Italian Executive Airborne.
The Handling qualities of the Piaggio P.166 are assessed here by James Hay Stevens
During the summer I visited the Italian Rivera for the express purpose of flying the Piaggio P.166 (see July AIRCRAFT), and I did get in about four hours under far from ideal conditions, which did much to increase my respect for this fine new aeroplane.
The Italian Rivera is not an easy place to reach and summer bookings are heavy, so I had to fly Sabena to Nice, changing planes at Brussels, which proved to be a pleasant, though lengthy, journey since the Sabena cabin service and meals are first class, even if the Convair Metropolitan is a pretty noisy ride after the Viscount.
I was able to get my return booking with BEA and comparison with the Viscount shows just why that airliner brings profits wherever it goes. Dr. Ing Armando Piaggio had very kindly arranged for the P.136L demonstrator, I-GULL, piloted by Commandante Aldo Gasperi, to pick me up at Le Var Airport. The Convair touched down on schedule at 1400 hours exactly and I collected my luggage; there followed a pleasant 25 minute flight along the coastline of the Rivera, hidden partly by heat haze, and I was in Villanova d'Albenga exactly one hour after leaving Nice- by road it takes five hours, by train about four hours with poor connections to the airline service.
Returning to my muttons, the P.166, which I had last seen in natural finish, now looked very fine in gleaming white with red trimlines. About a hundred hours flying had been done and there were one or two modifications evident, such as increased tab area in the tail surfaces and a slightly enlarged dorsal fin. Most striking feature I think is the low step into the cabin, which can easily be negotiated by a short person or even a girl with a very tight skirt. Inside the cabin -it was not fully furnished when I flew it- is remarkably spacious for a small aeroplane, since there is practically six-foot headroom and the width is over 5 feet, giving genuinely comfortable three abreast seating. As can be seen from the photograph, the windows form a complete 180 degree, panoramic 'balcony' right round cabin and cockpit. The special executive seats designed by Piaggio are really luxurious things and up to first class airline standard, since the moulded rubber back extends up high and is adjustable to a reclining position with a forward sliding seat to compensate for the back movement. The removable center squabs are fitted in a matter of seconds and have a fold-down back, designed for standing upon, which allows free access right through the cabin from the slightly raised flight deck to the toilet behind the rear bulkhead.
The cockpit is well laid out, with comfortable sliding seats for pilot and copilot, giving complete range from the very short man to the very tall one. Height adjustment is unnecessary because of the excellent forward view over the downward-sloping nose. Flying controls are fully duplicated and very sensibly include toe brake pedals each side, but on production aircraft a cranked column from each side of the cockpit will these wheels and thus give rather more room. Engine controls and hydraulics are grouped on a consol between the seats and are generally well placed, while there is a complete set of flight instruments in front of the first pilot, with engine instruments centrally on the dash. A duplicated set of instruments can be provided.