Circuito Aereo Internazionale di Brescia
Brescia, Italy, September 8th - 20th 1909

The first air race meeting outside France


Action in the hangars: Work on the four-cylinder Itala engine during assembly of Cagno's AVIS/Voisin. Note the primitive metal propeller. (1)
A montage showing the repairs after the storm before the meeting, a portrait of Calderara and the recovery of his mangled plane. (2)
A dramatic photo of Calderara in deep trouble - the left wing tip has already hit the ground. This is probably his accident on September 8th. (1)
Anzani in his Voisin about to take off. The three-cylinder engine is clearly visible. (3)
Visitors standing on the chairs of one of the restaurants, trying to see what's going on. (4)
Rougier taxying out for a flight. Note the difference between the clean wings and the oil-stained tail surfaces. (5)
D'Annunzio getting ready for his short ride with Curtiss. (2)
Curtiss flying in front of the grandstands (3)
Princess Letizia visiting the hangars. (2)
This photo of Rougier's Voisin clearly shows that it still had an ENV V-8 engine and not an Italian Rebus, as has been stated by some sources. (6)
Cobianchi and his mascot working on his plane. He might have got the monkey off his back, but he still didn't get his airplane working during the entire meeting... (7)
The king of Italy on the honorary tribune (3)
Calderara revving the engine and giving the signal to release the starting weight. (2)
Rougier's plane in front of his hangar. (6)
Da Zara and his "Aerocurvo". After building new straighter wings with cambered airfoil he managed to fly it the following year. (2)
Curtiss' winning plane, still carrying the Brescia race number 6, was displayed at the Chicago Wanamaker's department store after his return to the US. (3)

Brescia is a town in Lombardia in northern Italy. In the beginning of the 20th century it had around 70,000 inhabitants and a healthy industry. Brescia had a tradition of automobile racing going back to 1899, but competition from other races in neighbouring towns and difficulties in getting permission to use military personnel and getting access to railway crossings had resulted in the discontinuation of the automobile races after the 1907 event. It was considered that an air race would be a good replacement and plans were made already in January 1909.

In the end of March a big delegation of notable aviation persons from the French "Commission Aérienne Mixte", including Ernest Archdeacon, Paul Rosseau, Louis Blériot and Alfred Leblanc visited and approved the site. Blériot promised that he would participate in the meeting, which would be held a week after the Reims meeting, in September 1909.

This is the final list of entrants:

1 Mario Cobianchi Cobianchi
2 Mario Faccioli Faccioli
3 Mario Calderara Wright
4 Umberto Cagno AVIS/Voisin
5 Alessandro Anzani AVIS/Voisin
6 Glenn Curtiss Curtiss
7 Guido Moncher Moncher
8 Louis Bleriot Bleriot XI
9 Louis Bleriot Bleriot XII
10  Alfred Leblanc Bleriot XI
11 Henry Rougier Voisin
12 ? AVIS/Voisin
13 Leonino da Zara Miller
14 Henry de la Vaulx "Zodiac III" airship
15 Mario Calderara Ariel/Wright

The Blériot XII was assigned race number 9, but apparently flew with its Reims race number 23. The pilot-less plane entered by the Italian Voisin licensees AVIS (Atelier Voisin Italie Septentrionale) never turned up. Some sources say it was to be flown by one Enea Rossi, and that he was even killed in it at Brescia immediately before the meeting, but it is either a hoax or a misunderstanding and Rossi didn't even exist. Faccioli also didn't turn up. Race number 14 was originally intended for Eugène Lefebvre's Wright. Race number 15 is not mentioned in the race program, but can be seen in photos and movies.

The entrants were a mixed group. Curtiss, Blériot, Rougier and Leblanc were experienced flyers. They arrived by a special train directly from the Reims meeting, together with the airship "Zodiac III", which alone required two freight cars. The rest were Italians, of which only Mario Calderara had any significant experience. He was a naval officer, Italy’s first pilot and the Wright brothers' first pupil in Italy. The famous engine manufacturer Alessandro Anzani had bought a Voisin plane and equipped it with one of his own engines, but he had only flown it for the first time less than a month before the meeting. Several of the other Italian planes had never flown at all.

The weather was not favourable to the 1909 air races, and just as at the Vichy and Reims races a violent storm hit the site. This happened during the night between August 18th and 19th, less than three weeks before that start of the race. The high winds destroyed seven of the hangars and damaged several planes, particularly Calderara's Wright. Fortunately the propellers and the engine were not damaged and Calderara and his friend Umberto Savoia quickly started repairs. The French Wright producers Ariel offered to send a spare plane, with which he could start the meeting. It turned out to be good to have a spare plane, since Calderara had several accidents during the meeting, the first already during a test flight on the Monday before the race, when a strut failed and fouled the propeller.

Wednesday 8 September
More than 40,000 spectators arrived for the first day of the meeting, which was mainly used for testing. Action started just before noon, when Rougier made a perfectly controlled two-minute flight. This was followed during the afternoon by several unsuccessful test hops by the frustrated Anzani and short flights by Leblanc, Calderara and Blériot.

Blériot was still troubled by the burns that he had suffered during his fiery crash at Reims and had his arm in a bandage, and he was perhaps also disturbed by the news that Eugène Lefebvre had crashed to his death in a Wright at Port-Aviation the day before the start of the meeting, becoming the world's first pilot to die in an air accident.

At four o'clock Curtiss became the first to complete a lap of the course. The day's last action was a failed start by Calderara. His plane crashed immediately after leaving the starting rail and was badly damaged.

Thursday 9 September
The second day dawned with light rain, but the weather soon improved. At noon Curtiss made a short flight, trying for the take-off prize but failing to lift of within the required 60 metres. Soon afterwards Leblanc made a short flight, but was soon forced down and broke the propeller when landing outside the mown field.

The wind increased and there was no more action for more than two hours, and the impatient crowds were booing and whistling. Then Anzani made another test, but was once again almost immediately forced down. At four o'clock Rougier made a test lap of the course and landed in front of the hangars. After briefly checking the engine he took off again and after several circles around the field reached an altitude of 93 metres, to the wild cheering by the crowds, thereby taking the lead in the altitude competition. He also intended to go for the Gran Premio, but his engine started to miss and he landed after three laps and twenty minutes. Blériot made a test flight, landing after three quarters of a lap and then restarting to fly back. Curtiss made a second attempt for the take-off prize, this time managing to get airborne in 8.2 seconds.

Friday 10 September
High winds and rain prevented flying.

Saturday 11 September
With the return of bright weather in the morning big crowds were expected and the fences around the hangars were moved to make space for more visitors. The first started to arrive already early in the morning, but they would face a long wait. At noon, when the official flights were to start, the winds had increased again and low clouds were flying across the field. At 14:30 the weather calmed down and the white flag was finally hoisted. The first to try was Blériot, but he landed after only a couple of hundred metres. It was speculated that the engine problems of many flyers was caused by the extreme humidity.

At 15:45 Rougier made a successful flight of lap, followed by Blériot. Blériot and Rougier made further short flights, Blériot even taking Leblanc as a passenger in the #23 Blériot XII. Leblanc then tried, but his two efforts ended with a crash. At 17:45 Curtiss took off to go for the Gran Premio. He covered the 50 kilometres in 49:24, the fastest lap taking 9:46.6. Soon after Curtiss' landing Rougier declared that he would go for the altitude contest. After circling the field three times he reached 117 metres, increasing his lead.

Sunday 12 September
This beautiful day turned out to be the high point of the races. After another long wait Blériot was first in the air at around two o'clock, but he only made a short flight. A quarter of an hour later Rougier made an affort for the Gran Premio, but as expected his Voisin didn't have the speed to match Curtiss. His time was 1 h 09:42.2, with a best lap of 12:21.0, and a after completing the distance he flew an extra lap.

At four o'clock Blériot flew three short laps around only the nearest pylons, starting in front of the royal tribune where princess Letizia had taken place together with some other VIPs. At 16:20 Calderara made an unstable flight of one kilometre in 1:15.6 seconds, the first to try for the Oldofredi prize. Leblanc tried to take off but bounced several times and gave up, followed by further flights by Calderara and Blériot. While Blériot was still in the air Curtiss made an attempt for the altitude prize, but only reached some 50 metres and then descended quickly and landed. Bleriot completed six short laps and landed in front of the enthusiastic crowd who had got to see two planes flying at the same time! At 17:40 Curtiss made another flight, this time completing a lap of the 10 km course in 9:19.2. Soon after Calderara took off again with Lieutenant Savoia on board, going for the passenger prize. He covered the required 10 km flight and then kept flying for a total of 21 minutes.

In the evening the famous Italian poet Gabriele d'Annunzio managed to persuade Curtiss to take him for a flight, but the reluctant Curtiss only made a short straight hop. Later Calderara complied with d'Annunzio's wish, and took him for a flight of more than a mile. According to the reporter from "Flight" the Italian poet was "almost delirious with enthusiasm, and some poetical ode to flight may be looked forward to, he having determined to give his impressions in verse". Nobody could have believed that d'Annunzio would nine years later organize a daring air raid against Vienna...

Another soon-to-be famous writer at the meeting was Franz Kafka, who wrote reports for "Bohemia", a newspaper from his home-town Prague.

Monday 13 September
This was declared a day of rest with no flying, and to the disappointment of everybody the biggest stars were already leaving Brescia. Curtiss left for Frankfurt and Berlin, where he would not do any flying. Blériot and Leblanc also left for Berlin, to the disappointment of many without having achieved much of note. Blériot hadn't participated in any of the competitive events and Leblanc's flying had not impressed. Rougier was the only foreigner to stay until the end of the meeting, but he too left Brescia on the Monday for a couple of days of tourism in Venice.

Most of the Italian flyers were testing and tinkering, but did not manage to leave the ground. Moncher, who had been mysteriously absent for the start of the meeting, had finally arrived. This meant that his hangar couldn't be used for parking the cars of the organizers anymore, but his machine was completely disassembled. Anzani had a narrow escape when the propeller broke loose during an engine test. It was splintered and parts flew everywhere, but thankfully nobody was injured. The plane was further damaged when it was dragged back to the hangar. After this experience the temperamental engine-builder reportedly gave up his flying career on the spot and generously let the other pilots cannibalize his plane for spares. The only good news for the crowd was that the airship "Zodiac III" had finally been assembled and filled and would be ready for flights.

Tuesday 14 September
No flights took place on the Tuesday, which was used for repairs and preparations.

Wednesday 15 September
15-18 September were announced as practice days for the contest for Italian pilots and the prices for admission to the field and the grandstands were lowered. On the Wednesday afternoon Count de la Vaulx took his airship for a 40-minute flight over the town and landed safely. During the rest of the week, he made daily flights between Brescia and the airfield, taking many notables and writers as passengers, among them princess Letizia. At half past five Calderara took Savoia on his Wright flyer for another effort for the passenger prize. He flew one lap in nine minutes, faster than Curtiss' best time.

Thursday 16 September
Early in the morning Cagno made a short flight in his Voisin, but the nose pointed skywards and the plane crashed on its tail from an altitude of 12 meters immediately after the start. The plane was badly damaged, but thankfully the pilot was not injured. At five o'clock Da Zara brought his "Aerocurvo" out for a first test, but a tire exploded with a loud bang and had to be replaced. Calderara took off, but had engine problems and landed immediately. At 18:20 Da Zara made two efforts to take off, but failed despite long ground runs.

Friday 17 - Saturday 18 September
No flying because of bad weather.

Sunday 19 September
The last Sunday and Monday (which was a public holiday) were intended as the grand final days of the meeting, with visits by the king and many members of the government. The weather was clear and bright, but two days of rain had combined with the pitch previously spread in order to reduce dust to turn the roads into sticky mud. The Sunday, as usual, started slowly. Cobianchi's plane had been painted white during the meeting, but the engine had failed and components were searched in Turin. Shortly before noon Da Zara again failed to make his plane leave the ground.

There was no flying until half past three, when Rougier, who had reinstalled his engine after some maintenance, flew a lap. Calderara also brought out his plane, but he had to wait since the "Zodiac III" was approaching the airfield. It arrived at 16:10 and flew several laps around the field. At five o'clock the airship was securely tied down and Calderara was finally allowed to fly. At first his flight was undulating and looked instable, but gradually his manoeuvers became more controlled and he made an effort for the 20 km "Premio Corriere della Sera". He made a perfect flight in 21:43.0, enough to secure the first prize. At 17:20, while Calderara was still in the air, Rougier took off and flew a lap. At 17:40 "Zodiac III" took off with some passengers in order to fly to its hangar. At around six o'clock Calderara tried to make a flight with a passenger, but his plane appeared tired after his earlier flight and stopped immediately after leaving the starting rail. People started to leave the airfield, while da Zara again tried again to take off, without success despite a long ground run.

Monday 20 September
The morning dawn with great weather. At 8:40 Vittorio Emmanuele III, the king of Italy, arrived to the Brescia station by train together with several ministers. He was met by a military orchestra and started the day by unveiling a monument to a local politician and ex-government member. He then made a quick visit to the electrical exhibition of Brescia, which went on at the same time as the aviation meeting. He also had time to visit an art exhibition before lunch.

At the airfield, the usual morning tests had been finished. At noon the wind was getting gusty with some threats of thunder, so no flights were allowed. Cagno had repaired his plane and made some engine runs. Moncher had broken a propeller, so there would be no flying for him. At 14.50 the band of the 74th Infantry Regiment started to play a march and at the same time the red flag was hoisted. Calderara made a takeoff in the #15 plane provided by Ariel, but the plane rose almost vertically, stalled and crashed heavily on its tail, fortunately without injury to the pilot.

At 15:50 the king's motorcade arrived and he immediately took place at the honorary tribune, which was decorated with ribbons, flags and flowers. At 16:20 he went on a twenty-minute tour of the hangars, before returning to the tribune. No flying was allowed while the king was moving around and there were some whistles and boos from the impatient crowd in the cheap spectator areas. At 16:45 Rougier finally took off, intending to go for the world altitude record, which had only three days before been raised to 172 metres in Berlin by Wilbur Wright. He made a beautiful flight reaching more than 100 metres and was greeted by cheers and the band playing the "Marseillaise" after landing, but he was not satisfied. He had been disturbed by the wind and was going to make a second effort.

Calderara's crash didn't ground him, since his own #3 plane had been repaired after his accidents earlier during the meeting. After very long engine runs, again causing boos and whistles from the bored crowd, he finally took off at half past five. He was going for the five-lap "Gran Premio" and he covered the distance in 50:50.8, only one and a half minute slower than Curtiss, a very good speed for a Wright and enough to secure second place. The fastest lap time was 9:52.0.

Meanwhile, Rougier had taken off for his second effort to break the altitude record. After circling the field time after time he finally reached 198.5 meters, a new world record! He was awarded a bonus of 2,000 lire for the achievement. Rougier's landing after his record-breaking flight was the end of the meeting. The king left the airfield at 18:35, waving to the crowds while the band played the royal anthem, but the ceremonies were a bit disrupted when the aviators appeared and celebrations broke out.

Conclusion
Despite the great effort of the organizers many visitors were disappointed with the event. The program was too extended and there were too few flights and too much waiting. With the exception of Calderara, the Italian flyers failed to make any impression. The famous Blériot made a lacklustre showing and most of the foreign flyers left one week before the meeting ended. The practical arrangements were heavily criticised – the roads were jammed, the newly constructed tram service was unreliable and completely insufficient and the restaurants couldn't by far handle the crowds. The event would not be repeated.