Silvio Pettirossi Flies the PPIE

Sometimes working in a local history archives offers the perk of connecting with other countries. Recently, our staff was made aware of a project to rebuild and fly the first airplane piloted by the cosmopolitan Paraguayan pilot, Silvio Pettirossi.

Silvio Pettirossi was a crackerjack stunt pilot back when airplanes had a birdlike delicacy and resembled bicycles with wings. One of his claims to fame was breaking the record for number of Loop the Loops. According to his Wikipedia entry in Spanish, he broke the record of six by doing thirty-seven Loop the Loops, on his first try!


El Proyecto Pettirossi was put together by members of Club Yvyt├║, an aviation club in Paraguay. They have already built a replica of Pettirossi's airplane, a Deperdussin from 1914, and plan to fly it publicly in November 2014 in the capital city of Asuncion, to celebrate the centennial of Pettirossi's premiere flight in Paraguay.

What's Pettirossi's San Francisco connection? He was hired to fly at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.  Here's a photo of him with Lincoln Beachey (in the jumpsuit), another PPIE aviator, perhaps better known to San Franciscans both because he's from the United States and because he died when his plane crashed into the San Francisco Bay during the Exposition. (What's on the 6th Floor writers were obsessed with Beachey's ghost in 2009, as part of a One City One Book tie-in.):

 Lincoln Beachey, Silvio Pettirossi and Art Smith standing in front of an airplane at the PPIE, [1915]
According to a San Francisco Chronicle article, ("Two Aviators to Fly at Exposition," Aug. 25, 1915 p. 11), Pettirossi was hired along with Mexican aviator Charles Niles for a 10-week gig flying four times a week, August-October 1915. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on several of their exhibition flights, particularly their illuminated night flights. On September 11, 1915, Niles substituted for Pettirossi during one of his scheduled nighttime flights, because Pettirossi's plane was being repaired. (If you have a library card, you can keyword search "Pettirossi" in the San Francisco Chronicle Historical Database from the library's website).

Incidentally, Pettirossi also plunged into the San Francisco Bay during the Exposition, but unlike Beachey, he lived. Here's a photo of people trawling for his plane:

[Retrieving Silvio Pettirossi aeroplane after falling into bay, 1915]

Sausalito News. v. 31 no. 37 (Sept. 11, 1915),
accessed at cdnc.ucr.edu



Apparently, he came out of it "unscathed" and conscious, although his wife fainted straight-away:
Sausalito News, v. 31 no. 37 (Sept. 11,  1915), accessed at cdnc.ucr.edu

Pettirossi still died in a plane crash, the next year, in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina. He was 29. The airport in Asunsci├│n, Paraguay fittingly bears his name. If you read Spanish, you can find out more details about Silvio Pettirossi on El Proyecto Pettirossi's website and on the Spanish version of Wikipedia.

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