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Fiat G.55 Centauro (Centaur)

Kingdom of Italy (1943)
Picture of Fiat G.55 Centauro (Centaur) Fighter / Fighter-Bomber Aircraft

The inline Fiat G.55 Centauro proved a major upgrade for the preceding radial-powered Fiat G.50 Freccia.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Fiat G.55 Centauro (Centaur) Fighter / Fighter-Bomber Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 5/31/2017. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com

Undoubtedly, the Fiat G.55 Centauro (Centaur) served as Italy's best fighter design of World War 2. The type made use of a license-produced version of the excellent German Daimler-Benz DB 605A series inline engine and featured an enclosed cockpit - the latter a rarity among Italian fighter aircraft of the war. Production was delayed until 1943 but 274 total examples were ultimately produced during wartime, joined by a further 75 examples after the war. The G.55 proved an excellent fighter design, mating an advanced streamlined and aerodynamic airframe with a powerful engine to produce a robust and reliable gun platform. The G.55 was a major improvement over the radial-engined, open-air cockpit G.50 Freccia fighter series.

Fiat's Giuseppe Gabrielli
Design of the G.55 was credited to Giuseppe Gabrielli. Gabrielli served as an aeronautics engineer within Fiat and had already garnered valuable experience in the field, including design of the preceding G.50. Gabrielli would gone on to complete some 142 total aircraft designs during his stellar career including that of the first Italian jet fighter - the Aeritalia G.91 - and the impressive G.222 universal military transport aircraft.

The G.55
Gabriell's G.55 design was a combination of smooth lines and aerodynamic refinement. Selection of the German Daimler-Benz inline only benefitted the type and immediately made her the best fighter mount Italy could field. Prior to the war, Italian pilots generally preferred their fighters with open-air cockpits for the excellent visibility and freedom but high-altitude and high-speed flight necessitated an enclosed canopy - something these "romantic" Italian airmen would have to accept moving forward. Her design was such that care was given to support speedy production methods meant to get as many G.55s into Italian fighter groups as quickly as possible. Three prototypes were eventually constructed with the first of these (both the first and second were unarmed) becoming airborne on April 30th, 1942. The third prototype served as the invaluable gun test platform. Even while the prototypes were under evaluation in operational settings, the Italian government had already contracted the type for full-scale production.
In practice, the G.55 proved a strong airframe, able to withstand a good deal of punishment and get her airmen back home. Visibility was noted as excellent thanks to the raised cockpit and spacious canopy while her engine made her a stellar performer when pitted against her Allied contemporaries. Handling was reportedly excellent as well and made for a superior dogfighting platform to the extent that Italian pilots (and Luftwaffe pilots for that matter) greatly respected the G.55. Armament was equally impressive and formed from a collection of powerful cannons and machine guns.


The G.55 saw first combat in March of 1943 and were used in the defense of Rome itself with the 353 Squadriglia. In September of 1943, Italy officially capitulated to the advancing Allies with only 16 examples of the pre-production G.55/0's and 15 examples of the production-level G.55/1's having been completed. Despite Italy's surrender, factories still under Fascist control continued production that ultimately resulted in 274 total Centauros - many of these now being delivered to relocated Italian forces in the north. The National Republican Air Force (ANR) was set up in Fascist-held Northern Italy under Italian dictator Benito Mussolini after 1943 to continue Italy's war against the Allies. Despite their presence along this front, the G.55s in service suffered heavily from the regular Allied strikes - many G.55s being lost while on the ground. The G.55s still under fascist control were fielded by the Squadriglia "Montefusco" out of Venezia Reale. Three further G.55s squadriglias formed the 2 Gruppo Caccia Terrestre. The German Luftwaffe thought highly enough of the G.55 to field it within its own ranks from 1944 to 1945. In capable German hands, the G.55 was more than a match for even the best of the Allied fighters.

While the war still raging on in early 1944, Fiat fitted a pair of G.55 prototypes with Daimler-Benz DB 603A series engines under the new designation of "G.56". The airframe was only slightly revised and the fuselage machine guns were dropped to save weight and allow for more internal space. Despite improved performance for this new aircraft, it was not put into quantitative production due mainly to shortages involving the availability of the DB 603 series engines at this point in the war. One of the two G.56s survived the war and was used as an evaluation test bed by Fiat.

In post-war Europe, the G.55 continued a limited existence. Fiat reclaimed about 30 unfinished G.55s and delivered them to the rebuilding Regia Aeronautica as well as the Argentine Air Force. Argentina eventually passed on some of their used G.55As to Egypt in 1948. These were ultimately used against the Israelis in the 1948 "War of Independence", seeing combat against Israeli Air Force Avia 199 fighters.

G.55 Walk-Around
Design of the Fiat G.55 was one of the most pleasant of all the fighter aircraft involved in World War 2. The type sported clean lines and a smooth contour that were generally absent from preceding Italian fighter designs during the war. The engine was set within its compartment well forward of the design, spinning a three-bladed propeller system. G.55 construction was of all-metal. The rounded low-wing monoplane wings were situated forward of amidships, ahead of the cockpit. The cockpit was more or less centered along the oval fuselage with a raised two-piece canopy offering good vision despite its framing. Views were excellent along the sides and forward but hampered somewhat by the G.55s long nose and raised fuselage spine. The fuselage tapered off into the empennage which sported a single rounded vertical tail fin. Stabilizers were equally rounded and fitted at each side of the empennage, mounted slightly higher than the main wings. The undercarriage was wholly retractable and consisted of two single-wheeled main landing gear legs and a tail wheel under the empennage.

G.55 Armament
Armament varied slightly between the G.55 pre-production and production models. The G.55/0 sported a single Mauser 20mm MG 151/20 series cannon firing through the propeller hub. The cannon was afforded 250 rounds of ammunition. This was complimented by no fewer than four 12.7mm (0.50 caliber) Breda-SAFAT machine guns. Two were affixed to the upper engine cowling and two were fitted into the lower cowling near the wing roots. The machine guns were afforded 300 rounds of ammunition per individual gun.

G.55/1 armament was more impressive, made up of three 20mm Mauser MG 151/20 series cannons and 2 x 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns. One cannon fired through the propeller hub as in the G.55/0 with the remaining pair set in the wings. Each cannon was afforded 200 rounds of ammunition. The two machine guns were fitted to the upper engine cowling and given 300 rounds per gun. Additionally, the G.55/I was rigged to carry up to 2 x 353lb bombs or fuel drop tanks for increased range.

Power and Performance
Power for the production-level G.55/1 was derived from a single Fiat RA-1050-RC-58 "Tifone" series engine. This powerplant was a hanging, liquid-cooled, inverted V12 inline engine that was nothing more than a license-produced version of the German Daimler-Benz DB 605A-1 series engine under the Fiat branding. Horsepower output was listed at an impressive 1,475.

Performance - coupled with the excellent airframe design - netted the G.55 a top speed of about 390 miles per hour. She could gallop up to 41,000 feet and cover some 745 miles of airspace on internal fuel - more with external fuel tanks in place underwing.

Operators
Operators beyond Italy, Egypt and Argentina included the Syrian Air Force.






Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 400mph
Lo: 200mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (387mph).

    Graph average of 300 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
NYC
 
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LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
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  LAX
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  NYC
Graph showcases the Fiat G.55/1's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
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Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units
349
349


  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.


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Origin: Kingdom of Italy
Year: 1943
Type: Fighter / Fighter-Bomber Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Fiat - Italy
Production: 349
Global Operators:
Argentina; Egypt; Kingdom of Italy; Syria
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Fiat G.55/1 model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.

Operational
CREW


Personnel
1


Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
31.92 ft


Meters
9.73 m


Dimension
WIDTH


Feet
38.88 ft


Meters
11.85 m


Dimension
HEIGHT


Feet
10.27 ft


Meters
3.13 m


Weight
EMPTY


Pounds
5,798 lb


Kilograms
2,630 kg


Weight
LOADED


Pounds
8,197 lb


Kilograms
3,718 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
1 x Fiat RA-1050-RC-58 Tifone hanging, liquid-cooled, inverted V12 inline engine delivering 1,475 horsepower.

Performance
SPEED


Miles-per-Hour
387 mph


Kilometers-per-Hour
623 kph


Knots
336 kts


Performance
RANGE


Miles
746 mi


Kilometers
1,200 km


Nautical Miles
648 nm


Performance
CEILING


Feet
41,831 ft


Meters
12,750 m


Miles
7.92 mi

Supported Weapon Systems:

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft heavy machine gun
Graphical image of an aircrat automatic cannon
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Armament - Hardpoints (2):

G.55/0
1 x 20mm Mauser MG 151/20 cannon firing through the propeller hub.
2 x 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns in upper engine cowling.
2 x 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns in wing roots.

G.55/1:
1 x 20mm Mauser MG 151/20 cannon firing through the propeller hub.
2 x 20mm Mauser MG 151/20 cannons in wings
2 x 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns in upper engine cowling.

OPTIONAL (G.55/1): 2 x 353lb bombs or droptanks.
Variants: Series Model Variants
• G.55/0 - Pre-Production Designation
• G.55/1 - Base Production Designation
• G.56 - G.55 fitted with Daimler-Benz DB 603A engine for improved performance; two prototype examples completed; never produced due to shortage of engines.
• G.55A - Post-War Production for Regia Aeronautica and Argentine Air Force.
• G.55BM - Fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin engine; prototype of 1948.
• G.55AM - G.55 airframes rebuilt to Merlin standard as fighter-trainers.
• G.59 - Merlin-engined forms serving Italy and Syria; single-seat and twin-seat forms produced.