From up there I live the magic of freedom; but the best part was being able to create the magic myself
Nervesa della Battaglia (Treviso) – He whizzes among the white clouds and cuts the sky in a thousand lines, curves and circles in surprising and masterful loops. He then comes back and seems to almost touch the ground but it’s a trick: there he goes back up in the sky, faster than ever! The rumble is deafening but nobody seems to care.
Everybody’s eyes are on that huge insect in the sky.
A nervous “insect” that moves quickly because he wants to fly far away and see how the trees, houses, roads, cars, and buildings become teeny tiny from up high.
People? They are just minuscule dots on the ground.
That humming grey insect – a replica of a 1948 American racer − perfectly summarizes what man’s intellect is capable of: a man that has no wings but is able to fly, that works all day and follows his heart on his time off, that reads thousands of manuals and becomes an expert in crafting airplanes.
Each man has infinite resources. In this article, we present Daniele Beltrame, known in the United States as one of the few, if not the only, that is capable of building an airplane entirely by hand, from the welding to the cockpit.
Daniele is a pilot and an expert in mechanics: you can often spot him at the Fondazione Jonathan Collection di Nervesa della Battaglia (Treviso), where airplane enthusiasts take off on historical aircrafts, replicated perfectly by members of the Foundation, like Daniele, or by the founder and president of the Foundation himself, Giancalro Zanardo. He is in fact another great and passionate pilot, with more than 2.500 hours of flight on his resume and a lot of experience in the construction of vintage airplane replicas, among which the famous Wright Flyer, the first airplane to fly back in 1903.
The flying museum of the Jonathan Foundation – dedicated to Gianni Caproni, Italian pioneer in the aviation industry – is the realm of Daniele and of those that, like him, in the weekend like to fly from one place to another in Italy and in all of Europe. People that fly to meet friends, often bringing along their wives that enjoy preparing risotti, stews and polenta to serve after the acrobatic flying.
“Passion. It’s all about passion”, says Daniele. Passion is everything and you come to understand this once you realize that he – a professional foreman for construction companies – dedicated twenty years’ worth of weekends to building an airplane with his own hands, the same one we marveled at zipping in the sky.
“I began building it in 1987 and finished it in 2007 – he tells us – I chose an airplane model that could fit in my home garage, even though by the end I had to tear down a wall to get it out”.
My mother was a great assistant: she didn’t say anything; she simply brought me food and water at mealtimes.
In 2010, his homemade racer took its first flight: “I went from Vedelago to Nervesa della Battaglia, a test drive – he explains – The following time I reached Palermo in two hours and 17 minutes, at a speed of eight kilometers a minute. Not bad, eh?”.
In a prestigious American magazine − Sport Aviation – a journalist wrote that he couldn’t tell what he admired most about Daniele: whether his impeccable technical abilities in self-building an airplane, or the fact that he also self-built every single tool for the operation.
“Yes, I built my own tools, because I couldn’t find all the tools I needed on the market to do what I needed to do – he explains – I often directly asked farmers for old pieces of iron”.
Many say Daniele is a genius, but he assures us that it is a matter of perseverance and strong will. “I also have a great advantage – he says – I was born in Australia from Italian parents and therefore I grew up speaking two languages. This allowed me to have access and study many English manuals”.
The manuals he read in order to build his airplane were 1500: “They are really precious objects: manuals written by American farmers that found themselves having to build airplanes in times of war. They wrote down everything in order to not lose all their work”.
Daniele Beltrame began to dream of becoming an airplane pilot when he was five years old, during his first flight with his parents from Australia to Treviso, where the rest of his family still lived.
I was able to sneak into the cockpit and those buttons, the buzzing and humming noises, that grand visual of the Earth underneath from the window… it all bewitched me.
Daniele, whom came to live in Treviso as a teenager, was the typical case of a child that said: “I want to be an airplane pilot when I grow up”. The best part is that he did. He finished school just after his first two years of high school (an Italian technical college). He wanted to study to become an aeronautical engineer but his father told him it was better to begin working directly.
“Working was not bad after all: I had my independence and could do what I wanted”, he says. “During my military service I met two pilots from the Treviso aeroclub with whom I then got my flying license”.
At that time Giancarlo Zanardo, founder of the Nervesa museum, was the president of the aeroclub: “An enlightened man, with whom I share the desire and passion to build historical airplanes from original models”, says Daniele.
“It is thanks to him that the Jonathan Foundation exists today, a workshop where technology and passion meet to make us fly”. “Not just physically, outside, but also on the inside as well”.
In all of Italy, and in the whole world of vintage aviation, Daniele is famous for being the only one able to pilot the Aerogallo (aero rooster): a colorful rooster-shaped airplane that is a staple of shows and airplane competitions. “Ottone Baggio (entrepreneur) is the owner of the plane. He used to build bicycles and was a great airplane builder as well – Daniele tells us – He brought us his Aerogallo pretty battered up by three accidents: he wasn’t able to work it any more”.
And now the Aerogallo, thanks to Daniele Beltrame’s care, is back on its feet, flying and arousing great expectations.
“I am bringing it to Turin on the 10th of July, to celebrate the 100 years of Gianni Agnelli’s aeroporto Aeritalia”.
Amongst Daniele’s various long-term projects there is, however, the dream of bringing his homemade racer, his faithful travel companion, to the United States.
“Yes, that is exactly where I want to go – he says – it will be a journey in stages. Italy-England; England-Greenland; Greenland-Canada; Canada-Maine. I can’t wait. It’s the journey of a lifetime”.
There is only place for one on the racer. Luggage room: very very little.
I need nothing, all I need is there already: a good airplane and a great desire to fly.