Ladies and Gentleman, I’d like to introduce you to the Lamborghini of airplanes. This is the Piaggio P.7.
See, there’s a good reason to call it the Lamborghini of airplanes. It’s the Italians, they like speed and beauty. It looks fast, streamlined, sexy and efficient. This truly is, the prettiest plane that never flew. But why didn’t it ever fly?
The reason for designing this airplane was that the Piaggo Company wanted an airplane that was nothing but faster for the 1929 Schneider Trophy race. This race was purely about speed. The world’s fastest seaplanes gloriously competed against eachother for nothing but velocity. This race was a 350 kilometer course, and all that mattered was to do this in the quickest possible time.
Sources differ on the speeds predicted for the Piaggio P.7, claiming both 580 km/h (360 mph) and 700 km/h (434.7 mph).
Winners of this race, showed pure class and speed. They showed technology, and future. One of the winners was the Supermarine S.6b, that one in 1930.
And here we have the Sexy Piaggio P.7. Designer Giovanni Pegna realized that the fastest way to move on water was by mounting the plane not on floats, but on hydrofoils.
But there we have the problem… Hydrofoils can lift a vehicle out of the water, but only when the vehicle is already in motion and going at a rather quick speed. Otherwise, the rest of the craft sinks low into the water.
But hey, Italians know how to solve stuff!
Technical stuff alert! A traditional marine propeller would be connected to the engine at the back. To take off, the pilot would start the engine with the flight propeller feathered and the normal carburettor air intake closed and use a clutch to engage the tail propeller and get the aircraft moving through the water. The two hydrofoils, mounted beneath the fuselage on struts connected to the fuselage just forward of the wings similar to the way in which floats were mounted on floatplanes, would cause the P.7 to rise out of the water almost immediately. After the aircraft had risen on its hydrofoils and the flight propeller had cleared the water, the pilot would open the carburettor air intake, again employ the clutch to disengage the marine propeller, and use another clutch to engage the flight propeller, which automatically would switch from feathered to flight pitch. Driven by its flight propeller, the aircraft then would engage in a conventional take-off, riding on its submerged hydrofoils until it reached take-off speed.
Although some pilots refused to fly the aircraft, the Italian Schneider team ’s Tommaso Dal Molin conducted some water tests on Lake Garda in northern Italy. The spray the hydroplanes generated made it difficult to see during take-off, and persistent problems with both clutches ensued. The aircraft never became airborne.
And there you have it, 1920’s Italian engineering.
You gotta give it to them tho, A for effort, 10/10 for beauty.