Aviation Legends Umberto Bernardini & Giorgio Bertolaso in New Book, ‘Round the World & Across Russia in 21 Days, 30 Years Later’

May 5, 2024 Vonda3310 0 Comments

Two of the most colorful pilots of the 1st Annual Around the World Air Rally were Italian Air Force Generals Umberto Bernardini and Giorgio Bertolaso, both retired. Featured in the just released book by Rally documentarian Michael B. Butler, Round the World & Across Russia in 21 Days, 30 Years Later, their story comes from Umberto’s account of the World Flight in A Baby Around the World. The reason for that title is that, as the oldest Rally pilots, they also flew the slowest of the 12 aircraft involved, a Piper PA-28 Archer. They combined the first two letters of both their last names and a BeBe was born.

They both flew on both sides in World War II, with Giorgio a survivor of El Alamein and many air battles over Sicily during the Allied invasions. Following the Italian armistice, they switched sides and flew against the Nazis and went on to successful careers as test pilots and high ranking Italian Air Force officers. Participating in a private group that were the first general aviation aircraft to circumnavigate while crossing Russia was a cherry on top of stellar aviation lives.

Flying long hours over the desolate terrain of Siberia, our Italian generals clocked in over 150 hours of flight time and usually arrived last in every location. But that never stopped them from keeping an upbeat attitude during the World Flight Across Russia. They served in governments hip deep in the Cold War and were amazed at what they saw in Moscow, at Star City and on military airfields in Syktyvkar, Novosibirsk, Yakutsk and Anadyr, the latter a highly restricted air base and ICBM nuclear launching site that can hit any city in North America.

Currently available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the author, who also documented the event, constructed the book using 7 major pilot journals, 5 ancillary journals, 25 hours of video tape, interviews and what he recalled. Details and color slide shows can be found at www.MichaelButlerBooks.com.

Cover image of 'Round the World & Across Russia in 21 Days, 30 Years Later: 12 Planes & 22 Aviators Thru 11 Countries When the Soviet Union Fell & Russia Returned.' by Michael B. Butler Here a small section of Umberto’s book, A Baby Around the World, which covers how it got involved in this historic flight around the world.

Lastly, here is Umberto Bernardini’s story of how he became involved in and how they prepared for the World Flight. Snapshots of all aspects are touched upon with Italian flair and style, “My story, regarding the 1st Annual Around the World Air Rally, began on March 28, 1992 at Rome’s Centocelle Airport where, in the presence of the highest military authorities, the anniversary of the establishment of our Armed Forces was celebrated. Of the many officers on hand was Giorgio Bertolaso, who I knew from the Royal Air Force Academy at Caserta.

    “He was ahead of me in that tough three-year internship. Those were hard times when Professor Simeon, Air Navigation, told us that for people like us ‘the only alternative to military life was being a barber.’ Fearing such a consequence was why we studied with tenacity, passed exams, learned to fly and became pilots; from penguins we became seniors, from seniors we were promoted to aspirants, earning the privilege of pilot officer training in the Regia Aeronautica.

    “By chance I learned that Giorgio, for some time, had been preparing to participate in an Air Rally going around the world. Fascinated by the news and not asking for any information, I offered to participate as a co-pilot, navigator, interpreter, PR officer, fac-totem, luggage handler, bottle holder, shoe shiner—whatever, I did not care—I was totally fascinated and enthusiastic about the idea.

    “The key thing for me was to participate, like the Olympics, you have to play to win. Having jumped in enthusiastically, I got immersed in the many serious problems and issues involved in this fascinating adventure; one that certainly must be a professional experience, unforgettable but also safe, because it so happens I love Umberto Bernardini a lot. Bertolaso, struck by my enthusiasm, perhaps out of good luck or as I hope, respect, accepted my offer and the co-pilot position was mine. Is your passport in order? I heard in Russia they expect payment only in cash, in dollars, and in other countries will the AmEx card be good enough. Which navigation charts so we use; what will our fuel consumption and requirements be? Which… how many… yes, yes, yes… endless questions.

    “With an instinct for quick decisions rather than analyzing problems, I realized that, after solving them, a fresh set of newer and more difficult tasks and problems popped up. Even then I continued to rely, above all, on my good luck and outstanding resistance to physical fatigue. This time, however, it will be a good idea to pack pills, disinfectant, sweaters, woolen long johns and four pairs of socks, the long winter ones.

    “Naturally, in addition to my military pilot’s license, over the years I had obtained first, second- and third-degree civilian pilot licenses, in 1954, and registration as a test pilot. I am owner of certificate #1 as an experimental test pilot, issued by the Italian Air Force, following a 1953 course at the Empire Test Pilots’ School, Farnborough, UK. Needing a private pilot license, I surmised it would be easy to get it renewed by civil authorities, however, I did not figure on the cumbersome Italian bureaucracy requiring me to redo the entire civilian pilot license process.

    “I considered it scandalous that I, Italian Air Force General Umberto Bernardini, had to take a written exam on aerodynamics, engines, law, navigation, meteorology and aeronautical medicine. So, in 1992, over fifty years after my first glider flight, in 1938, and paying the outrageous sum of 250,000 Lira, I once again became a ‘student pilot’—Certificate #693. Then, after testing in a Cessna 152, I received a ‘private aircraft pilot’ license—certificate #27036—from the Italian Civil Aviation Authority.

   “Another issue was my family. How did they feel about my decision to fly around the world across Russia, a development that was shocking as it was unexpected. At first, thinking it was a joke, they found it difficult to believe their old man did not intend to slow down…

Media Interviews: For review copies or interviews please contact Eric Blair Enterprises at MichaelButlerBooks@pm.me or 213-534-7292.

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