|Air show pilot John Mohr brough his Piaggio Royal Gull seaplane to Oshkosh. Parked in the amphibian lot by Ultralights, this unique aircraft is a multi-engine tailgragger with a gull-shaped wing design. (photos by Mariano Rosales)
By Randy Dufault
Italy's Piaggio Co. is known for its distinct designs in the many transportation products it's produced over its history, up to and including the venerable Vespa motor scooter to today's P.180 Avanti business turboprop.
Another distinctive Piaggio airplane is here, the company's 1949 amphibious Royal Gull.
Sporting a true gull wing - unlike the more familiar inverted gull wing of the Vought F4 Corsair fighter - Piaggio's Gull took a completely different design approach from other larger seaplanes of the day. Its competition, primarily Grumman, preferred a straight wing on a much taller, boxier fuselage.
John Mohr bought his Royal Gull 15 years ago, and according to him, the unique wing design has several advantages.
"One reason is to get the props up higher, out of the water spray," he said. "The other thing the gull wing does is give it great stability. It is a very stable aircraft ... as the plane yaws it automatically lifts up the wing. You can move the rudder pedals, and it will bank as you yaw it back and forth.
"It also allows you to mount the wing into a strong area of the fuselage without running it straight across the top like it is on the Goose and the other seaplanes of [the Royal Gull's] type."
Piaggio constructed Mohr's craft in 1956. At the time Kearney and Trecker, a Milwaukee machine tool manufacturer, had an arrangement with the Italian company to import the planes. This specific serial number was originally delivered to John Mark of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and it spent its early years here at Wittman Field.
Eventually the airplane went to owners in Louisiana and Texas before Mohr acquired it and moved it to his home in the St. Paul, Minnesota, area.
Mohr performs an air show routine in a Stearman biplane and is performing here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012. With his connections to the air show industry he's had an opportunity to take the plane to many places in the world, including trips to the United Kingdom and to Central America. Regular vacation destinations for the plane include summer trips to parts of Canada and Alaska, often north of the Arctic Circle, and south to Caribbean destinations in the winter.
Piaggio only manufactured 65 of the seaplanes. Mohr has attempted to track all of them down and believes only five are flying today, with another five in the United States in various states of disrepair or disassembly.
He expects two more to be flying in the relatively near future.
The Gull is a stout airplane. Mohr's is, except for paint and modern avionics, substantially the same as when built.
"It was very well thought out, very well engineered to begin with," Mohr said. "The landing gear has a complex retract mechanism inside, but all that stuff has just worked flawlessly. I think the whole airplane is built pretty beefy."
Corrosion can be an issue for amphibious airplanes, though it hasn't been for Mohr's Gull.
He believes a black, tar-like substance Piaggio applied to the inside of the hull is part of the reason, along with a corrosion control program he started just after purchasing the plane.
The airplane is large for its five seats. However, the cavernous fuselage does not go to waste as it holds 190 gallons of fuel and a very large cargo compartment.
"The nice thing about the fuel tanks being in [the fuselage] and not out in the wings, or in a bladder, is that they are easily accessible," Mohr said. "And this thing will take some big waves. I've landed in 3-foot waves with it on Loch Ness when I was over in Scotland. The weight is in the fuselage, and that's what takes the pounding.
"It is very stable on the water, very honest on the water. It doesn't have any bad habits at all.
"In fact, it is easier to handle on the water than it is on land."
The plane's swiveling tail wheel requires differential braking and differential thrust to steer it on land. Reversible propellers do add a bit more control and have the added benefit of shortening the landing roll both on terra firma and on water.
Mohr's wife, Lyn, flies with him in the plane nearly everywhere it goes.
"I can take everything I want with me," she said. "And every time I'm in it, it means that it is going to be an adventure."