1934
Cesare Sabelli, an Italian American trans-Atlantic flight.


Born in Montepulciano, Italy, Cesare Sabelli (1897-1984), the beneficiary of a formidable education also embraced the romance that revolved around pioneer aviation. He enlisted in the air wing of the Italian army during the First World War, saw combat duty, and earned recognition as an "Asso" (Ace) of the Italian Air Force. He also came into contact with Fiorello H. LaGuardia, then in the Army Air force stationed in Italy. At the conclusion of the war, Sabelli immigrated to the United States, however, never forgetting his ethnic roots. Settled in America, he focused on the notion of flying non-stop from New York to Rome---a concept considered too extravagant in 1920 and one that would require years of preparation. In the meantime he remained in contention as a bona fide aviator via "barnstorming"--an uncertain, erratic and dangerous career in exhibition flying. The mid-1920s witnessed an escalating interest in transatlantic crossings that had not yet seen a solo flight until the success of Charles Lindbergh's New York to Paris flight in 1927. Sabelli, however, dreamed of nothing less than surpassing Lindbergh's feat by being the first to fly non-stop from New York to Rome---a much greater distance. By 1929 Sabelli, together with a group of Italian Americans, including opera luminaries Tito Schipa and Beniamino Gigli, obtained financing for the flight of the "Roma," a radically new sesqui plane by the Sicilian immigrant inventor Giuseppe Bellanca that would have a crew of three Italian Americans accompany Sabelli. Designed to be an "Italian" project, all connected with the flight---builder, owner, backers, and crew---were of Italian heritage. By September 20, 1928, the date of the proposed flight of the "Roma," abundant attention had developed to guarantee extensive press coverage. A successful flight would also provide financial gains as various industrial companies provided monetary incentives. Unfortunately, due to a mechanical engine problem, the "Roma" was forced to abort its mission. Refusing to concede defeat, Sabelli set about plans for a new plane. By 1932 Giuseppe Bellanca had designed another plane, the "Leonardo DaVinci," that was capable of reaching over forty hours of non-stop cruising. Untimely problems and postponements consumed another two years. Finally, on May 14, 1934, with Sabelli at the helm and with George Pond of the famous cosmetic manufacturing family as co-pilot, the "Leonardo DaVinci" took off from Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field. Sabelli and Pond were aware that in all, thirteen lives had perished in prior unsuccessful efforts to fly non-stop from New York to Rome. Nor were they destined to complete the feat themselves as their plane crash-landed in Ireland after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless, the flight of fancy was an authentic transatlantic air passage earning Sabelli fame as the first Italian-American to fly non-stop across the Northern Atlantic Ocean.





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