The Fiat CR.1 appeared during the 1920s and featured an inverted sesquiplane wing design in which the lower span was given a wider span than the upper unit.
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Credit: Image from the Public Domain.
The biplane fighter proved its worth in the fighting of World War 1 (1914-1918) as a stable gunnery and bomb-delivery platform. This wing arrangement continued to be the standard design choice for those aircraft emerging during the "Inter-war" years - it provided the necessary lift strength still lacking in monoplane forms. Fiat Aviazone, the concern that would go on to produce some of the more notable Italian fighters of World War 2 (1939-1945), managed its first fighter as a biplane during this period - the "CR.1".
Work began in 1923 in an effort to sell the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) on a new, all-modern, high-performance fighter. The result was a fighter aircraft seating one and powered by a sole engine installation at the nose. By and large, the system was quite conventional for the period save for a few unique elements - it utilized an "inverted" sesquiplane biplane wing arrangement in which the lower element showcased a wider span than the upper element. Typically the two wings were of either equal-span or the upper unit was given greater span. The aircraft relied on a Warren-truss rigid wing bracing network with angled parallel struts while construction was largely of fabric-over-wood.
As with biplanes before it, the Fiat design held its single pilot in an open-air cockpit under and below the upper wing element so all-around views out-of-the-cockpit were limited. The engine drove a two-bladed wooden propeller (fixed pitch) and the static wheeled undercarriage was affixed to the airframe via struts. Standard armament became 2 x 7.7mm British Vickers machine guns in fixed, forward-firing mounts over the nose and synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades. Power was from an Isotta-Fraschini Asso V8 engine developing 320 horsepower to which maximum listed speed became 168 miles per hour. Operational ranges were out to 405 miles and the reported service ceiling reached 24,440 feet.
Two prototypes were ordered by the Air Force from Fiat and these became "MM.1" and "MM.2". They were largely copies of one another save for a change to the rudder unit and the model of Hispano-Suiza engine fitted. The evaluation phase allowed the Fiat product to showcase its considerable handling, maneuverability, and straight-line speed to the point that Air Force officials were suitably impressed. The aircraft won out over a competing design from SIAI (the model S.52).
The prototype was finalized into the "CR.1" (carrying the initials of engineer Celestino Rosatelli / Casia Rosatlli) and this differed by using a smaller-area wing structure along with a new engine cowling fitting a revised radiator unit. An initial order of 100 aircraft were charged to the Fiat factory and these were produced from 1924 to 1925. In 1925, SIAI contributed 100 more aircraft and, from 1925 to 1926, forty more examples followed from Meridionali (OFM of Napoli) for a grand total of 240.
The initial Italian squadron to equip with the type was 1st Fighter Group and a dozen total squadrons were eventually arranged to field the new fighter by the middle of the decade. Latvia became the only foreign customer of the product while Belgium and Poland were interested enough in it to hold formal evaluations (neither would adopt it). Latvia ordered nine aircraft for service with its Air Force and Navy and these carried Hispano-Suiza HS8N8 series engines of 300 horsepower. The fleet would serve until 1936.
By the 1930s, the Italian models themselves were re-engined with Isotta-Fraschini Asso engines of 440 horsepower. The end of the line for the series arrived in 1937, just prior to the Italian commitment to World War 2 (1939-1945).
Beyond the standard fighter versions listed, the CR.1 appeared in several "one-off" prototypes. The CR.2 trialled the British Armstrong Siddeley "Lynx" radial engine while the CR.5 was fitted with the Alfa Romeo "Jupiter" radial and Lamblin radiator set. The CR.10 carried a Fiat A.20 V12 water-cooled unit of 410 horsepower with Lamblin radiator set. The CR.10 "Idro" was a converted floatplane form of the CR.10.
The CR.20 became a related, modernized version of the CR.1, completed with all-metal construction but retaining a biplane wing arrangement. The wings were now of typical sesquiplane arrangement with the upper assembly of wider span than the lower. The CR.20 of 1926 marked a considerable improvement over the line of 1924 and saw better export numbers with a larger stable of global operators.
[ 240 Units ] : Fiat - Italy
Kingdom of Italy; Latvia
20.51 ft (6.25 m)
29.36 ft (8.95 m)
7.87 ft (2.4 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Fiat Cr.1 production model)
1,852 lb (840 kg)
2,546 lb (1,155 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Fiat Cr.1 production model)
1 x Isotta-Fraschini Asso V8 engine developing 320 horsepower.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Fiat Cr.1 production model)
168 mph (270 kph; 146 kts)
24,442 feet (7,450 m; 4.63 miles)
404 miles (650 km; 351 nm)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Fiat Cr.1 production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
2 x 7.7mm machine guns in fixed, forward-firing mounts.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Fiat Cr.1 production model)
CR.1 - Base Series Designation; initial production model
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