Macchi C.202 Folgore (Thunderbolt) Fighter Aircraft
The Macchi C.202 Folgore proved an outstanding fighter design, lacking only proper armament to contend with the new breed of enemy fighters and bombers.
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The Macchi C.202 Folgore ("Thunderbolt") served as one of the top Italian-designed fighters during the critical middle years of World War 2. The C.202 series, powered by an inline engine, was a further Macchi development of the radial-engined C.200 Saetta monoplane fighter. The C.202 was instantly improved by way of a license-produced version of the German Daimler-Benz DB 601 series engine with Alfa Romeo handling local Italian production as the RA-1000-RC-411. Alongside the Fiat G.55 "Centauro", the Macchi C.202 "Folgore" proved one of the best Italian fighter designs of the war.
The original Macchi C.200 "Saetta" fighter series developed by Macchi engineer Mario Castoldi suffered from an underpowered radial engine, hampering performance and still using an open-air cockpit from a bygone era of flight. As such, Castoldi took to improving his design as early as 1938 while production deliveries began in 1939. However, it would not be until 1940 that a better powerplant became available - the German Daimler-Benz DB 601 A-1 series inline engine - and this was fitted to a base C.200 Saetta body with some modifications to the airframe. The cockpit was now enclosed and the fuselage refined over that of the original model. The wings, undercarriage and tail section were all retained from the original C.200 design. Resulting evaluations shown the new design to be quite promising with excellent performance to boot - proving Castoldi's original design sound just lacking in a suitable powerplant. First flight of the prototype was recorded on August 10th, 1940 and subsequent testing ensued. The new model was shaped under the new designation of C.202 "Folgore" and the Italian government quickly ordered the type into production using an Italian license-built version of the German engine (importing the German engine was a difficult proposition under the ongoing Allied bombing campaign). To facilitate production efforts, both the C.200 and the C.202 were produced side-by-side in Italian factories - the C.202 essentially the direct successor to the C.200.
The first production batch of C.202s entered active service with the Italian Air Force in the summer of 1941, serving with the 1st Stormo at Udine. This group moved with their C.202s to operations over Malta out of bases in Sicily November. First combat action for the C.202 occurred in North Africa, also in November. Operational forces ultimately included Italian squadrons based in the Aegean, Italy proper and Russia along the Eastern Front in Russia. The type would soldier on in the post-war world up until 1951.
While the C.200 was underpowered, the C.202 - in its originally fielded production form - itself suffered from being under-armed when compared to her fighter contemporaries. As such, an additional pair of heavy machine guns were later added to the wings (one to each wing) to compliment the pair housed in the upper engine cowling. Additional measures were taken to improve the Folgore's hitting power at later dates including the fitting of underwing machine gun gondolas. Underwing hardpoints were introduced to allow the carrying of bombs or fuel drop tanks.
Folgore Production Marks
Major marks in the C.202 series included the original C.202-designated production models, the C.202AS for tropicalized operations in North Africa, the C.202CB fighter-bomber with underwing hardpoints, the C.202EC with added cannon armament, the C.202RF modified reconnaissance model, the C.202D prototype with new redesigned radiator, the C.202 AR.4 radio-controlled drone and the C.202bis engine test platform. Production continued until Italy's capitulation in September of 1943.
When in action, the C.202 Folgore reportedly matched up well performance-wise against top-flight performer such as the Supermarine Spitfire Mark V. Where her guns failed her, Folgores could make do with equalized performance from their airframes. Her lack of potent armament always remained a sticking point, proving hardly enough "punch" to bring down enemy fighters let alone marauding Allied bombers.
Like other top Italian fighter mounts of the war - especially those depending on German-based engines for their aerial successes - the Folgore suffered from a shortage of powerplants throughout her tenure, severely holding back quantitative production of this fine system. As such, the C.202 was never grown into any potent numbers during the war, production hitting a ceiling of about 1,200 machines. Most were produced by Breda while Macchi delivered just 392 systems by war's end.