Development of the P-166
Piaggio's Gull was a tremendous success both at home, where the Italian Air force was the only initial operator, and aboard where a slightly modified version was introduced. The 'American' version was designated the P136 'Royal Gull'. Approx. 40 of these aircraft were exported to the USA and Canada. While only 65 of these aircraft were produced, Piaggio was working on a successor.
With the growth of the General Aviation and executive Aviation sectors, Piaggio used the successful Gull as a base for their contender, the P-166. Near the end of 1955 a team of designers set about designing the P-166.
On the 26th of November 1957 the first prototype of the P-166, I-RIAF, took off from Villanova d'Albenga airport with Piaggio's test pilot, Aldo Gasperi at the controls. The aircraft performed as had been expected displaying good maneuverability and excellent handling. After a series of flight trails the aircraft received both it's US FAA and Italian RAI (Italian Register of Aeronautics) certification at the end of July 1958 and was registered I-PIAK. James Hay Stevens, European Technical Editor for Australia's 'Aircraft' magazine wrote an excellent progress report on the P166 report after visiting Piaggio in 1958
The P-166 was an ideal aircraft for the small operator, the wings, although slightly lower on the aircraft than on the Gull, where high enough to provide good clearance to the side door for loading the aircraft, the view from the aircraft was of course excellent and the short, rugged undercarriage meant that the aircraft could be operated from grass and dirt strips as well as from the more conventional hard surfaced runways. You can read a P-166 flight report here.
The two subsequent pre-production models were flown to the US (Tracker Corp.) and to the UK (Mc Alphine).
Soon this hard working little workhorse caught the attention of other operators, among others the Italian Airforce who, at the time, needed a logistic support aircraft for the then current Fiat G91R fighters. A special version of the P166 was made featuring a strengthened cabin capable of transporting the Orpheus turbojet engine and a cargo door. The AMI ordered 51 of these modified aircraft, the largest single order of P166 aircraft.
After 32 models of the original P-166 had been developed, Piaggio introduced the P-166B 'Portofino' fitted with more powerful 380hp engines and a lengthened nose which could house extra avionics. The Portofino was not very successful and only 6 were produced. In October 1964 a 'new' P166 was introduced to the P166 family, the P-166C. The P-166C featured a larger cabin which was obtained by modifying the undercarriage to retract into fairings under the fuselage rather then retracting into the side of the fuselage. The P-166C was also a flop rather than a success and Piaggio resumed production with the traditional undercarriage.
At this time the South African Air force, looking for a new aircraft for use in an inshore maritime patrol role, settled on the P-166. A new version, designated the P-166S had a slightly longer nose than the Portofino, two pilot entry doors, one on each side of the fuselage and enlarged tip tanks. The enlarged tip tanks each contained 320 liters, allowing for an increased endurance of eight to nine hours. The first aircraft ordered (#417) made it's maiden flight in October 1968 and was certified in February 1969. Shortly after this the first models were shipped to Cape Town and assembled at Ysterplaat Air Force Base.
Production continued through the BL2 and DL2 versions to the DL3. the P-166DL-3 is still in use today by the Italian Customs Service and the Italian Coast Guard. Three aircraft were recently involved in the UN peace missions in Eritrea.
Two DL-3's (c/n 465 & 466) have been converted to DP-1 models. Featuring two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-121 Engines and a completely upgraded avionics package, the DP-1 will ensure that some of these gracious aircraft remain airborne for several more decennia.
(More to follow).