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© Michael Bykov
Fiat CR-42 from 85 Sqdr 18 Gruppo Regia Aeronautica, Belgium, an autumn at 1940.
Fiat CR.42 "Falco" ("falcon or hawk") was the last Italian biplane fighter. The prototype was flown in January 1939, and the aircraft began to arrive in May 1939.
Although aerial combat in Spain showed the advantage of monoplane fighters, many in the Italian Air Force believed that biplanes with more powerful engines would continue to hold a firm footing in fighter aircraft due to their superior maneuverability and cheap design. Not the least role was played by the fear of combat pilots to retrain for high-speed vehicles with various technical innovations, including retractable landing gear and a closed cockpit canopy. Therefore, the engineers of Fiat, who were developing a new biplane fighter under the leadership of chief designer Celestine Rosatelli, had every chance of receiving a lucrative order from the government if they were successful.
After unsuccessful attempts to modernize the Fiat CR.32, the design bureau staff created an almost new aircraft, distinguished by its graceful forms and relatively low weight. The wings of a one-and-a-half-plane of a mixed design were interconnected by two pairs of struts on each side and consisted of metal spars, ribs and linen sheathing. The metal frame of the oval fuselage was sheathed with light duralumin sheets, with the exception of the section between the cockpit and the tail, covered with a canvas. The cantilever horizontal tail and the keel were all-metal - only the rudder frames carried linen skin. Fiat A.74 R.C. radial engine 38 with a capacity of 840 hp. located under a cylindrical streamlined hood. The strut main struts of the non-retractable landing gear were also covered with profiled, and the wheels - with drop-shaped fairings. Even the tailwheel had a fairing. The fighter's armament initially consisted of one 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine gun and one 7.7 mm machine gun placed under the engine hood. However, later, two synchronized 12.7 mm machine guns were installed on all aircraft.
A prototype of the Fiat CR.42 Falco fighter first took to the air on May 23, 1938, and the following month the firm received an order for 200 production aircraft of this type. The significance of the figure is evidenced by the fact that the later signed contract for the production of MC.200 monoplane fighters included only 99 machines!
By the beginning of World War II, Italian fighter aircraft had 292 CR.32, 143 CR.42, 29 MS.200, 19 G.50 and 31 Ro.44 aircraft in the first line. Thus, the state of Reggia Aeronautics left much to be desired, since the majority of fighters were already outdated, and the rest were on the verge of obsolescence.
The main disadvantages of all these aircraft were low-power radial motors and weak armament, since the Breda-SAFAT machine guns had a low rate of fire and a low muzzle velocity. Entering the war on June 10, 1940, the Italians strengthened their air force, but the fighter units were still based on the Fiat CR.32 and CR.42 biplanes. The latter were part of the 3rd, 53rd and 54th regiments in the metropolis, the 13th group in Libya, as well as two squadrons in East Africa. In total, the listed units had about 330 Falco fighters.
"Falco" were also used to attack ground targets. To increase the aircraft's firepower, the CR.42ter was fitted with two additional 12.7 mm machine guns in the root of the lower wing. The Fiat factories switched to the production of a special fighter-bomber CR.42AS, designed for operations in the desert and equipped with a sand filter and a reinforced lower wing with suspensions for two 100-kg bombs.
In Italy, CR.42CN with flame arresters on the exhaust pipes and floodlights on external suspension served in the units of night fighters. There was also an extended-range Falco variant, the CR.42geo, capable of escorting bombers over the Mediterranean.
Fiat CR.42 fighters were also in service with the Belgian Air Force (34  aircraft delivered), Hungary (68 ) and Sweden (72 ). The Belgian Falco was almost all lost in the early days of the German offensive in the West. Two Hungarian squadrons equipped with CR.42s took part in the battles on the Eastern Front. Squadron 2/3, which made its first combat sortie on June 27, 1941, departed home in mid-July, having chalked up five shot down Soviet aircraft at the cost of two of its own. She was replaced by squadron 1/3, the most effective battle of which took place on 12 August. Six Fiats together with five Re.2000s accompanied the Sa.135 bombers in the raid on Nikolaev, and after a fight with I-16 fighters, Hungarian pilots reported eight air victories. Although the Falco was somewhat inferior to the I-16 in speed, they were superior to the Soviet aircraft in maneuverability, especially in bend battles. Until mid-November 1941, the pilots of the Fiats of squadron 1/3 made 447 sorties and reported 17 downed aircraft.
In anticipation of winter, the Falco biplanes were deployed to Hungary, as their operation in rainy and cold conditions was very difficult due to the flaking of the linen sheathing from the frame, contamination of machine guns and poor engine performance.
In total, 1784 CR.42 of all modifications were built before the beginning of 1942. CR.42AS is a modification of a fighter-bomber adapted to deliver assault strikes. CR.42N is a night fighter. In 1940, the CR.42B modification appeared - with two floats and a DB601 engine. However, this seaplane did not go into production.
Armament: CR.42 one 7.7mm Breda SAFAT machine gun and one 12.7mm Breda SAFAT machine gun mounted above the engine, synchronized with the propeller.
CR.42ter N and AS two 12.7 mm machine guns (provided for the installation of two 7.7 mm or 12.7 mm machine guns in the root of the lower wing).
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