Frati Invaded Again
by Alfred Scott
There must be times when Stelio Frati will long for the quiet old days, before he ever heard of me and our crazy homebuilders. Since we entered his life, he's been invaded by a parade of Americans, first me, then my mother, Steve Wilkinson, numerous Falco builders, Roy LoPresti and most recently my two daughters, Sara and Kakee.
Sara Scott checks out the Airone, Frati's latest design
Sara and Kakee were tiny babies when I started work on the Falco, and they've grown up around Falco builders, parts, drawings, Oyster fly-ins, wing fillet molds in the back yard, and friends that they've come to know through the Falco. Both have done aerobatics in the Falco, flown to Florida in it, and Kakee has the distinction of using the airsick bag while we were sliding down the beach off Cape Canaveral.
And all their lives they have heard of Stelio Frati, in far-away Italy, but they had never met him. But this past summer, Sara, Kakee and a friend, Sarah Marriott, hit Italy for a five-week backpacking tour. Sara and Sarah arrived first, landed in Milan, and were met by Carla Bielli.
I told Sara to look for a pretty blonde lady, and as she looked out over the sea of tourists and Italians, there wasn't a blonde in sight. Then a redhead approached them and said, "You must be Sara Scott!" Carla is now a testarossa and a bright orange one at that.
The following afternoon, Carla and Mr. Frati met them at their pensione. From the beginning, Sara was struck by what a quiet man Mr. Frati is. At first, she almost walked right by him, thinking him to be just another person on the street.
But they bundled into Frati's little Audi and then began the wild ride to see the General Avia shop. Sara was surprised at the small size of the place, deep in an industrial suburb of Milan and with a water purification company across the street. "I expected it to be bigger, a little more grand."
Stelio Frati, Carla Bielli and Sarah Marriott in front of General Avia
But the ride to the shop was memorable enough. "He's a crazy driver!" says Sara. "He goes really fast, then pumps the brakes sporatically, goes full speed, always in a hurry. He brakes to a crawl and then forgets to put the car back into low gear. It's a combination of being absentminded and also in a hurry. And all the while, Carla was yelling directions."
They stopped by General Avia. It was an early July evening and everyone was gone except for the two office cats. Carla and Mr. Frati showed Sara and Sarah around the office and shop.
Sara was surprised at how bare Frati's office was, but I explained that Frati now works mainly out of an office near his apartment in Milan. They got a tour of Carla's office, the drafting room, and the shop out back filled with partially complete Penguinos and Frati's latest, the Airone, a four-seat version of the F.22.
But what most struck Sara was the starkly different and yet complimentary personalities of Stelio Frati and Carla Bielli. He so quiet and shy, and she so talkative and vivacious.
Carla Bielli, Sara Scott and Sarah Marriott
As we all know, Stelio Frati is a very quiet man, until he gets to know you, and then he will open up and occasionally go into a frenzy of conversation about something that interests him. Sara only saw the quiet side of Frati. "He didn't say anything, and Carla would speak for him. He is very nice and extremely polite, but he seemed almost embarrassed to be around, and there was an uncomfortable silence when Carla left us in the room together. He didn't know what to do with a teenage girl. I asked him how he decided to design airplanes, and he said 'The same reason my father wrote poetry.' I asked him what he thought of Oshkosh, and he said he couldn't wait for the 50th anniversary of the Falco."
Stelio Frati, Sara Scott and Carla Bielli
"Carla is a character! And she loves everything about the Americans. She couldn't believe that we knew so little about the U.S. This is so unusual, because so many Europeans just scorn the Americans. Carla said that Frati is more of an artist, and that all of the engineering students who come there to learn from him are more interested in numbers than the aesthetics of the designs."
Kakee arrived two weeks later and met up with Sara and Sarah, and she got the same tour of the shop and a dinner with Carla and Mr. Frati. It was the same thing all over, poor Frati lost in knowing how to deal with a teenage Americn girl, while Carla understood perfectly. And when I showed Kakee the cartoon of Frati con roadkill from the Air & Space article, she told a friend, "I've had dinner with him, and that's what he looks like!"