A Family Affair,
the Nustrinis and the Falco

This article appeared in the September 2002 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.


The original I-ERNA with a 135 hp engine.


As time passed and our family moved to New Zealand, ERNA of course came too. The engine was dismounted and the rear third of the fuselage detached, to allow ERNA to fit in the container. We had the tail section standing up on the footpath under our apartment in the center of Florence while we loaded the car and the boat into the 40ft container. I remember that a dog passed by, looked at it, lifted a leg, and decided to do its business there! I guess once ERNA was a tree

Once it arrived at Ardmore, we put the Falco together in the aeroclub hanger. Dad stood back with his hands on his hips and announced "I am going to go and give it a good shake!" "Can I come, too?" I asked. He said: "No". He went up and God only knows what he did to it to make sure that ERNA was still in good shape after the reassembling.


Pulling Giovanni out of I-ERNA


Luciano Nustrini, of course, knew his plane intimately, and being the only person ever to pilot his plane, he would know instantly if anything needed a slight adjustment.

If you look closely at the canopy in one of the photos you will see that the top portion of the canopy has been re-glued in place. That happened after the Florence Flood in 1967, I was three. ERNA got submerged like all the other planes at Florence Airport. The Airforce offered to fix them all up for free, but they had to be taken to Pisa Airport for that. Dad did not want to take ERNA apart so he decided that he should see if it was worth fixing before going any further. What did he do? He drilled some holes under the wings to let the water out (many years later when he had it recovered and the skins where pulled off we found a lot of "silt" from the Arno River inside the wings), started him up, and went flying. He came back with a hole in the canopy and a large piece of perspex in the cockpit. What happened? Simple: he wanted to make sure ERNA was still flyable to its limit, so he put him in a dive, way passed VNE, and it popped. I have only learned this story a few years ago. He was a very special sort of pilot!

With the arrival of ERNA to New Zealand came the re-certification process which would eventually see the Falco renamed ZK-RNA. With New Zealand's beaurocracy, which in the 80's was running well behind the rest of the world (very different today), the Falco was to undergo a frustrating time, due to the negative and painful response from the then Department of Civil Aviation who were not easily convinced that the aircraft could be certified because of the extensive modifications and therefore the huge difference between the certificated design of Frati and what my Dad came up with after years and years of tinkering.

Perhaps they were not aware that Stelio Frati was well ahead of his time, that his design was well in advance of anything being manufactured at the time, and that ERNA was the ultimate example!

The beaurocracy was too short-sighted to see that Frati had designed a perfect machine in 1954, and that this example was the single best maintained racing aircraft in the world. They even asked him to put a "no smoking during take off" sticker! Dad was the only one to fly this plane, he did not smoke, but he had to put the sticker on!

It was during this time that I started my own flying career as a pilot, but I did not settle in NZ at this time, and went back, now with my own family, to live in Italy.


Giovanni and I-ERNA




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