Sunday, 24 April 2011

Porco Rosso Aircraft

OK, as this is the first post in this blog, I'd just like to say to whoever looks at it that I'm going to use my fairly quaint knowledge of aeronautics to examine some of the aircraft in the Studio Ghibli films. I know about the designs of airfoil, balance characteristics of aircraft, time period technology, materials, and other such things. I also know that the Ghibli films are only films, and that the aircraft were most likely just drawn down on a piece of concept art paper, but hey, I'm gonna do this anyway. But that's enough of that.
First, then, it's Porco Rosso and the aircraft in that. The most obvious first choice would be the Savoia S.21 that Porco pilots. The material that it is made out of appears to be wood, as seen in that bit when Curtiss picks up a fragment of it for evidence that he shot down Porco. However, it is later shown that when rebuilding the aircraft the women are bending metal sheets, presumably to cover the aircraft. A wooden frame with metal covering is a common strategy of aircraft construction, and offers a fairly light construction with quite strong characteristics.
You can see in the film the aircraft having a middling wing camber on the aerofoil. There aren't any surprising deep camber designs in it, so it would produce a middling lift wing middling drag. For a seaplane, this isn't the most fantastic idea, as it requires plenty of lift to get one off of the water. There are also no flaps on the airplane which would again make it difficult to take off and land. But of course, we have to include that high angle of incidence on the wings. This generally helps jet aircraft be more aerodynamic in the air and help it to maneuver more easily, but on a 1930s seaplane I think that it might have a detrimental effect on the lift produced and the ability to move about at the comparatively low speeds that the plane would be able to achieve. Even in flight, it would stall fairly easily because of the angle of incidence. Also not helping the stall characteristics would be that enormous engine sitting on top of the wing. Let's put this together - the wing is supported above the fuselage by several metal rods, and then the engine is mounted on top of the wing using several more. Whilst having a smaller, lighter engine all that way up would maybe be alright for it's centre of gravity, a big, meaty racing engine would weigh the plane down, pull the nose down when the throttle is touched, and make the centre of gravity somewhere thirty miles above the where it should be. Although, it must be said, having all of these characteristics with enough lift would produce an extremely agile aircraft, but I think that the high angle of incidence on the wings would make the S. 21 overweight even at the highest of speeds. Perhaps if it had a lower centre of gravity and more powerful engine then it would be a little more feasible, but certainly still an... interesting thing to fly.
So, would-be stats:
Handling: Unbelievably difficult to not stall, take off and land, but would probably handle veyr well in flight because of the instability
Speed: Very fast, with that angle of incidence and that enormous engine sitting on top
Ok, so Porco does say it's difficult to take off in the film, and a wonder to handle in the sky. So, I suppose, it's more or less feasible. I'd like to at least see a higher camber and angle of attack on the wings to generate extra lift, and perhaps a lower centre of gravity.
  Alright. Next up is the pirate gang Mamma Aiuto's seaplane, the Dabohaze. Immediately striking is the all-metal construction, the tandem engines and "twice as thick as you think" wings.
So, an all metal construction would make the Dabohaze extremely strong, but very heavy, needing that extra engine. As can be seen in the film, the wings have a high camber and angle of attack and high aspect ratio, which would produce plenty of lift to haul all that metal up into the sky. Those tandem engines, popular on 1920s and 30s Italian flying boats, would create a contra-rotating effect that would cancel out rotational air flow. Oh, but obviously, not very well, because of that huge gap between the propellers. In any case, they would produce quite a lot of power. The floats on the bottom of the aircraft are a bit of a strange addition, and would probably produce more drag than anything else, and probably not do much to stop the ends of the wings from dangling dangerously into the water. But, with all that weight down below, the centre of gravity should be nicely in place near the epicenter of the wing camber, and inside the feuselage, producing stable characteristics when in flight. The tailplane mounted rudders and t-tail configuration empannage is an interesting development, which would produce fairly good pitch and yaw movement. The cockpit, whilst strangely shaped, would give quite good visibility and protection from the elements.
Would-be stats:
Handling: Slow, difficult to take off and land from the primitive aerolons, but sturdy with good protective ability.
Speed: Slow, as the engines would have to haul all that metal up out of a lot of draggy water, with those big floats weighing it down.
Well then, it doesn't look entirely impossible, but I'm not convinced that the tail is far enough away from the wing to create a stable platform. Assuming that was alright, it would be a lot like any other seaplane of the era. A bit slow, but reliable. Of course, the wings would continuously be dipping into the sea when moored up or taxiing, which would create some big problems.

Interestingly, all the other aircraft on Porco Rosso are modeled off of real life aircraft. With a little poking around on the internet, I'm sure you can find out what they are. I'm not giving off any hints :D


  1. Hi there,

    The pontoons on the Dabohaze are actually an accurate representation of a typical large flying-boat design in the 20s-30s in Europe... See for example the Latecoere 300 or the Dornier Do X for reference. They would indeed add some drag but the boat's stability when on water is unmatched and obviously a very big advantage in open seas. Dornier actually retook that same design with the Seastar, and the recent Icon A5 also uses a hull with integrated pontoons.
    In the US, big floatplanes manufacturers like Grumman and Consolidated typically went with wingtip floats with the Goose and the PBY Catalina, with the latter having them retractable in flight for better performance. Different ideas, different designs :)

  2. I am actually building that babe. You can see it here: or at Deviantart.

    1. Wow! Fantastic! Liked, and good luck with it!

  3. My daughter loves and has gotten me interested in Studio Ghibli Aircraft!

  4. Thanks for doing this!

    So, both you and the film were fairly spot on in your analysis of Porco's plane, according to the performance of an RC creation.

    I just discovered this the other day.

    Sticks like glue to the water during takeoff (performs just like it does during the battle with the American), and then nimble as can be once away.

    1. Ah, interesting! Looks like you'd have to keep it dead level on calm waters to get it off the water.

  5. well, some flying boats of 30ss indeed looked like that as a monoplane with a single engine over its wings, with a floating body and two smaller floats on the wings. some italian ones too, actually checking the wiki i found a candidate for the likely porco rosso aircraft inspiration, it's macchi m.33 racing floatplane from 1925

    here is a fascinating vid how somebody launches its model, painted exactly like porco rosso:
    compare with the vid of launching a model of porco rosso's s.21 :3

    also note, that the s.21 model in is not completely faithful, it has its side floats hanging in the air while its body floats, meantime they are supposed to be in the water (why would you need floats which don't float?) to add the plane a better handling on the water i.e. that model is too floaty. with the floats in the water it would behave better

    anyway, x-plane air simulator (a pretty realistic one generally, can be used to predict behavior of a plane of a certain construction, albeit i didn't check how faithfully they modeled this plane exactly) has a fan-made model of s.21 which you can pilot, here it is , it flies pretty well, is not hard to land and to take off if the waves are not very high but one should be careful during taxing/changing course on the water and its maximal safe speed is rather low