the eye and imagination of the Italian Army and the first Italian bomber force was conceived. The new bomber aircraft was designated officially as the Ca.1 by the Italian Army and production ramped up by the middle of August 1915. Some 162 to 166 aircraft were eventually delivered up to December 1916.
Upon delivery, Ca.1s were quickly adopted into Italian Army service. Their first true sortie occurred on August 20th, 1915, in an attack on Austrian targets at an airfield in Aisovizza. Most Ca.1s were committed to such attacks, primarily against the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the new bomber eventually served in some fifteen total Italian air squadrons during the war effort. Three of these Italian squadrons were known to have operated out of France with another stationed for action overseas out of Libya.
Ca.1 Bomber Walk-Around
The Ca.1 featured a wide-span, four-bay, bi-plane wing assembly. At the center of the wings was fitted the crew nacelle containing accommodations for four personnel and the third engine. The primary engines were fitted ahead of the twin booms extending aft in a "puller" function arrangement. The third engine on the central nacelle operated in a "pusher" format. The crew consisted of two pilots, a forward gunner and a rear gunner - all fielded in tandem positions. The forward gunner sat in the forward-most compartment. Distinctly, the rear gunner stood in an open air, cage-like pulpit behind the upper wing assembly and ahead of the pusher engine at rear. The twin booms extended aft into a tailplane. Upon this tailplane was affixed three vertical tail fins. The undercarriage was a fixed structure and consisted of a tricycle arrangement featuring two single-wheeled main landing gear legs and a single-wheeled nose landing gear, all supported by struts. The rear of the empennage was supported by a simplistic tailskid fitted to the extreme end. Construction was mainly wood covered in fabric.
Performance, Dimensions, and Armament
The 3 x Fiat A.10 6-cylinder, liquid-cooled in-line engines delivered up to 100 horsepower output each. This supplied the massive aircraft with speeds of up to 75 miles per hour as well as a range equal to 344 miles. Her service ceiling was listed at approximately 13,000 feet. Her empty weight ranged in at about 7,200lbs with a gross weight tipping the scales at 8,800lbs. Wingspan was nearly 23 feet with an overall running length of 36 feet plus. She stood at an impressive 12 feet high. Bombs were suspended under the central nacelle and there were 2 x 6.5mm FIAT-Revelli machine guns used for defense. These machine guns were fitted to the front gunner tub and the rear gunners pedestal cage.
In the post-war years, the Ca.1 was redesignated to as the "Ca.32". The Ca.1/Ca.32s that survived were logically refurbished to be used as passenger airliners. These systems could transport up to six passengers in relative comfort and fell under the Caproni designation of "Ca.56".
The Improved Ca.2 and the Definitive Ca.3
The Caproni Ca.2 ("Caproni 350hp") was a minor variation (improved engines) on the strengths of the Ca.1 platform. Development ultimately led to the definitive Ca.3 bomber platform.