Aviation of Word War II

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Heavy Bomber


Piaggio P.108, heavy bomber - "flying fortress" in the Italian design. First flight on November 24, 1939.

In many ways similar to the B-17, the Italian "flying fortress" turned out to be more difficult to control and with slightly worse flight characteristics. In general, it was a fairly modern aircraft, made using advanced technology, including electric welding. The design of the bomber was all-metal with duralumin sheathing.

The power plant included four Piaggio P.XI engines, with a total takeoff power of 5920 hp, with three-blade variable pitch propellers. The main landing gear was retracted forward along the flight into the inner engine nacelles.

Armament - eight 12.7 mm SAFAT machine guns. One was in the bow in a special glazed ledge near the bombardier, from the other it was possible to fire under the fuselage from a rifle tower specially extended by hydraulics. Behind there were two more machine guns, each in its own loophole along the sides of the fuselage. Observing the air situation from above from two special blisters behind the wing, the shooters could remotely control two turrets with twin machine guns, placed on the extreme engine nacelles.

Bomb load up to 3500 kg. The bomb bay could hold thirty-four bombs of 100 kg each, or twenty bombs 160 kg each, or seven bombs of 500 kg each. Crew - eight people: two pilots, navigator, bombardier, radio operator and three gunners.

Despite the Douai doctrine, the construction of a massive strategic aviation was not affordable for such a small and rather poor country like Italy. And the leadership of the Italian Air Force made the main bet on medium bombers, and it was supposed to equip only one aviation group with heavy machines. The bombers under construction were intended for a specially created long-range air group, which was to include two squadrons: the 274th and 275th. The commander of the group was appointed Lieutenant Colonel Gary Castellani, a famous pilot who took part in the Marseille-Damascus-Paris air race and the Rome-Rio de Janeiro flight. And the commander of the 274th squadron, officially formed on June 1, 1941, was Bruno Mussolini, the son of the Duce himself. The squadron was based in Pisa, and the first P.108B flew there on 19 July.

On their "flying fortresses" the Italians were going to hang three torpedoes: one in the bomb bay, and two on the outer nodes. However, in the future, Piaggio bombers have never flown with such a combat load. Bruno Mussolini enthusiastically wrote to his father that he would soon become the commander of an active squadron called "Knights of the Ocean", and asked to speed up the delivery of aircraft to his military unit.

Having received the first plane in July, the crews began flight training. Of course, the commander flew the most. On the next flight, Bruno Mussolini, together with his co-pilot De Genaro, went on 7 August. Having torn off their Piaggio with the flaps extended from the runway in Pisa, the crew began to retrace the landing gear. All of a sudden, the pressure in the hydraulic system dropped and the flaps returned to the retracted position. The pilots, deciding to turn around and sit down, tried to put the landing gear back on release. Operating the harvest handle and observing the hydraulic system pressure gauge, the pilots were distracted from control and lost speed. Trying to rectify the situation, the commander increased the speed of the engines too sharply, they choked, and the plane crashed to the ground. Of the eight crew members, three were killed, including Bruno Mussolini.

B-17G P.108
Crew 9 8
Length, m 22.78 22.92
Height, m 5.82 5.20
Wing span, m 31.63 32.00
Wing area, m² 131.92 135.34
Weight, kg
Empty 16,400 17,320
Gross weight 32,659 29,500
Engine 4 PE R-1920-97 4 PE Piaggio P.XXII RC.35
Takeoff power, hp 4 х 1200 4 х 1480
Maximum speed, km/h 462 430
Cruising speed, km/h 257 376
Service range, km 2,720 2,500
Service ceiling, m 10,800 8,000
Power load, kg/hp 6.8 5.0
Photo Description
Drawing Piaggio P.108B

Drawing Piaggio P.108B

May 03, 2017

The description of the incident given by Sergei Kolov in the article "'Flying Fortress' - Italian version" is impossible to understand. Firstly, on takeoff, with the mechanization released, before retraction of the landing gear, the engine operating mode should be already maximum, or close to maximum.
Judging by the description, a possible reason - leaks in the landing gear retraction scheme and the departure of the hydraulic fluid, led to a drop in pressure in the hydraulic system, but it is unclear how in this case the steering gear worked to retrace the flaps (absence, hydraulic lock malfunction?) ...
Obviously, at low speed, with the mechanization removed, the lift of the wing fell sharply, which, probably, was the cause of the catastrophe. Attempting to extend the landing gear further reduced hydraulic pressure and did not assist in extending the flaps when the switch was set to extend. There are more questions than answers ...