Enrico Forlanini was not simply an engineer, an aeronaut, and a man of science, even though research and experimentation made a significant mark on his life and work. Nor was he merely an entrepreneur, even while quite capable of founding and successfully managing industries, a distinctive feature of many men of the Politecnico during those years. Forlanini was above all an innovator, a man capable of believing in and realizing his dreams.
He is known for his outstanding contribution to the evolution of flight during its pioneering epoch, and we are indebted to him for many key achievements relating to the conquest of the sky, as well as to scientific progress. His studies for the helicopter are significant, leading to the construction of an experimental helicopter with contra-rotating blades, the first machine heavier than air to succeed in rising from the ground. Also worth mentioning are the series of airships used for over 30 years in military and civil aviation, and the hydroplane, capable of flying over the water and forerunner to the modern hydrofoil.
Enrico Forlanini created an experimental helicopter powered by a steam engine operating two contra-rotating propellers. This is the first “heavier-than-air” machine that was able, even without a pilot, to take off in flight. in 1877 it was presented at the Giardini Pubblici in Milan, where it rose from the ground and reached a height of 13 m, for a flight of 20 seconds, in the presence of prominent personalities in the fields of entrepreneurship and science.
Many aircraft designers in the early decades of the 20th century can ideally be considered pupils of Forlanini. Among these a prominent place belongs to Mario Castoldi, who graduated from the Politecnico in 1913, becoming technical director of Aeronautica Macchi, for which he designed several aircraft. The MC 20 V, a fast, maneuverable fighter plane, entered into service in 1943 and was a protagonist in many events in the Second World War.
Cesare Dal Fabbro, the founder of isotta Fraschini, was the first professor of aeronautical science (1910) at the Politecnico di Milano. in 1900 he met Forlanini and established a friendship with him, as well as embarking on a collaborative effort: together they designed the hydroplane, the forerunner of the modern hydrofoil, and the entire ‘F’ series of Forlanini airships. This water-cooled 60° V-12 engine was part of a family of modular engines that made use of common and interchangeable components to ensure lower production costs.