By William Pearce
Founded in 1884, Piaggio was an Italian industrial firm that began making aircraft under license in 1917. In 1923, Piaggio began building aircraft of its own design, led by Giovanni Pena. In the early 1930s, Piaggio began to manufacture aircraft engines under license. In 1936, Pena left the company and was replaced by Giovanni Casiraghi. Casiraghi had previously worked for the Waco Aircraft Company in the United States for several years.
In 1938, Casiraghi began to design a new single-seat fighter of a rather unconventional configuration. He aspired to create a fast and maneuverable fighter that utilized as many Piaggio-sourced components as possible—the aircraft, engine, and propeller were all manufactured by Piaggio. Designated as the Piaggio P.119, the fighter design was submitted to the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) on 18 March 1939. While the Regia Aeronautica was busy with other projects, Casiraghi continued to refine the fighter. The experimental P.119 was not ordered until 2 June 1941.
The P.119 had a conventional layout with the exception of the engine installation. The air-cooled, radial engine was located in the fuselage, behind the pilot. An extension shaft extended from the engine, under the cockpit, and to the propeller gear reduction at the front of the aircraft. This configuration provided good pilot visibility and enabled the armament to be centrally located in the aircraft’s nose and the engine to be located at the aircraft’s center of gravity, which enhanced maneuverability.
The P.119 had an all-metal airframe made up of three sections. The front and rear fuselage sections had an aluminum frame covered with aluminum panels, creating a monocoque structure. The center section, which supported the engine and wings, consisted of a tubular steel frame covered with aluminum panels. The entire fuselage possessed a circular cross section. Under the conventional tail was a non-retractable tailwheel. The all-metal wings had two spars and housed the fully retractable main wheels. Large ailerons occupied the outer half of the wings’ trailing edge, with split-flaps running along the remaining trailing edge of the wing. All control surfaces had an aluminum frame and were covered with fabric. Each wing contained an 87-gallon (330 L) fuel tank, and a 90-gallon (340 L) fuel tank was located in the fuselage behind the engine.
The cockpit was placed above the wings’ leading edge and covered with a canopy that hinged to the side (some sources state the canopy slid back). However, it does not appear that the hinged canopy covering was installed. Behind the cockpit was a tubular-steel frame that supported the air-cooled radial engine and connected the aircraft’s nose section, wings, and tail section. Originally, a 1,700 hp (1,268 kW) Piaggio P.XXII engine was to be used, but delays with that engine resulted in the substitution of a 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) Piaggio P.XV. Both engines had 18 cylinders and displaced 3,237 cu in (53.0 L). A scoop located under the aircraft’s nose brought in cooling air that was distributed annularly into the cooling fins of the engine’s cylinders with baffles helping to direct the airflow. The cooling-air exited via a semi-annular line of cowl flaps set atop the fuselage. Just behind the cockpit was the engine’s intake, and the exhaust was expelled from four stacks forward of the cowl flaps. The P.119’s variable-pitch, three-blade propeller was made by Piaggio and was 10 ft 10 in (3.3 m) in diameter.
The aircraft’s armament consisted of four 12.7 mm (.50-cal) machine guns positioned in the nose above the propeller gear reduction and a 20 mm cannon that fired through the propeller hub. The machine guns had 500–550 rpg (the number varies by source), and the 20 mm cannon had 110 rounds. Some sources state that provisions existed to install two additional machine guns in each wing with 400 rpg. However, those sources disagree on whether the guns were 7.7 mm (.303-cal) or 12.7 mm (.50-cal). A mockup of the P.119 included the wing guns, which appear to be 7.7 mm (.303-cal), but the mockup also appears to have only two nose machine guns. Images of the P.119 prototype do not indicate any provisions for wing guns. Reportedly, the prototype did not have the cannon or two of the four nose machine guns installed. Consideration was given to a ground attack version with a 37 mm cannon firing through the propeller hub, and a bomb rack under each wing and under the aircraft’s centerline.
The Piaggio P.119 had a wingspan of 42 ft 8 in (13.0 m), a length of 31 ft 10 in (9.7 m), and a height of 9 ft 10 in (3.0 m). The aircraft had a top speed of 398 mph (640 km/h) at 22,310 ft (6,800 m) and a stalling speed of 81 mph (130 km/h). The P.119 had an empty weight of 5,886 lb (2,670 kg) and a maximum weight of 9,039 lb (4,100 kg). The aircraft had an initial rate of climb of approximately 3,077 fpm (15.6 m/s), and a climb to 19,685 ft (6,000 m) took 7 minutes and 15 seconds. The P.119’s ceiling was 41,011 ft (12,500 m), and it had a maximum range of 932 miles (1,500 km).
Some sources indicate that two P.119 prototypes were ordered and given the Matricola Militare (military registration number) of MM 496 and MM 497, with MM 496 used on the mockup and MM 497 applied to the actual prototype. It is not clear why a mockup would need a serial number, and other sources contend that MM 496 was assigned to the prototype. However, MM 496 appears to have been assigned to the Piaggio P.108C prototype four-engine transport, and the majority of sources state that MM 497 was the P.119 prototype.
The P.119 was built at Piaggio’s Finale Ligure plant in western Italy. The aircraft was completed in late 1942 and underwent ground tests in mid-November. The P.119’s first flight occurred on 19 December 1942. The aircraft was flown at Villanova d’Albenga by Nicolò Lana. The initial flight testing revealed that the P.119 suffered from engine cooling issues, requiring the cowl flaps to stay open. The open flaps slowed the aircraft and caused its nose to pitch up. Other issues included vibrations from the engine and extension shaft installation and general instability of the P.119. These issues resulted in complete flight trails not being conducted, and aerobatic maneuvers were not attempted. On 2 August 1943, the P.119 was damaged when the brakes locked up on landing, causing the aircraft to nose over. The damage was minor and mostly limited to the propeller and a wing, but the aircraft was not repaired before the Italian surrender on 8 September 1943. Problematic and difficult to fly, the P.119 subsequently disappeared and was presumably scrapped.
– Dimensione Cielo 3: Caccia Assalto by Emilio Brotzu, Michele Caso, Gherardo Cosolo (1972)
– Volare Avanti: The History of Piaggio Aircraft by Paolo Gavazzi (2000)
– War Planes of the Second World War: Fighters, Volume Two by William Green (1961)
– Italian Civil and Military Aircraft 1930-1945 by Jonathan Thompson (1963)