The P.180 design was tested in wind tunnels in Italy and the U.S. in 1980 and 1981. A collaboration with Learjet to develop the aircraft began in 1983 but ended on 13 January 1986, with Piaggio continuing development on its own. The first prototype flew on 23 September 1986. U.S. and Italian certification was obtained on 7 March 1990.] Learjet’s influence can be seen in the two “delta fins” mounted on the bottom of the tail, as found on most Learjets; these devices provide aerodynamic recovery force in the event of an aerodynamic stall.
The first twelve fuselages were manufactured in Wichita, with H & H Parts and Plessey Midwest, then flown to Italy for final assembly. Avanti Aviation Wichita ran out of money in 1994; the project languished until a group of investors led by Piero Ferrari became involved in 1998. The 100th aircraft was delivered in October 2005 and the 150th in May 2008.
An improved Avanti II obtained European and U.S. certification in November 2005. Six months later, 70 planes were already ordered, including 36 by Avantair. The Avanti II features uprated Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboprop engines and flies about 11 mph faster, with better fuel economy; an all-new “glass panel” avionics suite reduces cockpit clutter. In addition to heading, attitude and navigation information, flat panel color LCD displays add collision avoidance (TCAS), ground proximity (TAWS) and real-time graphic weather depiction.
The Avanti’s turboprop engines are placed on a mid-fuselage, high aspect ratio wing, located behind the cabin. The design utilizes both a T-tail and a pair of small, fixed anhedral canards that lack control surfaces. The arrangement of the wing surfaces allows all three to provide lift, as opposed to a conventional configuration, where the horizontal stabilizer creates a downward force to counteract the nose-down moment that a conventional main wing generates.
Distinctive design features include a non-constant cross section cabin, the revolutionary shape of which approximates a NACA airfoil section. Piaggio claims the fuselage contributes up to 20% of the Avanti’s total lift, with horizontal stabilizer, wing and canard providing the remaining 80%. Because of the unusual fuselage shape, the mid cabin is considerably wider than the cockpit, and the entire cabin is ahead of the main wing spar. The wing and canard airfoils are custom sections designed by Dr. Jerry Gregorek of The Ohio State University to achieve a drag-reducing 50% laminar flow at cruise.
The company claims the overall design of the P.180 Avanti II enables the wing to be 34% smaller than on conventional aircraft and a specific range of 0.84 nm per pound of fuel. This is significantly better than the 0.31 to 0.48 nm/pound of similar small jets.
The P.180 makes a distinctive square wave noise when passing overhead, similar to the Beech Starship, due to the wing wake and engine exhaust effects on the pusher propellers. Piaggio pilots remark that exterior noise is odd sounding, although not appreciably noisier than comparable turboprop aircraft. Indeed, interior noise is the lowest of nearly any aircraft turboprop or jet.
- Maximum speed: 732 km/h (395 kt or 455 mph)
- Cruise speed: 593 km/h(320 kt or 368 mph) (econ cruise)
- Range: 2,592 km (1,400 nm or 1612 mi) at 11,900 m (39,000 ft) with reserves
- Service ceiling: 12,500 m (41,000 ft)
- Rate of climb: 14.98 m/s (2,950 ft/min)
- Wing loading: 327 kg/m² (67.1 lb/ft²)
- Power/mass: 0.24 kW/kg (0.15 hp/lb)
- Crew: one or two pilots
- Capacity: up to nine passengers
- Cabin dimensions: 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in) high, 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in) wide, 4.45 m (14 ft 7 in) long
- Payload: 907 kg (2,000 lb)
- Length: 14.41 m (47 ft 3½ in)
- Wingspan: 14.03 m (46 ft 0½ in)
- Height: 3.97 m (13 ft 0¾ in)
- Wing area: 16 m² (172.2 ft²)
- Empty weight: 3,400 kg (7,500 lb)
- Useful load: 1,860 kg (4,100 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 5,239 kg (11,550 lb)
- Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66 turboprops, 634 kW (850 shp) each