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Forgotten Aircraft: FIAT CANSA FC 20

by Giulio Poggiaroni

The company “CANSA” was a subsidiary of FIAT and like many other companies in Italy, decided to venture into the field of aircraft manufacturing. In 1940 they built the FC 20, a reconnaissance aircraft, featuring a glass nose, a double-drift tail, and two radial engines of 840 HP each. 

The prototype registered MM.403 and made its first flight on the 12th of April 1941 taking off from the Cameri airport, where CANSA had its base. However, the aircraft did not meet the requirements set by the Italian air force (the Regia Aeronautica). In 1942, the CANSA developed the F.C. 20bis, a ground attack version carrying a 37mm gun, to be used against tanks.

The weapon, however, was not ideal for use aboard aircraft. It was one of those used by the Italian Navy (the Regia Marina) and therefore required manual loading. Besides the main cannon, there were also two 12.7 machine guns in the wings and a third in a rotating turret. Two 100kg bombs could be carried under the wings. Alternatively, 126 bombs weighing 2kg could be stored in internal compartments.

The operational career of this single aircraft is very interesting and characterized by singular circumstances. Towards the end of 1942, more and more allied bombers began targeting objectives on the Italian peninsula. To counter them, the Regia Aeronautica had a few antiquated aeroplanes. Most of the more advanced aircraft coming out of the production lines were deployed in North Africa or Sicily, leaving most of the Italian territory under the defence of less and less antiquated aircraft. 

The Italian invasion of Egypt in 19...
The Italian invasion of Egypt in 1940

The 22nd fighter group based in Capua (near Naples) was one of the units involved in the homeland defence. At the end of 1942, one of its officers, Major Corrado Ricci went to the airfield of Guidonia and noticed the prototype of the Fiat CANSA FC20 bis. The aircraft was in the airfield for carrying out flying and firing tests. Major Ricci was amazed by the 37mm gun installed on the nose. Such a weapon seemed to be promising for use against Allied bombers. Ricci consequently asked for permission to use the prototype to carry out interception missions. At the end of March 1943, he received the authorization and took charge of the aircraft.

The short-lived operational activity of this aircraft unveiled unsatisfactory characteristics of the FC 20, such as low manoeuvrability, scarce speed, instability, a tendency to auto-rotation and low engine power. Since he could not hand back the FC 20, Major Ricci tried to use it against the enemy bombers.

On one occasion, following a bomb raid alarm, the FC 20 piloted by Ricci took more than half an hour to reach 7500 meters, too much time to carry out any effective interception. On a subsequent flight, when the FC 20 was already flying at 6000 meters, Ricci run into a formation of B24 bombers. The unlucky pilot had to face the fact that the American bombers had a cruising speed superior to that of the FC 20.

At the end of March 1943, the FC 20 was brought to the Furbara airport, where Mussolini arrived for a visit, along with many Italian and German officers. In a ground shooting test, the 37mm gun jammed, causing widespread embarrassment among the crowd.

Major Ricci then returned to Capua, determined to not give up. To cope with the problems of the aircraft, he decided to wait for the enemy bombers at high altitudes, on the routes that the B24 used to take. On the 10th of April 1943, he run into twelve B24s flying at 7500m. During the attack manoeuvre, the FC20 suffered from autorotation but Ricci managed to take back control of the aircraft. He then found himself at the tail of the enemy formation, which opens fire on him. Ricci opened fire too with the 37mm gun but no hits landed on the B24s nor the FC 20. This is because the low speed of the aircraft meant that while firing with the cannon, the recoil caused the FC 20 to lose altitude, thus the shots passed below the B24s while the enemy machine gunfire passed above the FC 20. This semi-comic episode marked the end of the short-lived operational career of the Fiat CANSA FC 20.

In the meantime, the CANSA company built a small batch of FC 20 to be used in reconnaissance duties. Three aircraft reached a reconnaissance squadron in Sicily, but there are no reports on their usage and fate. One last prototype, equipped with German-built DB601 engines was also built, but the armistice of September 1943 prevented any further development.

Forgotten Aircraft: FIAT CANSA FC 20

Model Fiat CANSA FC 20
Crew 2-3
Power plant (2) Fiat A.74 840 HP Each
Maximum Speed 420 km/h at 4,500 m
Max Ceiling 7,350 m
Range 1,150 km
Length 12.18 m
Height 4.03 m
Weight Empty: 4,770 kg Max: 6,820 kg
Wing Area 40 m2
Wingspan 16 m
Armament (3) 12.7 mm Breda SAFAT machine guns

(1) 37 mm Breda cannon

 

Sources

Dimensione cielo, caccia assalto n.2. (1971). Roma: Edizioni Bizzarri.

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