Flying the Avanti II
I flew a new Avanti II out of Denton, Texas, home of Avanti completions in North America, with Piaggio America’s Grant Spigener. Grant has been flying the Avanti for years with thousands of hours of experience in the airplane, much of it under typical charterlike conditions. He was a good guide to have for my first flight in the airplane.
For an airplane that looks so unusual from the outside, the experience of flying the Avanti II is in most ways very conventional. The biggest problem I had was in remembering that I wasn’t flying a jet and that mounted 30 feet in back of me, completely out of sight, were two turboprop engines. As a result, the engine management chores on the P.180 are more complicated than those in today’s fadec-equipped light jets. The start-up sequence is pure PT6; it’s a completely pilot-controlled process. Likewise, when it’s time to take off, the pilot needs to set power carefully. It’s a hard transition for a pilot coming back to PT6s after having flown modern fadec turbofans from Williams and, yes, from Pratt & Whitney.
Taxiing feels conventional, though it’s accomplished using an electrically actuated, hydraulically powered nosewheel steering system. In ground idle and with power pulled back to idle, the airplane still has a tendency, like many turboprops, to get going too fast, so you need to use beta to keep things slowed down. Though the very basic levers don’t look as though they have reverse capability, they do, though it requires a healthy lift on the levers to get them back over the gate to provide propeller braking to slow things down on the ramp and taxiways.
Once on the runway and cleared for takeoff, we checked to make sure the flaps were set for takeoff and the steering was too — there are different modes depending on how fast you’re traveling though there’s no tiller — and that our trims and condition lever were correctly set. Acceleration feels fast, but steering through the rudders is positive and smooth, though it requires an easy touch to avoid darting about. We rotated at 105 knots, which is pretty darned fast for a turboprop, using about half of the available 7,000 feet at KDTO. I asked Grant to put the gear up on positive rate of climb, and soon thereafter I called for the flaps to be retracted. I stayed on the flight director as we climbed, quickly getting into IMC and getting rapid-fire climb-and-maintain clearances along the way. Grant handled the radio tuning.
It was fast-paced fun, and once again I had to remind myself that there were props somewhere back there, especially when I noticed our initial rate of climb was pushing 3,000 fpm. At FL 250 it was still better than 2,000 fpm at 170 knots indicated.
I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely the Avanti II handles. Despite the fact that it took me a while to get a feel for the trim button — there’s a little activate button in the center of the trim hat — the hand-flying was nothing short of delightful. I kept on the controls through a number of heading changes much up into the midteens before switching on the autopilot.
While the rate of climb is great, one thing the Avanti II doesn’t do is climb or descend at very high indicated airspeeds, the former a condition of available thrust. So as fast as it is at cruise, its block times suffer as a result of the climb speed and relatively low Vmo (260 indicated) and Mmo (Mach 0.70) limitations.
Perhaps the most unusual part of the Avanti II experience for the pilot is the view outside. As it wraps itself around the pointy nose of the P.180, the windshield stretches out for several feet in front of the pilots and wraps back around them tightly. The effect is a view that changes substantially as you point the nose up or down in various phases of flight. A traffic target can be out of view in certain positions, at around 2 o’clock for the left-seater or 11 o’clock for the right-seater. On climb-out, especially given the steep angle of attack of the impressive-climbing P.180, it’s hard to see much out front at all. On approach, however, the view is excellent.