Verona is the capital of the northern Italian province of the same
name, at the foot of the Alps and straddling the meandering river
Adige. It's a town with a rich history, with a famous Roman
amphitheatre, and the scene of Shakespeare's "Romeo and
Juliet". In 1910 it had a population of around 80,000. It was a
military town and an important railway junction, with an economy mainly
based on wine, other agricultural products and textiles.
Verona was the home town of Italy's first aviator Mario Calderara and it hosted two important international aviation conferences in May and June of 1910, one about aerial navigation and one about legal aspects of aviation. Therefore it was decided to organize an aviation meeting to be held immediately before the conferences. Sanction was granted by the Italian Aero Club and an executive committee was formed, comprising Eugenio Gallizioli, mayor of Verona, Carlo De Stefani, president, and count Tito Murari Dalla Corte Bra, secretary. A suitable site was found at the Piazza d'Armi, a military exercise ground immediately outside the city walls, two kilometres southwest of the city centre.
A prize fund of 200,000 lire (the same amount in French francs) was raised, with 40,000 reserved for an airship race to Vicenza and back that eventually was cancelled because there were no entrants. It was a relatively big purse and attracted a field of eight pilots, including some top foreign flyers:
The most famous of the entrants was Louis Paulhan, to whom the local
newspaper "Arena" devoted an entire first page before the
meeting. He was then at the peak of his fame. He held the world
altitude record since the Los Angeles meeting, which was the start of
his long US tour. He had less than a month earlier spectacularly beaten
Claude Grahame-White to the big "Daily Mail" prize for the
first flight between London and Manchester, and he came directly from
the successful meeting in Lyon. Molon, Duray and Küller, and
particularly Efimoff and Chávez, were all experienced performers.
Cheuret and Cattaneo were relative newcomers, but the latter came
directly from a successful tour to Odessa.
Four other pilots had figured during the preparations for the meeting, but didn't appear: René Métrot had wrecked his Voisin and broken his nose at the Lyon meeting and didn't turn up. Clemente Ravetto had wrecked his machine when he flew into telephone lines at the Palermo meeting. Italian Carlo Pizzagalli was still training at the Voisin school in France and nothing is known of the mysterious "Buzis" on a "Hoherstein" machine, who appeared in an early list of entrants.
The schedule of flights was more or less the same on most days: first the daily speed competition, then a period of free flights for the daily totalisation prize, then either the take-off or passenger flight contests and finally the daily altitude contest. In order to encourage flights in all contests the pilots were penalized by two kilometres of flight distance in the "Gran Premio della Totalizzazione delle Distanze" for each of the daily events they didn't participate in.
Sunday 22 May
The first morning started cloudy and it had rained during the night, but the wind was only 3 m/s. Before the start of official proceedings a couple of the flyers tested their machines. Küller made a couple of engine runs and Duray made a flight of four laps.
When the official flights started at two o'clock the sun was breaking through the clouds, but the wind had increased a little. Duray was first to take off, at 14:20, followed by Efimoff and by Paulhan, who immediately climbed high - three planes in the air at the same time! Efimoff dived dramatically, making people believe that he was crashing, and only flared at the last moment before landing. Chávez took off, again making it three in the air. When the others landed Molon and Cattaneo in their Blériots took off, the latter immediately climbing to 100 metres before twice flying past the grandstands, waving to his enthusiastic compatriots, but both soon landed. Then Paulhan made a short flight for the daily speed prize. Chávez and Efimoff again made it three in the air, both soon landing again after making their speed runs. Paulhan took off again, and this time flew higher and higher. Molon made a flight of fifteen minutes and when he had landed Duray took off.
Around four o'clock the weather turned worse, it started raining and the winds increased to 7-10 m/s. Paulhan and Duray landed. The airfield went quiet for more than an hour and the crowds turned to the restaurants and bars. After five o'clock the weather improved and the wind decreased to 3-5 m/s. Efimoff was first off the ground, followed by Paulhan, Duray and Chávez. Paulhan and Duray were flying for the passenger prize, with their mechanics aboard. Efimoff and Duray soon landed, and Chávez had some problems and was forced to land at the far end of the field, but took off again and flew back to the hangar area after checking that everything was alright. Efimoff took off again, and Paulhan landed after 44 kilometres, which would turn out to be the longest passenger flight of the week. Efimoff was still in the air when the altitude contest was supposed to start, and in the end the race committee had to hoist the black flag to make him land.
Paulhan, Chávez and Efimoff took off and circled higher and higher. It was difficult for the spectators to tell the difference between the three Farmans, and also to judge who was actually flying highest, but when the official results arrived they showed that Paulhan's 365 metres had Efimoff beaten by 55 metres. When the others had landed Cattaneo also tried for the altitude prize, only reaching 68 metres, and Molon made the last flight of the day.
Paulhan had flown 88 kilometres and won the daily totalisation prize, and Duray won the daily speed prize. Two of the pilots didn't fly during the first day: Cheuret's Farman wasn't ready and Küller had caught a cold and didn't feel well enough to fly. Except for the rain shower it had been a very successful day - not only for the flyers, but according to a newspaper report also for pick-pockets…
Monday 23 May
It was windy at two o'clock, when the day's flying was supposed to start. The wind speed was measured to 7-10 m/s and the white flag was hoisted, indicating that flights were likely. Chávez brought out his plane, but the only result was that the winds increased to 10-15 m/s. Küller, who was troubled all through the meeting by his cold, had recovered enough to take his Antoinette out for an engine test, but it was quickly brought back into the hangars. The other flyers were resting on the lawn outside the hangars, waiting for better weather. After a while the wind decreased. Molon was first in the air, but landed already after half a lap. He was followed by Paulhan, who flew three laps, and Küller, who despite the strong winds and an engine that missed badly from time to time won the daily speed prize with a time of 3:47. The wind increased again and between 15:32 and 16:42 there were no flights.
Then the wind decreased a little and Efimoff was first off the ground, but landed almost immediately, without completing a lap. Küller took off and flew three laps, the engine still not running well and the machine bucking and rolling in the wind while Küller frantically worked the big side-mounted control wheels. This was the day's longest flight and even though it did not reach the ten kilometres required for prize money it was highly praised by the aviation press. The winds approached 15 m/s when he landed and his mechanics had a difficult struggle to haul the machine back to the hangars with the help of the engine.
When the day's take-off contest started the winds had decreased a little and a there were some gaps in the cloud cover. The officials put the wire one metre above the ground in place and stood ready to measure the distance between it and the pilots' chosen starting points, but there were still no flights until 17:15, when Efimoff took off and flew a lap. He was immediately followed by Paulhan, who didn't want somebody else to steal the thunder. Paulhan was first to try for the prize, but failed to complete the prescribed lap afterwards. Efimoff's try was disallowed, since he crossed the wire at an angle. Paulhan made new effort, placing his machine at only a little more than 20 metres from the wire. He revved the engine violently while four men held on to the tail. The hats of the two officials were blown far away by the slipstream before the machine was released and almost jumped towards the wire, clearing it by inches. Chávez and Molon also made failed efforts, and Paulhan's result of 23 metres would eventually stand as the best of the meeting. He was loudly applauded after landing and invited to celebrate together with Luigi Amadeo di Savoia, the Duke of the Abruzzi, who was visiting the meeting.
Then there was again a long break, waiting for the winds to reduce before the daily altitude prize, which could in the end be run in sunshine. Finally the three Farman pilots, Paulhan, Chávez and Efimoff, took off almost simultaneously, Paulhan winning by reaching the not so impressive height of 176 metres. These were the last flights of the day.
Tuesday 24 May
The night had been clear, but in the morning the winds were still strong. Paulhan's crew measured it to 15 m/s (54 km/h), around two thirds of the top speed of the fastest planes of the time. The winds reduced somewhat during the afternoon, but when Paulhan took off at 15:30 and flew two laps for the daily speed prize the wind speed was still around 10 m/s. The time, 4:04.8, was predictably not impressive. He was the only one to start for the speed prize and then the only pilot to make a valid effort for the daily distance prize later, making several flights and completing twelve laps. Küller's one and a half lap flown towards half past four was too short to count. Efimoff also made a short flight, but landed immediate after an engine failure. Then it was time for the take-off prize: Efimoff, Duray and Paulhan were ready when the event started, but only Efimoff made a valid effort of 42.95 metres. Towards the end Blériot pilots Cattaneo and Molon tried, without success.
Chávez was first to take off for the daily altitude contest, followed by Paulhan and Efimoff. Paulhan soon left Efimoff behind and chased and passed Chávez. The other two gave up, while Paulhan went on to win with a broad margin, reaching 473 metres. While Paulhan was still flying Cattaneo started. The crowd cheered him on, even though it was soon obvious that he had no chance against Paulhan. Cattaneo also failed by mere metres to beat the other Farman pilots, but it didn't matter to the crowd. Their compatriot had done well, and was enthusiastically celebrated.
Wednesday 25 May
At last a clear day with calm air! Molon was first in the air in the morning, followed by Chávez, who flew three or four laps. After this test Chávez took off again, this time with a passenger on board. He landed after one lap, far from the hangars. He apparently had some kind of problems and his mechanics came running. A soldier on horseback also arrived to help and dismounted, but by then Chávez had solved whatever problem he had and gunned the engine. The frightened horse jerked the bridle from the hands of the soldier and bolted in panic.
When the official flights started at three o'clock Cattaneo was first in the air, followed by Küller, Paulhan and Efimoff. When the other two landed, Paulhan and Efimoff continued to fly for the daily speed prize. They were soon joined by Cheuret, who would have an exciting flight. After the take-off he found himself almost below Efimoff. Since he didn't know if Efimoff had seen him he had to turn eastward outside the airfield over the Basso Acquar quarters in order to avoid the propeller slipstream and the risk of collision. He then returned via a large turn to the north of the airfield. He landed immediately after this excursion, and when rolling towards the hangars his Farman made light contact with Küller's Antoinette, which was being readied for a flight. Fortunately the damages were minor. Cattaneo made several short flights, while Paulhan and Efimoff flew lap after lap for the totalisation prize, Paulhan in complete effortless control, only stopping for fuel, while Efimoff flew slightly less regularly.
Soon after four o'clock Duray took off. He was followed by Küller, whose engine backfired badly despite several complete overhauls and soon landed again. Duray flew two fast laps and then crashed heavily while landing. The cause for the accident was not clear, whether it was a gust or a bump on the airfield, but the landing gear and the left side of the machine were more or less crushed and both the propeller and the engine were damaged. Duray miraculously escaped from the wreckage almost unharmed, only complaining about a sprained hand.
After the accident there was a heavy thunderstorm with lots of rain. Despite the rain, Paulhan and Efimoff kept flying, and after a while Cattaneo also took to the air. After a while the rain stopped, but it was followed by increasing winds. This did not deter Chávez and Molon, who also tried to increase their mileage for the totalisation prize. The last to fly was Paulhan, who finished his very successful day. He had flown 90 kilometres, a display of his complete mastery of the air, according to the reporters, and won the daily distance prize. Duray had before his crash won the daily speed prize, his time of 3:26.2 being the best so far during the meeting.
Thursday 26 May
The fifth day of the meeting was also clear, but despite this nobody took to the air during the morning. The flyers made themselves busy in the hangars until half past two, when Cheuret took a reporter from "Corriere della Sera" for a flight, followed by Paulhan, who carried a reporter from "El Secolo". Cheuret landed after around five laps, somewhat violently, while Paulhan kept flying for ten laps and Efimoff too made a flight with a reporter from "La Stampa".
At three o'clock the competitive flights started and Molon and Cattaneo took off for the speed prize in their Blériots, followed by Chávez, whose engine seemed a bit reluctant. Cattaneo was clearly faster than the other two and posted what turned to be the week's fastest time, 3:17.0, an average speed of 73.1 km/h. He landed and jumped out of his plane, waving his cap to the wildly cheering crowds, but the celebrations had hardly started when the weather again turned worse. A heavy rain shower, accompanied by strong winds, blew in over the airfield and everybody who could ran for shelter.
The rain didn't stop until five o'clock, when Molon took off for the totalisation prize, followed five minutes later by Cattaneo, then by Efimoff, Paulhan and Chávez, and finally by Cheuret. By then Molon had landed, but the other four flyers took turns flying for an hour in the still humid air. Cattaneo in his fast Blériot overtook the other flyers several times and reached 48 km during the day, second to Paulhan's 68 km. Paulhan's lead in the totalisation prize stood at 274 km against Efimoff's 160 km at the end of the day.
The last event of the day was the "Gran Premio d'Altezza", the big altitude contest with 10,000 lire to the winner. Paulhan and Efimoff were first off the ground and started rising in large circles. They were already high in the air when Chávez and Cattaneo followed. Cattaneo knew that his machine was no match for the Farmans and soon gave up, while the other three machines circled and climbed until their wings were only visible as double lines with the pilot as a dot in between against the sky. It was impossible to see who was who without binoculars, and impossible to judge without instruments who was highest. And then they started descending. Chávez and Paulhan were first to land, while Efimoff stayed longer, trying to find the last metres that would win him the prize. He didn't give up until the celebrations for the first two had already started, but it was in vain: Paulhan's 1,163 metres had Efimoff beaten by a mere 67 metres!
After the end of the official flights Efimoff took a Polish lady by the name of Irene Wuowska for a lap. The last two hours had certainly fulfilled the expectations of the crowds, who happily returned to the restaurants and bars of the town.
Friday 27 May
During the morning there was plenty of action in Duray's hangar, where spares had arrived and curious passers-by could watch the broken, bent and tangled parts be made into an airplane again. Chávez' crew was also busy, having removed the wings of the plane in order to make some repairs.
The first event of the day was as usual the daily speed contest, which started at two o'clock. The crowd had by now become accustomed to seeing slow, safe flying during the endurance contests and were more enthusiastic about contests where the performance of machines and pilots were tested. Paulhan was in the air almost immediately, followed soon after by Efimoff, but neither of them managed a time below four minutes, which was required in order to be classified. Towards the end of the allowed hour Küller made his effort, winning the prize with a time of 3:52.2. Cattaneo had also entered, but ran out of time and was not allowed to start. The wind increased and nobody wanted to fly during the next hour.
At four o'clock the day's main event started, the "Gran Premio della Distanza" for the longest non-stop flight with prizes totalling 24,000 lire to be won. The wind reached 10 m/s in the gusts, but Paulhan was again first to take off, at 16:12, again almost immediately followed by Efimoff. Efimoff landed after 44 minutes, having flown 19 laps, but Paulhan kept flying. Around five o'clock Chávez and Küller took off, but Chávez landed after a short test to confirm that his new wings were correctly rigged.
Küller had flown a couple of laps and was approaching the hangar area when one of the blades of his metal propeller suddenly broke off at the hub, perhaps weakened by the irregular running of the recalcitrant engine. The blade was thrown far away, "like a flash of lightning". The resulting unbalance tore the engine partly off its mountings, breaking the pipes to the oil tank and the radiators. The remaining propeller blade flailed wildly, cutting a shower of splinters from the prow of the Antoinette's boat-like wooden hull, adding to the drama of the steam escaping from the broken radiators. The plane nosed up violently, but Küller miraculously kept control of it and made a safe landing, but the plane was rolling towards some soldiers and spectators and to avoid hitting them he steered the plane into a tree, where it got stuck.
At 17:35 Paulhan landed after covering 35 laps in one hour and twenty minutes. Around 17:45 Cattaneo, Molon and Chávez took off, followed five minutes later by Efimoff. Cattaneo in his speedy Gnôme-engined Blériot as usual overtook the other planes one during the 11-lap flight that won him the third prize. Efimoff flew another 10 laps before landing, while Molon and Chávez only made short flights. At around 18:45 Chávez made another short flight, and then Paulhan and Efimoff duelled for the daily altitude prize, which Paulhan won by reaching 220 metres.
Saturday 28 May
In the morning Paulhan made a cross-country flight to Solferino, where French and Italian armies had beaten the Austrian in the bloody battle of 1859. He took off at 9:30 and landed on a field outside the town after a flight of 36 minutes, having dropped a bouquet of red carnations over the monument of the fallen Italians. He was met by several officers and meeting officials that had come in cars. They had brought a wreath, decorated with a tricolour ribbon with the text "Les aviateurs français aux frères morts pour l'Italie". Paulhan placed the wreath at the ossuary of the French victims of the battle during a ceremony that was reported by telegrams to the president of France and the king of Italy. At noon he took off for the 35-kilometre flight back and landed at the airfield half an hour later, having passed through a thunderstorm with rain and hail on the way. It caused some controversy that Paulhan alone was offered the prize of 5,000 lire for the flight, and a couple of the other pilots thought it was unfair that they didn't get the chance to claim the money.
Efimoff was in the air immediately when the official flights started at two o'clock, and secured the daily distance prize by flying a total of 20 laps. Cattaneo was second with a total of 15 laps, and won the daily speed prize with at time of 3:36.6, beating Paulhan by only two seconds. Chávez was the only other pilot to fly. After four o'clock the winds increased and there was a rain shower, so nobody wanted to fly.
The wet ground made it impossible to improve the results of the take-off contest, which was the next event. Efimoff and Cattaneo made several efforts and finally managed to clear the wire, but Paulhan's result from the second day still stood as the week's best. Like the day before, only Paulhan and Efimoff competed for the daily altitude prize, which as usual was the last event of the day. They both waited until the last moment and Paulhan again won, this time by reaching 384 metres while the sun set.
Sunday 29 May
The last day of the meeting dawned with beautiful clear weather. Duray had finished repairing his accident damage and was again ready to fly, but Küller's hangar was closed and quiet. Molon made a test flight, while Paulhan signed autographs outside his hangar. Both Paulhan and Efimoff made a couple of passenger flights before the start of the official flights.
Paulhan was first to take off for the daily speed contest, followed by Cattaneo and Efimoff. As usual, Cattaneo was visibly faster in a straight line, but his Blériot was not as manoeuvrable as the Farmans and he had to made wider turns around the hairpin bends of the short course, particularly when flying in the turbulence of other planes. Paulhan landed, followed by Efimoff, while Chávez took off. He was followed by Molon, who soon landed. The new five-cylinder Anzani of his Blériot vibrated too much, like it had done all through the week. Cattaneo landed after a flight of 20 kilometres, while Chávez was accompanied by Cheuret. The weather deteriorated and everybody landed when rain started to fall and the wind increased to 5-7 m/s, Molon having to pull his machine back to the hangar by manpower. Paulhan had taken the daily speed prize with a time of 3:38.8, equalling his best time of the week but more than 20 seconds slower than Cattaneo's best result.
The next event was intended to be the third day of the passenger prize, but the assigned time passed without any flights. After a quiet hour the winds decreased again and Cheuret took off with a passenger, followed by Efimoff, but now for the totalisation prize. For a long time Efimoff was alone in the air, flying low and adding lap after lap to his tally, until Cattaneo took off. Paulhan had a big lead in the total distance contest and did probably not feel threatened, but when Efimoff had flown 40 kilometres he too took off. Cattaneo had nothing to do with the results and instead climbed to a higher altitude and extended his flight around the neighbouring areas of the town. Cheuret made another passenger flight and Paulhan landed after ten laps.
Duray's repaired Farman was now ready for a test flight, but it soon ended in disaster. During the take-off roll the machine hit a bump and bounced sharply into the air. When it landed Duray fell out of his seat and dropped to the ground. He tried in vain to hold on to the landing gear, but lost his grip, was ran over by the machine and hit by the propeller. He got onto his feet, staggered some steps, fell again and remained unconscious on the ground. The engine was still running and the machine ran in circles, "like a crazy animal", and threatened to run over him again. The accident happened right in front of the grandstands and people came running from all directions. Some mechanics managed to catch the runaway plane and Chávez climbed on board and stopped the engine. Duray was brought to the airfield hospital, where initial investigations caused fear for his life. He had received a hard blow on the left side of the chest by one of the propeller blades. Three ribs were broken, his heart had been dislocated and he had a bleeding in the left lung. He was quickly transported to the town hospital, where initial reports were also pessimistic. The accident was caused by a simple mechanical failure. When the plane touched down after the bounce Duray had to correct its course. When he pressed the rudder bar a bolt in the fittings for a rudder cable broke. Since there was no counterforce from the cable the rudder bar gave way without resistance, making Duray lose his footing and slip out of the seat. Very few pilots in those days wore a harness, since it was considered safer to jump out of a crashing plane than to remain on board.
After this distressing experience nobody was very enthusiastic about the last event, the final daily altitude contest. Efimoff and Paulhan took off, but Efimoff's engine didn't run well and he soon landed. Therefore Paulhan won also the last contest by reaching 315 metres, the world altitude record holder thus completing a clean sweep of the altitude prizes. Before he landed Cheuret made a short passenger flight.
From a sporting point of view the meeting was completely dominated by Paulhan, who took home more than half of the prize money. The performances of Cattaneo in his speedy Blériot gave the home fans reason to cheer, but Efimoff, Molon and Küller were all plagued by engine problems and couldn't give their best.
The finances of the meeting were nothing to cheer about. It made a big loss and the local press sarcastically commented that the town could have used 100,000 lire for much better purposes than providing "entertainment for gentlemen".
Duray's condition fortunately soon improved. After a couple of days he was declared to be out of danger and eventually recovered completely. He would never pilot an airplane again though, and instead became partner and manager of his friend Chávez. Duray left aviation completely five months later, when Chávez died in Domodossola from injuries suffered crashing after his pioneering flight across the Alps.