It flies! Piaggio-Pegna PC7 takes to the air -57 years late

Report by Ron Moulton

It look a Frenchman, Alain Vassel, to achieve the impossible. First day dramatic crash damage was repaired overnight for further succesful attempts on the Sunday.

GIOVANNI PEGNA'S FLOATLESS SCHNEIDER RACER of 1930 has always been a topic for "did it - or wouldn't it" speculation since photos first appeared of the semi submerged fuselage and wings, flush with the mirror surface of Lake Varese. Truth is that in fact it didn't fly, couldn't have as the intended 1000 bhp Fiat engine and eventually the water screw drive siezed on an Isotta Fraschini power plant during a take-off attempt. The real PC7 flopped. But as a model project, the concept of mixed propulsion in a foil supported airframe has frequently emerged ever since the Varese Mode Club ran their first mini-Schneider back in 1961. Franco Bugada made a superb control-line scale version in '62 using just the main airscrew and was first to realise what a problem that long nose created for a workable CG position.

Now - 25 years later, almost to the day, a Frenchman has shown how at the '87 Schneider contest held on Lake Varese.

Alain Vassel tackled the flotation and water soakage hurdles in one simple decision, to use expanded polystyrene for almost all except the tail surfaces. For balance, and to accommodate a car centrifugal clutch, he set the OS45 where one would normally expect the nose to terminate.

A long extension shaft ran forwards in two bearings to the scale needle nose spinner and the small prop with its throttle coupled brake.

For waterscrew drive, a standard 540 motor, powered by 5 nickel cadmium cells amidships spun the plastic boat propeller, just ahead of the true scale water rudder.

To say the Italian hosts were incredulous would be more than an understatement - they were devastated! Even more so when the system was seen to work so well.

Supported just a trifle so as to give the red and gold replica of 30's elegance a best chance to ride up to the surface, the helper released as Alain advanced the waterscrew throttle. A brief turbulent trail for 2 metres and the fuselage rose clear, with the OS 45 responding immediately to pick-up full revs on the airscrew. The Viva's still echo along that lakeside promenade which has seen so many varied attempts to reproduce the Schneider contest in miniature!

Alas, the cheers turned to groans as this fastest-ever scale racer overdid a turn and plunged, knife-edge onto the unforgiving water.

Returned to the pits in a dozen pieces by rescue boat, the valiant effort was seen as a once-only marvel - by all except Alain and his pals Jean Doyen, Jean-Claude Requet, Thierry Prudhomme and Patrick Denoyer.

These heroes must have worked through the night to amaze the locals with a complete rebuild, detectable only by a different film tone on the leading edge. It flew twice more - defeated only by a slipping clutch and an audible differential between engine and prop speeds. The launch may not be precisely to 'no-push' rules as in the old Wakefield contests, the tendency to dip a wingtip might well tax patience of the CD counting off the attempts: but believe an onlooker, this is one aeroplane that can taxi back to base with a static airscrew, and that alone takes some beating! Had Dave Bishop been on the mike, September 5/6th at Varese all Italy, Switzerland and Southern France could not have been able to escape his "History is being made today" - and he'd have been dead right too!

RCM&E February 1988

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