On January 30th, 2024 Italy, represented by Minister of Defense Guido Crosetto, returned to Ethiopia its first indigenously-built aircraft, which had been stolen and brought to Italy by the Italian army during the occupation of Ethiopia by the fascist regime in 1936. Just under a year after Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited the Ethiopian captial Addis Ababa, the initiative promoted by Meloni and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali was concretely implemented.

Italy’s Minister of Defense Guido Crosetto at the Historical Museum of the Air Force (MUSAM) with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali showing the cooperation agreement sanctioning the delivery of the Ethiopia 1 aircraft by the Italian government. [Photo via Ministero della Difesa]

The Ethiopia 1 was a redesign of the Austrian Meindl A.VII sports aircraft by German engineer and pilot Ludwig Weber to produce a two-seat trainer suitable for Ethiopian conditions, and was powered by a Walter Venus 7-cylinder radial. The first flight, lasting seven minutes and landing in Addis Ababa, was in December 1935. Later named Tsehay by the then emperor Haile Selassie, the word meaning ‘sun’ in Tigrinya and also the name of the emperor’s third daughter, 30 flying hours were achieved by pilots of the aircraft before the Italian invasion. When fascist troops occupied the city and annexed Ethiopia a year later, the plane was stolen and taken to Italy. From 1941 it had been preserved in the Italian Air Force Museum at Vigna di Valle in Bracciano, in the province of Rome.

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“Today is a day of great pride for Ethiopians as we celebrate the official handover of ‘Tsehay’ by the Italian government,” the Ethiopian leader wrote on X. “I extend my immense gratitude to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni for her support over the past year in facilitating its return. ‘Tsehay’ is the first aircraft built in Ethiopia in 1935, under the collaborative efforts of the German engineer and pilot of the emperor, Herr Ludwig Weber, and Ethiopian individuals of that era,” Abiy said.


The Ethiopian delegation visiting the Italian Air Force Museum at Vigna di Valle. [Photo via Ministero della Difesa]