Fiat CR.42

The Fiat CR.42 Falco ("Falcon", plural:Falchi) was a single-seat sesquiplane fighter that served primarily in Italy's Regia Aeronautica before and during World War II. The aircraft was produced by Fiat Aviazione, and entered service, in smaller numbers, with the air forces of Belgium, Sweden and Hungary. With more than 1,800 built, it was the most widely produced Italian aircraft to take part in World War II. The Fiat CR.42 was the last of the Fiat biplane fighters to enter front line service, and represented the epitome of the type, along with the Gloster Gladiator

RAF Intelligence praised its exceptional manoeuvrability, further noting that "the plane was immensely strong", though it stood little chance against faster, more heavily armed monoplanes. It performed at its best with the Hungarian Air Force on the Eastern Front, where it had a kill to loss ratio of 12 to 1.

Fiat CR.42
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Fiat Aviazione
Production Period 1939 - 1943
Origin Italy
Country Name Origin Year
Italy 1938
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Italy 1939 1948 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Fiat Aviazione 1939 1943 1819 View

The CR.42 was an evolutionary design based on the earlier Fiat CR.32, which was in turn derived from the Fiat CR.30 series created in 1932. The Regia Aeronautica had employed the CR.32 during the Spanish Civil War with great success, which led to Fiat proposing a more advanced fighter based around the supercharged Fiat A.74R1C.38 air-cooled radial engine geared to drive a metal three-blade Fiat-Hamilton Standard 3D.41-1 propeller of 2.9 metres (9 ft 6 in) diameter and a robust, clean, sesquiplane design. The rigidly braced wings covered with fabric were constructed from light duralumin alloy and steel. It reached a top speed of 438 km/h (272 mph) at 5,300 m (17,400 ft) and 342 km/h (213 mph) at ground level. Climb rate was 1 minute and 25 seconds to 1,000 m (3,280 ft) and of 7 minutes and 20 seconds to 6,000 m (19,700 ft).

In spite of the biplane configuration, the CR.42 was a modern, "sleek-looking" design based around a strong steel and alloy frame incorporating a NACA cowling housing the radial engine, with fairings for the fixed main landing gear. The CR.42's upper wing was larger than its lower wing, a configuration known as a sesquiplane. The aircraft proved exceptionally agile thanks to its very low wing loading, although at the same time, the CR.42 lacked armour and radio equipment.

During evaluation, the CR.42 was tested against the Caproni Ca.165 biplane fighter, and was judged to be superior, although the Ca.165 was a more modern design which boasted a higher speed at the cost of maneuverability. Although the age of the biplane was coming to an end a number of other air forces expressed interest in the new fighter, and a number of early Falcos were delivered to foreign customers.

Soon after its combat introduction, Fiat developed a number of variants. The CR.42bis and CR.42ter had increased firepower, the CR.42N was a night fighter, the CR.42AS was optimised for ground attack, and the CR.42B Biposto was a two-seat trainer.

The Biposto was the most extensively modified, with a longer fuselage allowing a second seat to be placed in tandem. About 40 aircraft were produced by Agusta and Caproni Trento. Its length was increased by 68 centimeters over the standard fighter, to a total of to 8.94 m; the height was 23 centimeters less. Empty weight was only 40 kilograms (88 lb) more, as the wheel fairings had been removed. Overall weight was 2,300 kg. Top speed was 430 km/h at 5,300 meters, only 8 km/h less. Up to 1945, two machine guns were fitted.

Experimental configurations included the I.CR.42 (Idrovolante= seaplane) and the CR.42DB. Beginning in 1938, Fiat had worked on the I.CR.42, then gave the task to complete the project to CMASA factory in Marina di Pisa on the Tirreno sea coast. The only prototype was built in 1940. Tests started at the beginning of 1941, at the Vigna di Valle base, on Lake Bracciano, north of Rome. Top speed was 423 km/h, range was 950 km while ceiling was reduced to 9,000 m. Empty weight went from 1,720 to 1,850 kilograms (3,790 to 4,080 lb), full weight from 2,295 to 2,425 kilograms (5,060 to 5,346 lb).

The CR.42DB was an attempt to improve the type's performance by installing a Daimler-Benz DB 601 V12 engine of 753 kW (1,010 hp). This prototype, MM 469), was flown by test pilot Valentino Cus in March 1941, over Guidonia Montecelio, near Rome. This variant could reach a top speed of 518 km/h (323 mph), with a maximum ceiling of 10,600 metres (34,777 ft) and a range of 1,250 kilometres (780 mi). The project was cancelled as the biplane configuration did not offer any advantages over contemporary monoplane fighter designs. Although it never went into production, to this day the variant has the distinction of being the fastest biplane ever flown.

It is still not certain how many CR.42s were built. The most likely estimate is 1,819 in total, including the 63 (51 according to some sources) produced under Luftwaffe control and the 140 produced for export.

The Fiat CR.42 entered service in May 1939, with the 53° Stormo, based at Turin Caselle Airport. By the time Italy entered World War II on 10 June 1940, about 300 aircraft had been delivered. The Falchi defended airfields, cities, and Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) bases until the Italian armistice with the Allies of 8 September 1943. The Falchi also fought against the British Gloster Gladiator over Malta, and later against the British Hawker Hurricane, sometimes with unexpected success. The manoeuvrability of the Falchi concerned the British. "A RAF Intelligence report in late October 1940 circulated to all pilots and their squadrons, with copies to Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and the War Cabinet, declared: 'The manoeuvrability of the CR.42s, in particular their capacity to execute an extremely tight half roll, has caused considerable surprise to other pilots and undoubtedly saved many Italian fighters from destruction.'"

When production was stopped in 1942, a total of 1,784 CR.42s had been built. By 8 September 1943, when Italy surrendered to the Allies, only around 60 of the aircraft were in flying condition.

Role Fighter
National origin Italy
Manufacturer Fiat Aviazione
Designer Celestino Rosatelli
First flight 23 May 1938
Introduction 1939
Retired 1948 Spanish Air Force
Primary users Regia Aeronautica
Spanish Air Force
Produced c. February 1939 - Late 1943
Number built 1,817-1,819
Developed from Fiat CR.32

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 8.25 m (27 ft 1 in)
  • Wingspan:
  • Top wing: 9.70 m (31 ft 10 in)
  • Bottom wing: 6.50 m (21 ft 4 in))
  • Height: 3.585 m (10 ft)
  • Wing area: 22.4 m² (241.0 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 1,782 kg (3,929 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 2,295 kg (5,060 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Fiat A.74 RC38 radial air-cooled, fourteen cylinders radial engine, 627 kW (840 hp at 2,400 r.p.m./12,500 ft)


  • Maximum speed: 441 km/h (238 kn, 274 mph) at 20,000 ft
  • Cruise speed: 399 km/h (215 kn, 248 mph)
  • Range: 780 km (420 nmi, 485 mi)
  • Service ceiling: 10,210 m (33,500 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 11.8 m/s (2,340 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 102 kg/m² (21 lb/ft²)
  • Power/mass: 270 W/kg (0.17 hp/lb)


  • Guns: First series : Breda SAFAT 7.7 mm (0.303 in)
    Later 2 × 12.7 mm (0.5 in) Breda SAFAT machine guns, 400 rpg.
    2 × 12.7 mm (.5 in) machine-guns in underwing fairing on some.
  • Bombs: 200 kg (440 lb) on 2 × wing hardpoints

End notes