Introduction: When talking about aviation, many focus on the US and Russia, and their achievements in the aviation world, but forget that many other nations contributed loads to the aeronautical world. Of the many that are forgotten, Italy, is probably the one that contributed the most, but is talked about the least. The Italians, with their fine eye for detail, produced many weird, wonderful and oftentimes beautiful aircraft. Some were produced, but many weren’t so fortunate, and never made it past the prototype stage. Today’s aircraft is one of them, the Piaggio P.16, an odd-looking Italian trimotor, that is forgotten by most.
Description: The aircraft featured many novel features for both Piaggio and aircraft in general. The aircraft was of all metal construction, with an all duralumin construction, with steel tubing that created a frame, with duralumin sheets pressed on to it, on the top of the fuselage, while the lower portion and control surfaces were covered in fabric. The aircraft was a trimotor, a first for Piaggio (though this was a common feature for many Italian aircraft), powered by three Piaggio P.IX RC nine-cylinder radial engines, developed from the Gnome-Rhone Mistral 9K. Besides its all-metal construction, the P.16 featured retractable landing gear, and variable pitch propellers, things which were quite rare for aircraft in the early 1930’s. Therefore, the P.16 can be considered to be a trailblazer of sorts. The aircraft featured an inverted gull-wing, with a long wing-root that ran from just behind the cockpit, to just before the tail. The wing tapered towards its tip, and featured a very narrow chord. This was quickly revised due to buffeting issues, and the wing root was shortened to about the middle of the aircraft, though it retained the same shape, and lacked the narrow tip from before. The thickest part of the wings was by the engine nacelles, from where it began to taper towards the end. The new thinned out root helped solve the buffeting issues. Hydraulically operated flaps made up about half of the wing, spanning from the engine nacelles, to about mid-span. Ailerons occupied the remainder of the wing. Leading-edge slats were also fitted on the forward wing sections to provide better control at lower speed regimes.
The P.16 had a crew of five, with a pilot and co-pilot that sat next to each other in the cockpit (which was accessed through doors on each side of the fuselage, in front of the wing), a bombardier, and two gunners (who accessed the aircraft through a door under the trailing edge of the left wing). There is some confusion as to where the bombardier’s station was located. Certain sources state that it was located under the cockpit, while others state that the bombardier was stationed in the middle of the aircraft, behind the bomb bay. Given the layout of the aircraft, the latter is most likely. In the upper-mid fuselage was located a retractable turret with a single 7.7mm machine gun. Below the tail, was the rear gunner, who sat in a rather uncomfortable position, behind another single 7.7mm machine gun. The two other machine guns were forward firing, although it is not certain exactly where they were located. Most sources state that they were located in the wing roots, although it is also possible they were located at the wingtips. Either way, there is no obvious indication as to their exact position in photos or drawings.
Though ordered on the 4th of July, 1933, construction had begun already, and the aircraft was first flown in November of 1934, after it received the serial MM 226, with Mario Gamna at the controls. The aircraft was assessed by the Regia Aeronautica in February 1935, and was publicly displayed at the Salone Internazionale Aeronautica (International Aviation Display) in Milan in October of the same year. The Regia Aeronautica ordered twelve aircraft, however, this order was cancelled in favour of Piaggio’s very own P.32, which was deemed to be more promising. Indeed, the P.16 suffered the same fate of many trailblazers; though it led Piaggio in a very modern direction, the advancement of technology caught up with it, and soon overtook it, rendering it obsolete. However, the P.16 was a highly important step for Piaggio, gaining them valuable experience in constructing large aircraft of metal construction, thus paving the way for the P.32, P.50 and finally the P.108. Though mostly forgotten, its importance cannot be understated.
Performance and Dimensions:
Power plant: three Piaggio P.IX RC Stella II, 9-cylinder single-row, radial engines rated at 610/700 CV (P.IX was a developed version of the Gnome-et-Rhône GR.9K Mistral), with two-blade variable pitch metal propellers.
Span: 22.00 m
Length: 13.40 m
Height: 4.90 m
Wing area: 70.0 sq.m
Empty weight: 5,600 kg
Loaded weight: 8,450 kg
Max speed: 400 kmh at 5,000 m
Cruise speed: 324 kmh
Climb: to 6,000 in 17 min
Service ceiling: 5,800 m
Combat radius: 560 km
Range: 1,496 km (2,000 km with 500-kg bombload)
Armament: four 7.7-mm Lewis Mk.1 machine-gun and 1,000 kg bombload
Conclusion: A highly interesting vehicle that certainly deserves its place in the Italian tree. Its addition will brighten up Italian low-tier bombers, as well as shine some light upon a previously forgotten type.
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