Caproni Ca.20

Aircraft Info Group

Caproni (Italy)
Ca. 20
WWI Gallery
WWI Gallery

The World's First Fighter Plane

The Caproni Ca.20 was an aircraft ahead of its time in design, purpose, and armament. In early 1914, before World War I, this speedy single-seat monoplane was created and equipped with a forward-facing machine gun mounted above the propeller arc. Considered the world's first fighter plane, the Ca.20's pilot could aim the overhead .303-caliber Lewis machine gun at enemy aircraft via false sight at eye level.

The model 20 was a derivative of Caproni's Ca.18 reconnaissance airplane -- the first Italian-made airplane to be used by the Italian military. The new "fighter plane" version, incorporated a larger engine (a Le Rhône 110-horsepower rotary engine), shorter wingspan, and a streamlined metal cowling to reduce drag and increase speed.

Test flights proved that the Ca.20 was an exceptional airplane -- much faster than other military airplanes being made in France and Germany. Yet the Italian military wanted the Caproni Company to focus on heavy bombers and only this single Ca.20 was ever produced.

The Caproni Ca.20 may not be as crisp, clean, and pretty as the day when it was rolled from the workshop, but that's part of its beauty. Unlike most aircraft in museum collections, this plane is displayed in almost its entirely original condition. It wears covering that was applied long ago, and that battered fabric shows all of the scars and stains of almost a century of life.

The plane was stored by the Caproni family in Italy for over 85 years. It was eventually parked, strangely enough, in a monastery! The Ca.20 was carefully dismantled piece by piece by Museum staff and then lowered through a second story window. The rare aircraft was then shipped to The Museum of Flight and painstakingly reassembled and displayed as it appeared in Europe.