Luigi Prina might be 83 years old, but he still has the imagination of a child. The Italian architect’s studio is filled with miniature flying ships of all shapes and sizes, suspended from the ceiling with nylon strings. And here’s the special part – some of the ships really do fly. When Luigi twists the propeller and lets the toys go, they whizz around the room in loops and circles.
Luigi has been obsessed with ships ever since he can remember. He began building model ships at a very young age. When he was 16, he won a national aircraft modeling competition. The judges were particularly impressed by his superior craftsmanship – and also his age. “When I went to collect my prize, they asked me: ‘Why didn’t your father come to collect his prize?’ ‘What do you mean my father, I am Luigi Prina!’ They were quite upset by this,” said Luigi.
But it wasn’t until 50 years had passed that Luigi was inspired to make his model ships fly. “I met Eugenio Tomiolo, a Venetian painter and boat builder,” he said. “And then I said to him: ‘Do you want to bet that I can make the boats fly for you?’ And I made the first boat. I made it fly in his studio. He had painted his ceiling like a sky with clouds. When the ship began to go around the ceiling it seemed as if the clouds were moving.”
“He was really enthusiastic,” Luigi recalled. “When I saw him a few years later, the first thing he said to me was: ‘You know that those clouds moved?’”
It has now been 20 years since Luigi’s retirement and he’s spent all that time creating over 200 flying ships. They’re really beautiful – elegantly designed, with an ethereal appeal. Each boat is optimized for flight. They are light in weight (20 to 50 grams) and aerodynamic in shape. The body is fashioned out of very thin paper and balsa wood. And there’s no engine powering the propeller. Just an elastic band, which is mainly responsible for carrying the extremely light ships. The bands are made from pure Indian rubber, imported from Japan. They are the only elastic bands in the world that can last for over 20 years.
Aviation and literature are Luigi’s passions – he combines the two to weave beautiful stories out of his winged bicycles and boats.