Piaggio Aerospace P.2HH and MPA "Multirole Patrol Aircraft": reflections by a tax payer

(To Andrea Troncone)
19/07/18

In recent weeks there has been some agitation on the question of the position of the government for the choice of future remotely piloted aircraft of the category MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance).

Last Friday, the union representatives of the over 1.100 workers of Piaggio Aerospace have again asked to speed up the decree approving the financing of the P.2HH program proposed by the Ligurian company: they have been waiting for a year for the government to reassure its future employment, strongly threatened by a possible failure to choose their aircraft.

They and their families are joined by similar expectations from the so-called "induced", which consists of other 15 Italian companies involved in the project.

This order has already also provoked clashes at the political level, meanwhile the "eurodrone" (photo below) of Airbus and Dassault (in which Italy has only a share of participation through Leonardo) is throwing serious shadows on this 100 project % "Made in Italy". Yet it would seem to have been even the inspirational model ...!

Without wishing to enter this thorny issue for which the efforts and opinions of well-titled air defense experts have already been spent, we limit ourselves to making some technical considerations combined with others of simple taxpayers.

Therefore, we reason about what anyone can see on the Piaggio Aerospace website together with the news we gave ourselves on the same day of Friday, relating to the national aerospace industry.

On the website of the manufacturer, there has never been any information on P.2HH.

There is instead a brand new one brochure of P.1HH that has finally arrived at the "mature" stage (see article) even if with characteristics inferior to those of P.2HH, but it also speaks of an interesting aircraft: the MPA "Multirole Patrol Aircraft" (and also this has just appeared a new brochure).

Certainly that of the remotely piloted aircraft is a topic that attracts more attention to modernity, but if you look at all the details of the matter you can find interesting food for thought. First of all the genius of the modularity of the technical solutions that allows to deliberate three different aircraft (MPA, P.2HH and P.1HH) with only two investments in research and development.

This means that if you do not want to support P.2HH, it can still be useful and wise to develop its technologies on the MPA. ... You never know that anyone can interest ...!

But we can not talk about the Piaggio Aerospace MPA ("Multirole Patrol Aircraft") without mentioning the enormous experience gained by its illustrious predecessor has already "paved the way": the Piaggio P.166.

It all started half a century ago, with the provision of a special version for research and anti-submarine tasks to the South African Air Force, then perfected in the subsequent turboprop versions sold anywhere in the world and especially to our Armed Forces.

With a large number of "variants on the subject" (versions for geotopographic research, or against marine pollution, the fight against smuggling, and even anti-fire) we have arrived until today and despite the excellent demonstration of robustness and reliability to appear exemplars of this aircraft withdrawn from service for end of life turned into monuments.

In the patrol tasks typically assigned to P.166, the 72 ATRs are being added and replaced in the MP version (Maritime Patrol).

On the same day that the Piaggio Aerospace union representatives asked for their future, we published the news of a new acquisition by the Guardia di Finanza for this kind of activity.

Although this aircraft has good quality of flight and many components of national production (Leonardo), it is not an indigenous product to 100% nor is it built in Italy from the first to the last bolt (including engines) as the aircraft have always been of the Piaggio Aerospace.

The ATR was born as a civil aircraft capable of transporting 50 passengers in the so-called "third level commercial operations", ie in the short-haul connection between a minor airport and an international "hub" or to serve small, typically tourist local airports.

A job that does not require the achievement of a high flight altitude or its maintenance over long periods, so the best propulsive performance offered by the low-powered turbo-propeller engines compensates for the reduced forward speed. For short distances this does not involve particular inconveniences, with the exception of having to fly at levels favorable to the formation of ice (if weather conditions expose to this risk) that combined with the Goodrich chilling system (with pulsating air chambers) does not make it the aircraft preferred by the passenger.

At the Piaggio Aerospace, the P.166 was joined from the 1986 by an aircraft that best represents the Italian genius and which is the base platform of P.1HH, of the MPA and, even indirectly, also of P.2HH: it is the P.180.

This stems from a virtually opposite project requirement: that of being an alternative to private 7 passenger jets and medium-length routes.

In such a scenario, speed and high flight altitude are a fundamental requirement that can be added to that of being able to operate from 1500m tracks and the P.180 manages to become competitive thanks to its unique aerodynamics. Obviously, as the ATR, being a turboprop, does not run into the problems of high fuel consumption at low altitude that would instead have a jet.

When comparing ATR and P.180, the difference in size is immediately evident. It is intuitive to understand that this is immediately transferred to the operating costs, in a directly proportional way.

Considering, then, that all the flight departments of the Armed Forces and State Bodies1 already have the P.180, the introduction of the "Multirole Patrol Aircraft" would have allowed to eliminate many duplicate items of expenditure: training of pilots and maintenance technicians, spare parts supply them, as well as the different procedures of employment that hinder the standardization of resources.

The interchangeability between P.180 and "MPA" is almost total and no loss of operational effectiveness would be recognized, because for the tasks for which ATR "MP" and Piaggio "MPA" could be superimposed, what counts is the airborne instrumental equipment , not the "carrier" (ie the airplane).

But we must make a proper clarification: what has been said about the comparison between ATR "MP" and Piaggio Aerospace "MPA" applies to the patrolling tasks left vacant by P.166 radiated by the service.

For the anti-submarine activities left by the Breguet "Atlantic", the ATR "MP" continues to have an important operational role as the morphological and structural characteristics of the P.180 fuselage, can not offer similar possibilities of "sowing" of anti-submarine buoys .

But if the "MP" ATR remains a winner in the anti-submarine fight, the "platform" offered by P.180 can allow another kind of employment: high-altitude patrolling or where rapid and agile intervention is required, scenarios in which the ATR does not excite or it would be much more expensive and vulnerable.

Thus, to the marine patrol for search and rescue or reconnaissance that were of the P.166 and now of the ATR "MP", the Piaggio Aerospace "MPA" adds the surveillance capacity of the territory for reasons of "intelligence", and the employment tactical in ISR and COMINT missions.

Roles similar to those of "Predator", but with the advantage of being carried out in an impromptu and unplanned way, being independent of ground stations. In fact, these must be appropriately positioned and provided with services, including in particular the protection one (things that are certainly not at "zero cost").

The P.180 has already demonstrated with over 800.000 total hours of use, that its anti-conformant aerodynamic formula to 3 load-bearing surfaces truly maintains all that it promises: flight quotas and jet speed at a lower cost of 30%. But if it is necessary to further increase its autonomy and make its presence less traceable both from an acoustic and thermal point of view, the increase in the capacity of the tanks must also include a reduction in aerodynamic drag.

One way to pursue both objectives in one shot is to increase the already considerable wingspan, and make use of other updates already seen in the transition from P.180 "Avanti II" to P.180 "EVO".

By "wing elongation" we mean the relationship between the wingspan and its width at the root. To put it in simple terms, when you see a long and narrow wing it is said that it has a considerable wing elongation and the benefit it brings is to obtain a maximum and more homogeneously distributed lift with a minimum resistance.

Do you know the wing of the gliders? It is the most striking example.

If you also know the "Predator" drone, or the high altitude Lockheed U2 scouters (photo) and the "Geophysica" Myasishchev, the better, because these, have engines that lighten the aircraft by consuming fuel in their long missions, but with a wing like this "Straight" do not run into center of gravity excursions.

Obviously a "straight, long and narrow" wing does not offer only advantages: at the maximum reachable speeds it is possible to generate "aeroelasticity" phenomena (sum of aerodynamic and elastic forces) that can lead to very serious problems such as the dreaded "flutter" ".

Changing the wing of the P180 in this way, also involves the modification of the front wing, as the aerodynamics of the P.180 "divides" on 3 different aerodynamic surfaces and a modification of wing elongation can only happen on all the bearing surfaces.

So, if you decide to develop the P.2HH or decide to discover the potential of the MPA, all this translates into the need to carry out an intense phase of testing and tuning in every possible scenario and configuration of flight.

Here is therefore explained why it is necessary to approve that loan.

At Piaggio this has already happened with the PD-808 aircraft (next picture).

At that time the contribution of the Italian Air Force was fundamental, and 1 / 3 took over the costs of research and development, in exchange for the acquisition of the entire production.

An effort certainly enormous for the State, but that allowed to realize a totally Italian aircraft, which has served the country in tasks of radio, electronic warfare and airborne transport and personality in all the operational contexts for well 40 years of activity.

Despite appearances, the small number of aircraft produced did not frustrate the effort made: the PD-808 is still the only commercial jet developed entirely in Italy, resulting in the fundamental step to develop that technology that has allowed the birth of P.180, which has given enormous commercial satisfaction all over the world and has focused international attention on the engineering capabilities of our aerospace industry.

In addition to the legitimate desire for greater national industrial protectionism, able to effectively support the internal market and to create possible export opportunities, the credentials with which it presents itself, made of a century of activity on Italian soil and half a century of specific experience in patrolling airplane, offers the rare opportunity to offer highly qualified work to many brains who have not yet escaped from Italy.

Today in Italy we have a new government that half "pushes" a lot on the problems of surveillance on the territory (especially marine), and for the remaining half "pushes" on the revival of our "native" production activities and employment problems.

This is an opportunity to move from words to deeds.

(photo: Piaggio / Airbus / Aeronautica Militare / US Air Force / web)

1 Air Force, Carabinieri, Army, Navy, Financial Police, Firemen, Civil Defense