jeudi 28 juin 2018

The Fiat G 50 Freccia, a modern fighter

Engineer Giuseppe Gabrielli, belonging to the Italian trust Fiat  (as Cesari Rosatelli, the designer of the Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter), begun to work in April 1935 on a monoplane low-wing fighter fitted with a retractable landing gear.

At this precise moment, a lot of military aeronautical deciders - in most of the countries - had a very good feeling about the fast and nimble Fiat CR 32.

The prototype of the new fighter - the Fiat G 50 (G for Gabrielli) - made her maiden flight in February 1937, a significantly shorter times than the one used by Mario Castoldi to design the concurrent fighter Macchi MC 200.

Her modern all metal structure displayed a clear contrast with the previous Italian Fiat fighters.

Fiat G 50 - Apart the characteristic hump, she displayed a smooth skin, an rather well streamlined engine cowling and the absence of any Karman fairing.

As for all other contenders, she used the bulky Fiat 14 cylinder radial air cooled engine A 74 RC 38 which delivered 840 Cv (diameter: 1.20 m).

The G 50 fighter had a length of 7.80 m.  

An unsightly hump was imposed by the military staff to obtain a better pilot visibility on the ground (losing about 20 kph in top speed in the air...).

The weight was 1,930 kg empty and 2,330 kg for take off (without bombs)

The wings had a span of 10.98 m and a total area of 18.25 m², allowing a wing loading of 128 kg/m².


The top speed were:
  • 400 kph at sea level,
  •  473 kph at 4,500 m (or 5,000 m, following the different sources).
The Freccia was clearly faster than her biplane stablemate Fiat CR 42 (435 kph).

However, she was 35 kph slower than the Macchi MC 200 contender.

The Fiat G 50 climbing times were:
  • 5,000 m in 6' 05", 
  • 6,000 m in 7' 30" minutes. 
The service ceiling was ~10,000 m, but differs following sources (9,700 m to 10,700 m).

Actually, such performances were goo
d, taking into account the "choice" of a radial engine and the rather low power available (870 hp).

One may find several value about the total range, which, obviously, was related to the very scarce tank (311 liters!).

The shortest value published was 445 km (En Wikipedia), but that must be balanced by a rather fast cruising speed of 415 kph (~70 % of the maximum power).

The largest range value was 670 km (equivalent to the one of the Spitfireat a slower cruising speed

Theoretically, the first value implied a combat radius of 150 km associated with a fighting time of 15 minutes.

The greater value implied a 200 km combat radius. 

Nevertheless, in September 1940, an extra fuel tank was fitted on this fighter (which became the G 50 bis. The new fighter had a total range of 1,000 km (En. Wikipedia , 1er § of the Variant I section.

Flying qualities

About the flying qualities, the picture was more complicated.

At the time of the Regia Aeronautica contest, the Freccia was judged as clearly more maneuverable than the Macchi MC 200. 

However, two lethal accidents demonstrated she was so not easy to handle by inexperienced pilots: Two pilots died while their too brutal maneuvers had induced flat spins at a too low altitude.

As in many other countries, the new fighters of the end of the 30's, which benefited from a speed increase of 25 to 30%, compared to the previous fighters their pilots were accustomed, were subject to an "abnormally" high accident ratio.

The g number for a same stick displacement was severely increased and the time needed to correct an inappropriate action was, often, not sufficient, obviously at the vicinity of the ground. 

Operational career

The Fiat G 50 were quickly send to fight in Spain were her better performances and maneuverability were praised. 

Historically, the better records of the Freccia fighter were obtained against Staline in Finland (during two wars), with 99 soviet airplanes downed at the cost of only 3 Fiat fighters: A superlative kill/loss ratio of 33/1 !

In June 1940, the fighting between France and Italy lasted only 15 days (from June 10, 1940 to June 25, 1940). 

During that period, it's impossible to find any evidence of a battle occurring between French fighters and Fiat G 50 ones.

In the literature, you may found a flight over Corsica, but this action, if it existed, had no influence on the transferring flight of several units of the French Aéronavale towards the city of Bône (known today as Annaba) in Algeria. 

Nevertheless, the Fiat G 50 were sent to Belgium in September 1940, in order to participate to the Battle of Britain as well as the Fiat Br 20 they had to escort.

This action was a complete disillusionment for the leaders of the Regia Aeronautica, because the heavy loss ratio.

Some sources suggested they used the airfield of Maldegem, in the Ost of Bruges. 

In beeline, the distance between this place and London is near from 250 km. Owing to their short range, the Freccia fighters could not be very useful after crossing the English coast line (the nearest English coast being between Dover and Ramsgate at 120 km). 

A bit to late, a new variant of the G 50 (the G 50 bis) was released, incorporating an additional 100 liters tank. 
Amazingly, these fighters, which had a really better total range (1,000 km), were not transferred to Belgium, for some unknown reason...

The Italian participation to the Battle of Britain was, overall, a gesture of solidarity from Mussolini towards Hitler.

Unfortunately, if German pilots were able to rely on their air control, the Italian ones, devoid of any radio transmitters, could not do as their partners...

Moreover, the Flemish weather was not in perfect accordance with the open cockpit wanted by the Italian pilots who could not imagine they will be later sent to Russia, even during the Winter, with an average temperature of -30°C, two years later

They were also used against Greece in October 1940, with mixed results. 

Confronted to the Hurricane, the Freccia was better in term of tight turning - even if the wing loading of the Italian fighter was larger than that of the British one - as, also, in climbing speed.

Nevertheless, these combats occurring at the beginning of the WW II (for an Italian point of view) may not be compared to those occurred one full year later. 

French of English pilots had survived confrontations with the Lutftwaffe (which used the best tactics and really excellent pilots), the best real training in the early 40's world.

That was not against the republican Spanish or soviet pilots the Italian pilots could obtain a "combat proven" tactical capability. 

Less than one year later, in 1941, they had learn the tricks of the job and became very difficult adversaries for any of their foes.

All told, two amazing criticisms

 I - For example, British writers told us some Bristol Blenheim IV escaped successfully to Freccia fighters.

What a beautiful narrative! The standard reader is induced to believe the Bristol Blenheim to be a very fast bomber, able to escape undamaged from the attack of a Freccia fighter.

Unfortunately, the maximal speed of the Blenheim Mk IV was 428 kph at 3,600 m, 45 kph slower than the Italian fighter!

Fortunately for the Italian pilots feeling, the cool weather of Flanders was a perfect protection against overheating of the engine or against any kind of sand wind, so it was clearly impossible the engines of the Italian fighters seized! 

The 45 kph speed excess of the Freccia must be translated in a gain of 750 m for each minute of pursuit! So, an Italian pilot using his G 50 fighter was able to catch up a gap of 10 km in 13 minutes and 20 seconds.

Moreover, such a computation is only based on the best horizontal speed of the Blenheim.
Nevertheless, the Freccia had a lot of other tactical advantages (huge acceleration, very tighter turns, fast altitude changes).

This narrative may be a political fake, or may be attributed only to the very bad visibility occurring very often in the region and totally unknown in Italy or in Libya. 

It's not possible to use of that to discredit this fighter. 

May be, it would have been more honest to highlight the lack of radio-transmitters which might allow a shorter pursuit time.

II - Another critic regards the armament

The same authors wrote the Italian armament was "too much inferior" to the British one.

First, expressing a critic about such a subject, one may avoid any anachronism. 

The armament of the first operational Bf 109 E1 (1939) consisted only in four MG 17. It was very efficient against the PZL 11, fitted with only 2 light machine-guns. 

Ok, three years later, in November 1942, the early P 47  had eight 0.5 cal. machines guns, but this fighter had a very stronger power plant (more than 2,000 hp) which was not reliable in 1939! 

In 1939, the Hurricane, with her eight 7.7 mm machine-guns, had some superiority against the German fighters. 

But, against the Italian fighters, which used two Breda-SAFAT 12.7 mm machine guns, things were not so easy because each of the 34 gr bullet was travelling at 765 mps. 

If the Italian heavy machine-guns had a slightly slower muzzle speed, their three time heavier bullets conserved easier their speed and trajectory owing their stronger inertia, favoring a ripple firing at a distance of 400 m. 

A very brilliant heir

Engineer Gabrielli, interested by the inline inverted Vee liquid cooled Daimler-Benz DB 601 of the Bf 109 E delivering 1,050 hp, used this engine to create the Fiat G 50 V.

The prototype first flew in August 1941. 

Even better performer than the original Freccia, her perfecting was too long to compete against the similarly powered Macchi 202 Folgore

So, Gabrielli chose to by-pass this step and developed the Fiat G 55 Centauro, with the more powerful engine Daimler-Benz DB 605 A delivering 1,475 Hp. 

Her length increased from 7.80 m to 9.37 m. 

The take off weight increased from 2,330 kg to 3,520 kg.

Fiat G 55 -  A shape rather similar to that of the French Arsenal VG 33 series, of 1939-1940

The wings had a span of 11.85 m, the total wing area was 21.11 m² (~3 m² more) so, the wing loading was 167 kg/m², a value allowing a good maneuverability while other fighters were losing this capability.

Without any water injection, the top speed was 625 km/h at 7,000 m.

The service ceiling was 12,750 m.

The climbing time to 6 000 m was 5' 50" 

             "          "    to 7 000 m was 8' 57".

The armament was a 20 mm cannon in the engine and four 12.7 mm mg. 

The maneuverability of the G 55 was excellent, especially at high altitude.

The German pilots wanted that the German plants build this aircraft...


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