Giovanni Battista Caproni (1886-1957), known as “Gianni” Caproni, was an Italian aeronautical engineer, civil engineer, electrical engineer, and aircraft designer who founded the Caproni aircraft-manufacturing company.
Caproni was born on July 3, 1886 in Massone d’Arco, which at the time was in Austria-Hungary but later became a part of Italy. In 1906, he received a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from l’Istituto Montefiori di Liegi, and in 1907 a degree in civil engineering from Politecnico di Monaco di Baviera.
In 1907 and 1908, Caproni gained experience in the construction of aircraft engines; he also collaborated with the Romanian aircraft designer Henri Coandă, whom he had met at l’Istituto Montefiori di Liegi, in the building of sailplanes. In 1908, he founded the Caproni factory in the Taliedo district of Milan, Italy, to manufacture biplanes. In 1910, he designed and built his first powered aircraft, the Caproni Ca.1, an experimental biplane which was the first aircraft built in Italy. It was destroyed during its first flight on May 27, 1910.
In 1911, the year his company was named Società de Agostini e Caproni, he switched to monoplane construction, in which he had greater success. In 1914, he tested Italy’s first multi-engined aircraft, a three-engine biplane later dubbed the Caproni Ca.31. After Italy entered World War I in 1915, he devoted his efforts to designing and constructing bombers. His company later was renamed Società Caproni e Comitti.
Caproni was an early proponent of the development of passenger aircraft, and developed a variant of the Ca.4 bomber into the Ca.48 airliner. Although it made a very favorable impression on the public when first displayed, the Ca.48 probably never entered airline service, and on August 2, 1919, a Ca.48 crashed near Verona, Italy, killing everyone on board (at least 14 and perhaps as many as 17 people) in Italy’s first commercial aviation disaster and one of the earliest – and, at the time, the deadliest – airliner accidents in history. In 1921, he built the prototype of a giant transatlantic passenger seaplane, the Caproni Ca.60 Noviplano, with a capacity of 100 passengers, but it proved unstable and crashed on its first flight. He also designed gliders.
Between World War I and World War II, he devoted most of his effort to the design and production of bombers and light transport aircraft, and his company manufactured the early Stipa-Caproni and Caproni Campini N.1 ducted fan experimental aircraft which were precursors of true jet aircraft. During this period, his company became Società Italiana Caproni, a major conglomerate which purchased other manufacturers, creating subsidiaries which included Caproni Bergamasca and Caproni Vizzola, although the assertion that Caproni also purchased the Reggiane company to form a “Caproni Reggiane” subsidiary is a myth. Caproni was granted the title Conte di Taliedo (Count Taliedo, or Earl of Taliedo) during the interwar period.
The Caproni company produced aircraft for the Regia Aronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) during World War II – primarily bombers, transports, seaplanes, and trainers, although the Caproni Vizzola subsidiary also built several fighter prototypes.
The Società Italiana Caproni conglomerate ceased operations in 1950, although its last vestige, the Caproni Vizzola subsidiary, survived until 1983.