Frati and Napo
by Alfred Scott
This article appeared in the September 2008 Falco Builders Letter.
We had a family reunion in Italy in July, and on our final day we hit Milan and I had a visit with Stelio Frati. Ernesto Valtorta picked me up at the airport hotel, and we drove the nearly one-hour drive from the Malpensa airport to Mr. Frati’s apartment in an old section of Milan.
Stelio Frati greets us at the elevator, and he looks little different from when I last saw him in ten years ago. He’s in good spirits and has a copy of Aviation Week spread out with the news of Vern Raburn’s forced resignation from Eclipse Aviation, and he’s mystified and upset by the news. (As it turns out, Vern once bought a set of plans for the Falco, though he never pursued building, and he gets the Falco Builders Letter.)
He’s also in a reflective mood, noting that it was about 30 years ago that I first contacted him about the Falco, and how he only responded after being prodded into it by Carla Bielli. It’s been a long and wonderful relationship, and his life is greatly enriched by the news of what goes on in the world of the Falco. There are plenty of people flying around in his other designs, but the Falco holds a special place in his heart. It was the first plane that he really got right and created what we all now know to be a masterpiece. And he feels a special bond with anyone who would take the time and effort to build a Falco.
Now with Falcos in Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, France, Luxembourg, South Africa, Germany and the United States, people experience flying in a plane that handles as close to their wildest fantasy as any plane ever built. Across the Atlantic. Over the Great Barrier Reefs, the barren stretches of desert. And a well driller in Alabama who never could have imagined even building an airplane is now is flying one of his creations.
All of this is made possible by a man who is far removed from aviation. General aviation in Italy is almost non-existent, a sign of the times and an Italian government that is bureaucracy gone mad. Taxes on private planes are often higher than they are worth, so most have been sold to other countries.
But his drawing board always has a design in progress. I asked to see what he is working on, and he had his four-seat F.1000 Jet design on the board. It’s a passenger version of the single-engine F.1300 Jet Squalus military trainer, and Mr. Frati is looking at the possibility of putting an engine on each side of the fuselage.
He also had drawings for the F.230.D, a variant of his 260 hp four-seater but with a French four-cylinder diesel engine that was being proposed but which came to nothing.
I asked about Napo, the unforgettable street-cat that Mr. Frati was thinking about adopting ten years ago. Mr. Frati began slapping the desk with a ruler and in a short time Napo wandered in and graced us all with his presence. Napo settled in long ago, and he sleeps under a curtain to the side of Mr. Frati’s drawing board. He wanders among the drawings and over Frati’s desk with a nonchalant distain for everything but food and affection. Napo has actually become very friendly over time, a temperament that doesn’t go with his countenance and a protruding lower fang that looks more like a machine-gun in a bomber turret than actual feline dental equipment.
Mr. Frati is, as always, frustrated with the state of affairs in Italian aviation—and who wouldn’t be—and how another engineer at Partenavia in Naples will not start work on any project until he knows there is a government grant already in place.
I asked Mr. Frati what will happen to all of his drawings when he dies, and he hasn’t really thought of it. He supposes that one of his nephews will just clean up things and maybe if someone is interested in the drawings then they could get in touch with his nephews. It seems a pity that the drawings might end up in the trash, and that they really should be archived somewhere. There are literally thousands of drawings, and this would make great study materials for engineering students.
In the typical archival process, historical materials are donated to a museum or historical society and then, without meaning any harm, the archivists protect the materials, limit access and require that you wear white gloves when you handle the materials. Thus in the process of caring for the materials, the typical archivist builds a wall around the materials.
What should happen here, either before or after Mr. Frati passes from the scene, is that there should be a plan in place to save the drawings. Ideally, the drawings should be scanned and then made available for anyone on the Internet. Whether we can pull this off, I really don’t know, but I’ve decided to make an effort at getting something under way. I’ve asked Mr. Frati to give his nephews my card and to contact me when the terrible day comes, and in the meantime, I’m trying to promote the idea in hopes of finding the right person or institution that might want to take it on.