The Breda Ba.88 was designed to fulfill a 1936 requirement by the Regia Aeronautica for a heavy fighter bomber capable of a maximum speed of 530 km/h (329 mph)(more than that of any other aircraft existing or being planned at the time,), armament of 20 mm cannons and range of 2,000 km (1,240 mi). It first flew in October 1936. The project was derived from the aborted Ba.75 also designed by Giuseppe Panzeri and Antonio Parano.
The Ba.88 was an all-metal, twin-engine, two-crew, high-speed monoplane, with a high-mounted wing. It employed a "concentric" fuselage design, with a framework of steel tubes and a metallic skin covering which was both streamlined (having a very small fuselage cross-section) and strong. However, this internal load-bearing structure was very complex and of outdated design, as monocoque designs were starting to be developed elsewhere. The internal struts resulted in excessive weight compounded by manufacturing delays. The narrow confines of the fuselage would require the Ba.88 to carry bombs in a semi-external structure, much to the detriment of the aircraft's aerodynamics. The all-metal wings had two longerons, and housed the engine nacelles, undercarriage main elements, and the majority of the 12 self-sealing fuel tanks (the only protective armour in the aircraft), providing a 1,586 L (419 US gal) total capacity. All three undercarriage units were retractable, which was unusual for the time.
The aircraft was powered by two Piaggio P.XI air-cooled radial engines. They were of the same type as used in other projects such as the Re.2000, and drove two three-blade, continuous-speed 3.2 m (10.4 ft) diameter Breda propellers. The engine nacelles also carried the two main undercarriage units. It had a twin tail to provide the dorsal 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Breda-SAFAT machine gun with a better field of fire.
As for armament, the aircraft had three nose-mounted 12.7 mm (0.5 in) Breda machine guns with 400, 450 and 400 rounds respectively. Another Breda (7.7 mm/0.303 in caliber, with 250-500 rounds) with a high arc of fire, was fitted in the rear cockpit and controlled by a complex motorised electrical system. A modern "San Giorgio" reflector gunsight was fitted, and there was even a provision to mount a 20 mm cannon instead of the central Breda-SAFAT machine gun in the nose. The payload was composed of three bombs of 50 kg (110 lb), 100 kg (220 lb) and 250 kg (550 lb), or a Nardi dispenser for 119 2 kg (4 lb) bomblets. All these weapons gave the Ba.88 impressive armament for its time.
The forward pilot's cockpit was fully instrumented, with an airspeed indicator capable of reading to 560 km/h (350 mph), gyroscope and an altimeter (useful to 8,000 m/26,250 ft).
Despite its structural weight liabilities, the single-tailed prototype set a speed record over a 100 km (60 mi) circuit on 3 February 1937 by reaching 518 km/h (322 mph), taking the record away from France. Another record was obtained on 10 April 1937 when it achieved 475 km/h (295 mph) over 1,000 km (620 mi). Piloted by Furio Niclot Doglio, the Ba.88 prototype had two 671 kW (900 hp) Isotta-Fraschini K 14 engines. This record speed was increased to 554 km/h (344 mph) when the modified prototype, using a double tail, was re-equipped with the definitive engines; the 746 kW (1,000 hp) Piaggio P.XI-RC40s. This time it broke German records in a 100 km (60 mi) stage at an average speed of 554.4 km/h/344.5 mph (with 1,000 kg/2,200 lb load) on 5 December 1937. Finally on 9 December 1937, another world record was set when averaging 524 km/h (326 mph) over 1,000 km (621 mi) with a 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) load.
The Ba.88 had all the design specifications to be a very effective heavy fighter-bomber. It had a slim, streamlined shape (noted by all aviation observers), a rugged structure, heavy firepower, long range and high speed, with the same horsepower of medium bombers such as the Br.20 (but at 9 tonnes/10 tons vs. 5 tonnes/6 tons). Despite its promising beginning, the addition of military equipment in the production series aircraft resulted in high wing loading and detrimental aerodynamic effects with a corresponding loss of performance, below any reasonable level. The contract was subsequently canceled, but production was later resumed, mostly for political reasons to avoid closing production lines of Breda and its satellite company IMAM.
Production numbers of the first series (production started in 1939) were 81 machines (MM 3962-4042) made by Breda, and 24 by IMAM (MM 4594-4617). The first series included eight trainers, with an elevated second pilot's seat. This was one of the few combat aircraft to have a dedicated trainer version, but it was not enough to prevent the overall failure of the programme.
The second series totalled 19 Breda (4246-4264) and 24 IMAM (MM:5486-5509) machines fitted with small engine cowling rings. There was a limited evolution in this series, with the second series mainly being sent straight to the scrapyard.