Versace Falco,
Part 1

by Andrea Tremolada

This article appeared in the June 1998 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.

I started my Falco more than 10 years ago when I was just a 22-year-old guy straight out of college. I have to admit that I have always been a dreamer and that many of my dreams have come true with luck and perseverance.

I first saw the Falco at home since my father was already a "Falcoholic", and I had grown up with an RC Falco model plane. Plus there were two Falcos at my airport so when the time came to choose which model to build it was a very simple decision.

As soon as Sequoia made the plans available I became aware of it by reading an aviation magazine that my father brought with him to the mountains one Christmas. The next year, my father bought it for me, and I proudly received plans No. 503. Although he bought the plans, I had to buy all the necessary kits. Just imagine this 22-year-old guy with this huge project going on.

I began the necessary paperwork with the R.A.I. (Registro Aeronautico Italiano) and initially they were not pleased to have such a young builder. Just after a long meeting, many calls and letters (even by Mr. Frati), I finally got my permission to build my very own Falco. Before this I had only built an RC model being taught by my father, who was skilled in building large scale models.

During those years in Italy, there was also Giovanni Fulchieri who was more advanced than I, since he had already completed the tail and was working on the fuselage and wing when I visited him in the winter of 1987.

I remember that day very clearly: I got very depressed coming back from his home since I understood for the first time that I would not be able to afford the project in my then financial situation. I realized that I would have to build my career first and then start building the Falco when I had more financial security and resources. I also decided to sell my Jaguar "E" type, that I had restored, in order to generate the funds to buy the tail section and to complete my commercial license.

I spent the summer working with my father on the tail section, and I was doing a pretty good job. Meanwhile, I got my commercial and multi-engine IFR licences, started my career in advertising and worked part-time as a corporate pilot. At this time, the Falco's tail remained untouched in my garage for years. Every time I was getting in and out of my car, I would ask myself-when would I realize my dream?

But life went on, and I changed jobs many times (by character, it is difficult for me to stay at the same job or same place for too long), and in the autumn of 1994 I went to the US for a vacation after having sold a small advertising agency that I had founded with two partners. That moment changed my life. Traveling here and there, I decided to go to South Beach in Miami, and I saw Gianni Versace's house. I thought to myself then-"I've never worked in fashion, and why shouldn't I?" When I returned to Italy, I sent Versace my résumé and within a few days they called me for an initial interview. Six more interviews followed and within 2 month I was hired by Versace. That was 4 years ago, and now I am their worldwide advertising director.

Gianni and I became really close friends, and he gave me many opportunities to express myself. He even accepted the fact that sometimes on particularly clear days (cavok is not very common in Milan), I would be out of the office playing holes in the air with my production Falco.

This job fortunately did allow me to buy all the kits that I was able to procure. Everytime I went to New York, I would return with suitcases full of kits so as to avoid incredibly high import taxes that the Italian government imposes on these parts. And Susan Stinnett has been very cooperative in this following to the letter the incredible instructions I gave her each time.

By this time, I shared a Picchio and a Falco. Last June I bought a Stampe that I zero-timed, and in which I'll fly to Australia next December.

In Italy everything that is aeronautical has to pay incredible taxes, for example gasoline is $5.70 a gallon. Then we have different possession taxes starting the day you buy the airplane until you sell, and this every year.

This is why our general aviation is simply dead. Nobody buys airplanes anymore. It's just too expensive. Instead we have a huge quantity of ultralights, and some are also nice to fly and this demonstrates that even here people love to fly, but it has become too expensive.

The only way to get by these new laws is simply just say yes, and then do nothing, or at least this is the way I do it. This past December, I decided finally to take action, and I spoke with a man who I had met three years ago while on a flight returning from a weekend trip. This is a story in itself.

The fact that I would meet this man was written even before I had even started to build my Falco. I had gone to Sardinia (a resort Italian island) and had missed my flight since I lingered on the beach to stay with friends. I arrived at the airport just in time to watch it take off. I luckily got on the next flight and took the last seat that was available. I took my seat which happened to be next to Giulio Meroni who owns one of the largest Italian furniture companies-called "Meritalia".

Giulio Meroni, Andrea Tremolada and Mr. Frati.

We started a conversation, talked about my job, his job and also corporate aviation since he wanted to buy a Citation. The time flew as we were getting to know one another, and we parted as old friends promising to call each other in two weeks so that I could visit his factories. As usual, these promises evaporated into thin air, and we just exchanged a few calls and Christmas cards from time to time. Then last summer, we finally decided it was time to meet again, and I went to visit his factories.

The factories were clean and orderly, and I was very impressed with the technologies they used to treat wood and metal. I went often to visit him, and we also spent a few weekends together in Sardinia.

Mr. Frati and Andrea inspect the control sticks, while Mr. Giulio Meroni looks on.

Then right before last Christmas we met for lunch, and I asked him if he could give me some space in his factories to allow me to build my "Little Wild Beauty". But he did much more than that. He gave me space in his factory and two wood experts to work with, so that I could finish my plane by July. Unfortunately, I will not be able to meet this deadline but I am very close. I took all the pieces I had to Cantu-where my beauty will be born-and in January I began to build.

The truth is that I was tired of flying old Falcos and Picchios, that although nice flying machines, they were all aged and not comparable to the ones I saw many times at Oshkosh.

Ing. Valtorta, Mr. Frati, Andrea Tremolada and Giulio Meroni.

I organized a group which included Ernesto Valtorta, an engineer that Mr Frati kindly recommended to me to use as a consultant.

Having worked previously at Air Macchi in the quality control department, Mr. Valtorta carefully studied my plans and was as precise as only an engineer can be. For the past five years he has been the head technical director of Sivel, a company that has certified the first JAR Vla airplane here in Europe called Sivel SV 27 (a sort of Katana).

He's also the owner of a Rondone and is actually restoring a Nibbio, so he knows very well all of Frati's designs.

My distinct instructions were that no modifications had to be made and that the aircraft had to be built exactly according to the plans. But, we raised the canopy by two centimeters and added a bit more wood to the first frame to make it stronger.

Plywood bending jig.

Mr. Frati came to visit two months ago, and he was impressed by the quality of the construction. He checked many of the kits and seemed to be quite satisfied. He still remembers all the solutions he studied more then 40 years ago, and said that today it would be impossible to build Falcos in series because of the high price of labor-the only solution to own one is really to build it.

The craftsmanship-remembering, of course, that this is my plane-is the best ever. During its construction we did not even come across any particular difficulties. It just took a long time athough we had bought all the necessary kits.

I go to work on my Falco every minute that I can even though it is 30 miles away, and I need to wake up very early in the morning to get back to the office on time.

My next dream is to fly the Falco around the world and for this we are installing fuel lines also in the wings so that when the wing tanks will be available, I'll mount them without too much trouble.

Looking back I find an enormous task to organize everything, and I really have a lot of respect for the builders who have done everything by themselves although if I'd have had the time, I'm not sure I would have stayed on the project 12 years working just the week-ends.

In this group I have to thank also my president Santo Versace and his sister Donatella who has accepted me as I am, with my passion for flight, and also my assistant Margherita who has been very patient in working alone and keeping up my office (we plan more than 3500 advertising pages a year worldwide, plus television and outdoor advertising) while I was away working on the Falco or the Stampe, staying in touch with phones and a portable lap-top.

Sometimes in fact, I would arrive at my office late at night, check everything and return to the Falco the next morning. Anyway my job has not been affected, and I've followed the media planning probably better and with more attention than in a normal situation.

Now that I'm arriving at the end of this wonderful adventure I look back, and I'd start the whole story again, just to live the usual problems that all of us have encountered while building: nights wondering in the bed if that solution was right or not... Saturday afternoon studying the plans... hours spent searching for pieces left who knows where... the pleasure to touch and smell wood... small and great pleasures that fast plastic builders will never have the joy to know... so even if in the Falco you'll never be in the air after 1000 hours, who cares?

Yes, I would start again living my life as I did in the past eleven years, I was really a kid growing, no job, not a stable sentimental relation, not a good financial situation that after my father's death become even worse, but big dreams ahead of me.

The Falco I'm sure, has given me the power to fullfill all of my dreams, has given me the chance to meet the best and the most genuine people I've ever met, probably by sharing the same passion for flight, but also for the pleasure of learning again the old way of working, staying hours to admire what hands can make with a piece of wood. A sort of old craftsmanship that has been lost by modern technologies, and I've had the pleasure to learn again.

I guess it could have be the same as in restoring anything from the past, when the man was building any kind of stuff regardless the hours spent to build it, the convenience of the market, or the final price.

Ing. Valtorta, Epifanio, Mr.Frati, Giovanni, Andrea, Attilio, and Stefano Meroni.

The Falco to me is as Bugatti and Ferrari has been for the cars, Chris Craft and Riva has been for wood boats, Lloyd Wright has been for architecture: a classic that even though it is no longer the fastest machine around, it still retains the best compromise between design and performance and will stay forever.

When I land in Italy with the Falco there can be more expensive airplanes on the ramp, even the SF.260, but people appreciate more the sleekness and the pure design of this old little wild beauty.

All in all I would really thank Alfred for having made all this available and to have been able to convince Mr. Frati to give him the plans and the rights for keeping back in the air more and more Falcos.