In aviation circles, the span of time between the two World Wars is remembered as the Golden Age. A global race to speed, range and performance records pushed the limits of technology and pegged countries and manufactures against each other. It was a great run for Italian engineering too, culminating with the 1934 Schneider Trophy speed record that Francesco Agello established on a Macchi MC 72. His 709 km/h (440 mph) remains the fastest speed ever attained by a piston engine seaplane.
As an an aeronautical engineer, I was very excited to learn that, on June 12, 2009, Maurizio Cheli established another speed record and aviation milestone on an Italian built craft. He pushed SkySpark, a 100% electrically powered plane, to a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph). The news from Turin echoed into Silicon Valley. SkySpark is a 100% Italian consortium of university, private and public resources.
And while dreams of electrically powered sub-sonic intercontinental flights are premature to say the least (energy density of Jet A-1 fule = 40MJ/Kg; energy density of hydrogen fuel cell = 1.5 MJ/Kg) this achievement demonstrates that, with little resources and brilliant engineering, you can spark true progress.