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Fiat G.55 Centauro: A Formidable Fighter

by Jim H

Background on the Fiat G.55 Centauro

Some aviation experts consider the G.55 Centauro the best single seat fighter produced for the Italian air force in World War Two. The Fiat G.55 was a redesigned version of the G.50 Freccia. Differences included a DB 605 A-1 engine, an improved fineness ratio of the fuselage and a redesigned wing, built in 2 sections, bolted together at the centerline for greater efficiency. Metal stressed skin was used and the metal framed aileron was fabric covered.

The second prototype of the Fiat G.55 Centauro.

The second prototype of the Fiat G.55 Centauro.

The first prototype flew on 30 April 1942, and production started the beginning of 1943. The initial model was the G.55/0 which held a 20 mm MG 151 cannon and four 12.7 mm Breda SAFAT machine guns.

The best fighter in the Axis.

Oberst Petersen (German Test Commission, 1943)

The Regia Aeronautica ordered 2,400 Fiat G.55’s.  Prior to the armistice, only 16 G.55/0’s and 15 G.55/1’s had been delivered.  The Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI) air force, Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana, continued with the production of the aircraft following the armistice.

A rear view of the Centauro.

A rear view of the Centauro.

Variants

The “0” model was succeeded by the “1” model which held three 20 mm Mauser MG 151s and two Breda SAFAT 12.7 mm machine guns. Delivery of the G.55 to the 53rd Stormo and the 353rd Squadriglia of the 20th Gruppo just started when Italy surrendered to the Allies on 8 September 1943. Because of Italy’s surrender, the Fiat G.55 did not see combat with the Regia Aeronautica. However, RSI still had control over the factories building the G.55’s in northern Italy, and approximately 500 were ordered. The Fiat G.55 became the RSI’s standard aircraft for their air force. Shortages developed as the DB 605 A-1 engines grew scarce and only 105 to 148 G.55’s were produced by the time the Allies overran Italy

Two Fiat G55's in flight.

Two Fiat G55’s in flight.

Other models developed based on the G55 which were the G55/II with five 20 mm cannons and the G55/S Torpedo Fighter, which carried one 2,176 lb Whitehead Fiume torpedo beneath the fuselage. Both of these variations of the Fiat G.55 flew in 1944.

Production of the G.55/As and G.55/Bs resumed for foreign export following the war. Fiat reinstalled the production lines to produce the Fiat G.55A armed with either two wing-mounted 12.7 mm machine guns or two 20 mm cannon plus the two 12.7 mm machine guns in the cowling. Nineteen G.55s went to the Italian air force and 30 to Argentina. A 2-seat trainer version, the Fiat G.55B was built in 1946 with 10 going to the Italian air force and 15 to Argentina in 1948.

A pilot making preparations to fly the Fiat G55 Centauro.

A pilot making preparations to fly the Fiat G55 Centauro.

German Interests

In March 1943, a German commission evaluated the performance of the G.55.  The commission was headed by Oberst Petersen, who compared the aircraft’s performance with the  Fw 190 A-5 and a Bf 109 G-4. Following the tests, Petersen telegraphed Hermann Göring and stated the Fiat G.55 was the best fighter in the Axis.

Fighters (War Planes of the Second World War, Volume Two)

Fiat G55 Specifications

Model Fiat G.55 Centauro
Crew 1
Powerplant Fiat R.A 1050 (Licensed DB605 A1) with 1,475 hp
Maximum Speed 385 mph (620 km/h)
Max Ceiling 41,666 ft (12,700 m)
Range 720 miles (1,160 km)
Length 30 ft 10 1/2 in (9.41 m)
Height 10 ft 3 in (3.13 m)
Weight Empty: 5,798 lb (2,630 kg)
Max: 7,760 lb (3,520 kg)
Armament G.55 Series O: 1 Mauser MG 151 20 mm and 4 Breda-SAFAT 12.7 mm
G.55 Series 1: 3 Mauser MG 151 20 mm,, 2 Breda-SAFAT 12.7 mm

Article by Adam Savery

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