Fiat CR.42 Falco
The C.R.42 Falco (Falcon), designed by Celestino Rosatelli, was the last in the family, begun in 1923 with the C.R.20 and 30 series and followed by the C.R.33, 40 and 41 prototypes, to become one of these successes. It had the distinction of being the last fighter biplane manufactured by any of World War Two's combatants. It was an unequal-span biplane, with an oval-section fuselage. Employing the same Warren truss system of interplane struts as the 1933 CR.32, from which it was developed, Celestino Rosatelli's CR.42 was powered by a 626kW Fiat A74 R1C 38 radial and had a top speed of 441km/h. The fixed two-leg undercarriage was fitted with oleo-pneumatic shock-absorbers and enclosed in streamlined fairings. The tailwheel was retractable on the prototype, but fixed on production aircraft. The CR42 first flew on May 23,1938 and, powered by an 840-hp Fiat A74R.IC. 38 two-row radial engine, the prototype proved to be highly manoeuvrable, with a rapid rate of climb and a maximum speed of 441 km/h (274 mph).
It was put into production the same year deliveries to the Regia Aeronautica commenced in April 1939, and when Italy entered the war on June 10, 1940, a total of some 330 were in front-line service with Stormi or Gruppi of the Regia Aeronautica in Italy and in North and East Africa. Armament comprised one 7.7-mm (0.303-in) and one 12.7-mm (0.54in) Breda-SAFAT machine-gun, which both fired through the disc of the Fiat 3D41 propeller, and a rounds counter was fitted in the instrument panel. On later production models, the 7.7-mm (0.303-in) gun was replaced by another of 12.7-mm (0.5-in) calibre. For some inexplicable reason, radio equipment was not installed.
Italian C.R.42s drew their first blood on June 13, 1940, attacking air bases at Fayence and Hyeres in southern France; they also escorted Fiat B.R.20s on bombing missions over Toulon harbour during the battle for France. They met opposition from French Dewoitine D 520s and Bloch 152s, but losses were minimal and during the remainder of the campaign they were also used on escort duties with S.M.79 bombers over the Mediterranean and North Africa.
On the strength of the achievement in this theatre, the Italian government decided on a closer collaboration with the Luftwaffe, and created the Corpo Aereo Italiano (Italian Air Corps) to assist mainly in the Battle of Britain. Fifty C.R.42s and 48 Fiat G.50s, together with other Italian fighter, bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, formed the contingent. They were sent to Ursel and Maldeghem in Belgium. Unfortunately, the speedier German Bf 109s found it a hard task to keep formation with the biplanes, and the latter's lack of radio also hampered activities. Nevertheless, it was decided to send the Falcos into combat against Hurricanes and Spitfires. Their first raid was on Harwich on November 11, 1940. They also participated in action off the Kent coast a few days later, and substantial victory claims were made by the Italians, although RAF records give a different picture. Their inefficiency against superior aircraft, together with the Italian need for more air power in the Mediterranean, instigated the return of the Falcos to Italy in January 1941.
Falcos served extensively in Libya during 1940-41 and were used for attacks on Malta in the same period, as well as acting as escorts to bombers attacking Allied shipping in the Mediterranean. In October 1940, when Greece entered the war, the three squadrons of C.R.42s (together with other Italian aircraft) sent to the area showed marked superiority over the somewhat motley Greek air arm, which was soon defeated. Falco fighter units then combined with Luftwaffe forces to take the island of Crete, and remained in the Aegean theatre until they were replaced by Fiat G.50s in November 1941. After the Italian conquest of Ethiopia, bases there had, initially, little or no trouble in getting new C.R.42s or spares. However, after June 1941, increased Allied activity in North Africa, bad weather conditions and lack of radio equipment in the aircraft, all took their toll. By November 1941, all Falcos from the region had been either evacuated or destroyed.
In the early stages of the desert campaigns in North Africa, during mid-1940 to 1941, C.R.42s were used extensively as fighters, until the advent of more advanced opposition in the form of Hurricanes and Tomahawks. They could not hope to compete against such types and were put to use in the ground attack role. Although improvements and modifications had been made to the original design - the C.R.42bis had two additional 12.7-mm (0.5in) guns in underwing fairings (ordered by Sweden as the J 11). Parts of North Africa still covered by the ubiquitous little biplanes included Cyrenaica, where they were fitted with underwing racks for two 100-kg (220-lb) bombs - the C.R.42AS (Africa-Settentrionale: North Africa) was fitted with a special oil and air sand filter to cope with desert conditions, and a few were armed with two 20-mm (0.79-in) cannon under the lower wings.
As fighter-bombers, Falcos also participated in raids around Tobruk, Alexandria and Mersa Matruh and in the siege of Tripoli. Surviving aircraft from this last battle (some 82 Falcos) went back to Italy and were used in attacks on Allied convoys in the Mediterreanean. They were phased out of this duty in favour of more modern types. In October 1941, a C.R.42CN night fighter unit was formed in Sicily and, although it did not see a great deal of active service there, it was reasonably effective later, in 1942-43, against RAF bombers over the industrial areas of northern Italy.
When used for night attacks, the C.R.42CN (Caccia Notturna) limited night-fighter conversion was equipped with radio and was also fitted with twin underwing searchlights and exhaust flame dampers.
One Falco, designated C.R.42B, had a 1010-hp Daimler-Benz DB 601 inverted-V-type engine installed, with which it was hoped the aircraft would achieve a speed of 520 km/h (323 mph), but this did not leave the experimental stage. Neither did the CMASA-built IC.R.42 (I = Idrovolante: seaplane), which was fitted with twin floats and was much heavier than the landplane, though speed loss from the increased weight was negligible.
After the Italian Armistice, 2,000 examples of the slightly modified CR.42LW were ordered from Aeronautica d'Italia (based in Northern Italy) for the Luftwaffe. Intended for nocturnal attack missions, the CR.42LW served with the Nachtschlactgruppen, the Luftwaffe receiving 112 of some 150 completed. These aircraft were used by the Luftwaffe during 1943-44, being flown against the Allies from bases in Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia. The last operations flown by CR.42s took place in May 1945.
Experimental versions included the CR.42DB, which was tested in prototype form with a 753-kW (1,010-hp) Daimler-Benz DB 601A engine for a speed of 323 mph, and the ICR.42 (alias CR.42 Idro) twin-float fighter.
Production totalled at least 1,780, and variants included the initial CR.42 Falco (falcon) with one 12.7-mm (0.5-in) and one 7.7-mm (0.303-in) machine-guns for Belgian, Hungarian and Italian orders, and the CR.42ter version of the CR.42bis with two additional 12.7-mm (0.5-in) machine-guns.
In 1939, 34 were ordered by the Belgian air force; delivered from January 1940 (although in the event received only 25). Fifty-two were exported to Hungary, appearing on the Eastern Front from mid-1941; and in 1940-41 the Swedish air force took delivery of 72 aircraft. Desig-nated J11, they remained in service until 1945, after which a few remained in civil use.
Production of the type ceased in late 1942 when a total of 1781 had been built. Only 113 remained when the Italians surrendered in September 1943, of which 64 were still ser-viceable. Most of these were seized by the Luftwaffe or employed with the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, based at Salo, northern Italy; but a few escaped to join the Italian co-belligerent air force that fought on the Allied side, and continued with that Italian air arm until 1945, when they were finally declared obsolete. Some still remained, as modified two-seat trainers, until as late as 1950.
FIAT CR 42 Falco
Length : 27 ft 2 in / 8.27 m
Height: 11 ft 9 in / 3.59 m
Wingspan : 31 ft 10 in / 9.7 m
Wing area : 241.114 sq.ft / 22.4 sq.m
Max take off weight : 5060.5 lb / 2295.0 kg
Weight empty : 3929.3 lb / 1782.0 kg
Max. speed : 227 kts / 420 km/h
Service ceiling : 33465 ft / 10200 m
Wing load : 20.91 lb/sq.ft / 102.0 kg/sq.m
Range : 418 nm / 775 km
Engine : Fiat A. 74 R1C.38, 828 hp / 626kW
Crew : 1
Armament : 2x MG 12,7mm Breda-SAFAT
Engine: Fiat A.74 R1C.38, 840 hp.
Prop: three-bladed wooden.
Span: 31ft 10in.
Length: 27ft 1.5in.
Height: 11ft 9.25in.
Wing area: 241.12sq.ft.
Empty wt: 3,790 lb.
Loaded wt: 5,070 lb.
Max speed: 267 mph.
Service ceiling: 34,450ft.
Initial climb: 2,400ft/min.
Armament: 3 x 12.7mm and one 7.7mm machine-gun
Engine: l x Fiat A.74 RC 38, 626kW (840 hp).
Span: 9.70m (31 ft 9.75in)
Length: 8.26m (27 ft 1 in)
Armament: 2 x 12.7-mm (0.5-in) mg plus 200 kg (441 lb) bombs
Normal T/O weight: 2295 kg (5,060 lb).
Max speed: 280 mph at 17,485ft.
Operational range: 480 miles.
Engine: Daimler-Benz DB 601, 753-kW (1,010-hp).
Max speed: 323 mph.
Armament: 2 x 12.7-mm (0.5-in) mg.
Armament: 4 x 12.7-mm (0.5-in) mg.