Once upon the sky (1993)

Texts and drawings by Hugo Pratt

(collaboration on artwork of the car, armored vehicle and all planes by Guido Fuga)

The work was commissioned by the Aereonautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force) for its seventieth anniversary.

This single story comprises 73 comic pages and appeared in the high-quality hardcover volume “In un cielo lontano” (February, 1993), editore Petruzzi.

The story begins on the island of Rhodes in the days immediately preceding Italy’s entry into the Second World War (10 June, 1940) when some Italian and English officers, who are still friends, meet for a dance offered by the island’s governor during a plane rally. However, the scenario quickly shifts to East Africa, where the Régia Aeronautica Italiana is fighting an unbalanced war against the English and South Africans in the skies. The protagonists of the story are the two brothers Luca and Pietro Bronzi, fighter pilots, who are rivals in love and friends of Captain Melrose RAF (Royal Air Force), who has become an enemy since outbreak of the conflict. The description of aerial combat is gripping and exciting and the roar of an aircraft seems almost to thunder from the pages: the Italians are equipped with three-engine S.79s and Fiat CR.32 fighters (slow but extremely elegant, as Maggiore Pietro Bronzi says) and the more modern CR.42s and are trying to stand up to the Blenheims and Gladiators of the English; but the Italians can do nothing once the faster, armed Hurricanes come into play. In one of the last dogfights, Captain Melrose shoots down Pietro Bronzi’s CR.32 and discovers the name of the pilot he has brought down only after landing when he is awarded the Victoria Cross. Melrose jumps on a truck and goes to the place where the British have buried the body of his friend, marked only by a simple wooden cross. Close by lies his friend’s plane, riddled with bullets. The British pilot removes the decoration from his own chest and pins it in one of the many shrapnel holes in the fuselage of the old CR. 32, ‘slow but extremely elegant’ as his friend used to say.