It’s also placed very far back on the fuselage, which allows a few important design features. First, with a far aft wing the engines — two Pratt & Whitney PT6s in a pusher configuration — can be mounted very far aft as well, which helps keep the interior noise low. Occupants can converse easily, as can the pilots. The problem with the aft mounting is that the Avanti II has a very distinct exterior noise signature that is problematic — while by all accounts the Avanti II is no noisier than other PT6-powered twins.
While the forward wing is not fitted with an elevator, it does have a flap, or set of flaps, depending on how you look at it. The surface, which like the tail has a considerable amount of anhedral, is ice-protected, as is the windshield, by electric heat. Bleed air would have been nice, but by the time it had traveled the distance from the engines, it’s not clear that it would have been very hot anymore, and the bleed air used to heat the wing leading edges robs the turboprops of a great deal of power to begin with. Along with the wings, the engine inlets and wing leading edge are deiced by bleed air; the tail does without, as do the props, which are heated directly by the engine exhaust blowing over them.
Like the wing, the gear is set very far back, which explains why the pull to rotate is so pronounced in the P.180. Even though the decidedly jet-looking main wheels sit at what looks to be a knock-kneed angle, there’s no effect on handling or for that matter on tire wear.
The other huge advantage of the configuration is that it opens up the fuselage, allowing a cabin that is closer to that of midsize jets than light jets. For private owners, charter customers and fractional owners, the big cabin is a major selling point. The cabin, interestingly, isn’t symmetrical; it’s a little cozier up front than in back. But with a main cabin height of 69 inches, it’s easy to move about. It’s also remarkably wide for an airplane of its size. At 73 inches across, the width allows for great shoulder room, easy entry though the airstair door and a very comfy hard-door lavatory.
In the end, the Avanti II’s configuration allows it to achieve light jet speeds in the same way as light jets do, by using a very small, highly loaded wing to go with a good dose of power. The Avanti takes that formula and pushes it to the design edge, achieving that performance with a great deal less power than in comparable jet products and with the best cabin in the class by a long shot. It’s a great formula.
Technology and Comfort
The airplane has been constantly improved over the past decade, with new interiors, higher max takeoff weight, higher Vmo and avionics upgrades galore. Today’s airplane has the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite, with all the bells and whistles. With fully reversionary flat-screen displays with a host of safety utilities, including TCAS, TAWS, satellite weather and more, the avionics suite is top-notch, and Piaggio Aero has been working with Rockwell Collins since the introduction of the Avanti II to add upgrades as they became available. One that’s lacking is the single FMS. A fully independent backup navigator can be installed as an option. Some operators use a Garmin 430 mounted on the far left side of the panel.
The Avanti II, I should probably mention, is a single-pilot airplane; it doesn’t need a crew. Theoretically, a newly minted multiengine pilot with a high-altitude endorsement could hop right in and go flying. In reality, the P.180 is a fast, sophisticated, high-flying airplane that requires the same kinds of skills and training as any single-pilot business jet. Most charter operators fly the Avanti II with a crew of two.