By Moreno Aguiari

On June 8, 2023, the magnificent replica Caproni Ca.3 WWI bomber took to the skies once more, eight years after its first and only flight. This impressive reproduction, built by Giancarlo Zanardo and the volunteers of the Jonathan Collection, flew near Nervesa della Battaglia airfield in northeastern Italy during the 100th anniversary of the Italian Air Force. During our visit to Italy we had the opportunity to interview one of its pilots, Fabio Consoli. Fabio is a former Italian Air Force fighter and test pilot, a distinguished graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School, and has logged approximately 17,000 flight hours on various aircraft, including the F-104, AMX, Eurofighter, F-15, F-4, A-7, F-18, F-16, B-52, F-5, C-130, C-141, and G222.


The three-engined Caproni Ca.3 was a massive aircraft for its day, with a 36-foot fuselage and 74-foot wing span, and could carry an 800kg bomb load several hundred miles. The type evolved from the Ca.1 of 1914 and Ca.2 of 1915 but differed mainly in having more powerful engines. The type was introduced in 1916, and many saw combat service during WWI. It was a successful design, with roughly 300 built in Italy, and several dozen more under license in France – a substantial number for an aircraft of its size back then. Indeed, the type was still in service well into the late 1920s, with some believed to have taken part during the invasion of the Horn of Africa. Just two original airframes are known to survive, although both are post-WWI examples. One is at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, OH and the other at the Italian Air Force Museum at Vigna di Valle, near Lazio.

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One of two surviving Caproni Ca.3 bombers is displayed at the Italian Air Force Museum. [Image via Wikipedia]

Giancarlo Zanardo oversaw the construction of the aircraft, which bears the Italian civil registration I-ZANA, over a seven-year period at Francesco Baracca Airfield. Back in April 2014, we reported on the first flight (short hop) of this remarkable aircraft near Venice, Italy. Exactly a year later the airplane actually flew for a few minutes with Zanardo and Carlo Zorzoli at the controls. On June 8, 2023 aircraft builder Daniele Beltrami and Fabio Consoli took the Ca.3 replica for an actual test flight which resulted in a flawless evaluation with minor squawks. The airplane flew to Pratica di Mare Airbase for the Italian Air Force Centenary Air Show on the weekend of June 16-18, 2023.

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The past and the present of the Italian Air Force in one striking image as the Caproni (and the Jonathan Collection’s SPAD) flies over an F-35 Lightning II and F-2000A Typhoon of the Aeronautica Militare. [Photo via Aeronautica Militare]

Over the past several years, Giancarlo Zanardo has been constructing replicas of the WWI-era aircraft for the Jonathan Collection at the Francesco Baracca airfield and the Caproni Ca.3 is the largest aircraft he has built to date. Although their previous projects, including replicas of an airworthy Wright Flyer, Fokker Dr.I, and Bleriot XI were significant achievements, Zanardo and the Jonathan Collection were relatively unknown outside Italy. That has changed as the Caproni has firmly placed them on the world stage. Seeing the World War I bomber fly again is a magnificent achievement for Italian aviation history.

Our thanks to Fabio Consoli for the interview and Luca Gallina for the video material.