Gaetano Crocco – Italian Aerospace Pioneer

Gaetano Crocco

Gaetano Crocco

On October 26, 1877Italian aviation pioneer Gaetano Arturo Crocco was born. He was the founder of the Italian Rocket Society, and went on to become Italy’s leading space scientist. As head of the School of Aeronautics of the University of Rome, he performed research on flight mechanics, structural design, and high altitude flight in addition to his work in rocket propulsion.

Gaetano Crocco was born in Naples in 1877 and served the Italian Army Engineers Corps in the Wireless Dept. in 1898. There, he met Captain Mauro Maurizio Moris who was heading a Specialists Brigade and was deeply interested in the new field of aeronautics. Moris took Crocco in his staff around the time the Specialists Brigade was testing anchored balloons on the Bracciano Lake, north of Rome.

It is assumed that Crocco began experimenting with airships around 1904 and in 1906, along with Ottavio Ricaldoni, he developed Airship 1 featuring a revolutionary semi-rigid flexible structure. Just two years later piloting an improved version of the airship, the N1, supplied with a rudder and direction indicators, Crocco flew from Vigna di Valle to Rome and back, covering 50 miles in one hour and a half. N1 became the first airship to fly over Rome at an alttitude of 500m. Gaetano Crocco and Rinaldoni among further scientists tested an hydroplane on the Bracciano lake, one of the other researchers was Umberto Nobile, who would eventually become a famous polar explorer. In the meantime Crocco kept studying propellers’ shapes and sections and in 1914 drew plans for a closed-circuit wind tunnel to be built in Rome. In 1923 Crocco started studying space flight, jet propulsion and rocket fuels.

Throughout the years, Crocco moved onto researching liquid fuels and drawing plans for the first Italian-built combustion chamber which was tested with the help of his son, Luigi Crocco. However, World War II changed his plans. Crocco directed the Aeronautic Engineering School from 1935 to 1942 and again from 1948 and 1952. During his time there, he managed to publish hundreds of papers and patented numerous inventions. His students were so astonished by Crocco‘s achievements that they developed the saying “Everything I use or see, Oh my Crocco is made by thee.” Gaetano Crocco went back to his research on missles and astronautics after World War II and created an informative course on superior ballistics within the Aeronautic Engineering School.

The Italian Rocket Association was founded in 1951 by Gaetano Crocco to rally all the fans of the new astronautic science. About a decade before Gagarin space flightCrocco held a meeting to discuss the problems of a manned spaceship re-entry in the atmosphere and later on also devised a parallel-stages vector, a futuristic solution as compared to superimposed stages. However, his probably most important contribution to the field of astronautics was published when Crocco was already 80 years old: “One-Year Exploration-Trip Earth-Mars-Venus-Earth”. In his paper, Gaetano Crocco suggested exploiting the Mars and Venus gravitational fields as propelling forces to cut dramatically the travelling time of a space capsule. His theory of now known as ‘gravitational slingshot‘ or ‘swing by‘. Crocco presented his paper at the Seventh Congress of the International Astronautical Federation IAF, Rome, in 1956.

Also because of Crocco’s early efforts in astronautics, Italy orbited its first satellite, the San Marco, in 1964. Gaetano Crocco died at the age of ninety in Rome on January 19, 1968. Asteroid 0606 Crocco and Crocco crater on the far side of the Moon are named for him.

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