Special Hobby 1/48 FIAT G.55A
Centauro (Centaur)
by Vince Tassone

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There were about 30 of these aeroplanes in service in the Italian Air Force at the time of the 1943 armistice. There were 150 in the fighter units of the ANR after that date, and they remained in service until the end of hostilities in 1945. This was the operational career of the Fiat G.55, one of the finest Italian combat aeroplanes of the war. The aeroplane was the result of the last desperate production effort of the Italian aviation industry during the war. It was powerful, fast, and sturdy, an unbeatable interceptor at high altitude. In dog fights carried out in the north during the last year of the war, the G.55 was pitted against the best British and American aeroplanes of the time, such as Spitfires, Mustangs, Thunderbolts, and Lightnings, and proved to be no easy adversary.

The Fiat G.55 appeared at the same time as the other two 'Series 5' fighters, the Macchi MC.205 and the Reggiane Re 2005. Comparative tests were made, but it was hard to choose between such well-matched aircraft however the G.55 was judged to be the best over-all, but the ministerial decision was not impartial. Instead of concentrating production on one of these aeroplanes, it was decided to build all three. Thus 250 Macchi MC.205s were ordered, along with 600 Fiat G.55s and 750 Caproni-Reggiane Re 2005s. It should be pointed out that although the British had one competitive aircraft of this type in early 1943, namely the Spitfire, the Italians had produced three outstanding designs, equal and arguably superior to the Spitfire in most aspects. And it should also be pointed out that the Supermarine designs (Spitfire) were inspired by the Macchi Schneider Trophy Racer M.39, indeed the lines are undeniable.

The Fiat was a good deal faster than the Macchi MC.205 above 23,000 ft (7,010 m). It was more modern, and more powerfully armed, but it was slower and less manoeuvrable than the Re 2005, although it was much sturdier. The Fiat G.55 was an all metal single-seat low-wing monoplane, and the under-carriage was fully retractable. Power was provided by a 1,475 hp Daimler Benz DB.605 engine driving a three-blade metal propeller with variable pitch. Armament consisted of two 12.7 mm machine guns in the engine housing, synchronized to fire through the propeller disc; two 20 mm Mauser cannons in the wings; and a third cannon firing through the propeller hub.

The aeroplane became operational in June 1943 with the 353a Sq. This unit did not take part in any major battle. The situation was different in the north after the 1943 armistice. About 20 aeroplanes were taken over by the ANR, and the rest of the aeroplanes that were produced went into fighter squadrons where they saw service until the end of the war.

In early 1943 a German test team was sent to Guidonia to evaluate the new generation of Italian aircraft. Among the fighters tested by the Luftwafee pilots, led by Oberst Petersen of the Rechlin Erprobungsstelle, the G.55 was judged to be "Excellent". After listening to recommendations from Milch, Galland and Petersen the Future Aviation Programs meeting held by Goering on 22 Feburary 1943 voted to build the Fiat G.55 in Germany.

"Tests began 20 February 1943 with the German commission impressed by Italian aircraft, the G.55 in particular . . . the G.55 was competitive with its German counterparts in terms of speed and climb rate at high altitudes, while still maintaining superior handling characteristics. The definitive evaluation by the German commission was "Excellent" for the G.55 with Oberst Petersen declaring the G.55 'the best operational fighter in the Axis' inventory' "

Milch a strong proponent of the plan to build the G.55 in Germany hoped to have the G.55 available for the Luftwaffe within a year, and aimed at building a more powerful variant (G.56) powered by the new 1,750hp DB.603 (which could not be installed in the Bf.109). The plan was eventually cancelled after the Italian Armistice but again resumed with the construction of two prototype G.56s (MM.536 and MM.537), MM.536 making its maiden flight on 28 March 1944. Performance was quite good and the fighter reached 680 km/h (423 mph) with no trace of flutter, even while manoeuvering under high speeds, a common problem with most piston-engined fighters of the period.

Production of the G.55 was resumed after the war and about 100 were sold to Argentina, Egypt and Syria. Sixteen aircraft were delivered to the Italian Air Force early in 1948. Variant models included the dual seater G.55B trainer and the G.55S torpedo carrier. The G.55S was developed in 1944, but the project was abandoned after a few test flights.

"The GRU [Soviet/Russian Military Intelligence] commented that Italian engineers have great minds, the minds of great inventors." - Suvorov.

 Post-War Fiats

The early postwar years saw a renewed interest in G 55 production, albeit with a view to using it as trainer in the AMI, rather than as a front-line fighter. Although RA.1050/DB.605 engines and spare parts had been stockpiled in reasonable quantities in 1944-45, the prospects of their long-term supply was restricted.

As early as July 1945 Fiat had approached the Air Ministry about resuming production, declaring itself able to build 120 aircraft within a year. Events were much slower however, in part due to the limitations imposed on the Italian military post-war. The first G.55 to appear in the skies above the Aeritalia airfield was the original G.55S prototype (torpedo carrier), which in April 1946 was ferried from Lonate to its builder to be returned to standard configuration. The same month saw the first new order, which actually involved the completion of a number of aircraft built in 1944 and still on-charge with the manufacturer. September 1946 thus saw MM.91153, MM.91156 and MM.91157 take to the air being delivered to Lecce flying school in April 1947 and followed by others in the following months.

During this period the two-seat variant designated Fiat G.55B, converted from a single-seater MM.91155 and first flown on 12 December 1946 by Valentino Cus, a veteran of the G.55 programme. After a few months of testing this aircraft was also transferred to Lecce.

The search for export markets resulted in Argentina reaching an agreement with Fiat in 1946-47 for the supply of 10 overhauled and 35 newly-built aircraft, including 15 two-seaters. The single-seaters were armed with 4 x 12.7mm (0.5inch) SAFAT machine guns in-place of the wing mounted cannons and designated G.55A. In order to meet its obligations to the Fuerza Aerea Argentina, Fiat negotiated with the Italian government to purchase aircraft already in service at Lecce, in order to overhaul them and deliver them to its customer. After a satisfactory training course at Aeritalia, the first G.55As were shipped to their new destination from early May 1947 and deliveries were completed within a year. The G.55As were based at El Palomar, where they remained in service until the mid-Fifties. Some Argentinian machines carried VHF radios.

Because of mounting tension with Israel, the Royal Egyptian Air Force was more interested in an operational fighter and the Italian government soon authorised Fiat to sell Egypt some 39 Fiat G.55As, all new production aircraft including two two-seater trainer G.55Bs. Deliveries began in October 1948 and were completed twelve months later with Almaza airfield becoming the main operating base. Its interesting to note that although Egypt had available large supplies of British military equipment, it chose instead to arm itself with Italian-built aircraft, ordering the C.205V and G.55A in quantity.

Syria was also interested in the Fiat fighter and between January and September 1949 received 12 single-seater G.55As and one two-seater G.55B, diverted from a batch initially destined to the Italian Air Force (AMI). Syria based its G 55As at Aleppo, mainly as advanced trainers, and among the pilots who trained on them was the future Syrian President Hafiz al Assad. Both Egyptian and Syrian G.55As were involved in clashes with the IDF.

With the few final G.55s meanwhile supplied to the Italian Air Force (AMI), production ceased upon reaching a total of 218 aircraft including some which were later returned to the manufacturer for conversion to the G.59 standard (Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered G.55AM/BM).

The Model
This is the Special Hobby 1/48 Fiat G.55A Post-War variant SH48087. The model is a Fiat G.55A belonging to the 5th Sq. of the Royal Egyptian Air Force, December 1948 and was used in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Sadly, there's virtually no operational information available for this plane during this conflict. The kit is a mixed media kit consisting of four sprues of soft gray plastic, sprue E contains only the fuselage halves for the G.55A; one clear sprue (take care not to lose the wing lights which had come loose in my kit), one photo etch fret (instrument panel, seatbelts, radiator faces, cockpit enhancements and other details) and three resin accessories (gunsight, wing gun barrels and optional upper cowling without gun troughs). Sprue A contains the two underside cowlings for the Sotto Serie 0 and all other variants. The 13 page instruction manual comes with a color chart. The color guide recommends Gunze Sangyo paints although it should be pointed out that these paints havenít been available in North America for almost 10 years. But no worries I provide the necessary equivalents. The instructions are sometimes inconsistent, pointing to areas where no reference parts actually exist, suggesting the final mold was simplified in places, but otherwise the instructions are fine and you can follow the recommended sequence starting with the cockpit. In general because the kit lacks guide pins, always dry-fit and use tape to align the fuselage halves, wings and smaller parts.

Note that you can build all 4 variants of the G.55 with this kit i.e., early/late Sotto Serie 0, early/late Serie I the G55A (fighter/single seat advanced trainer), you just need the corresponding decals, so stayed tuned for upcoming new Stormo products to oblige. In keeping with building any variant, the kit comes with two pairs of fuselage halves, two under cowls and a resin upper engine cowling for the trainer.

The kit comes with a crisp detailed and accurate PE instrument panel + dials as a small sheet of film that can be attached to the rear of the PE panel using Elmerís glue. The kit also comes with a polystyrene cockpit instrument panel; itís not bad and can certainly be used instead. I used the PE instrument panel Ė see the reference photo below.

The canopy and windshield come as a single injection-molded part, take note that the canopy is somewhat brittle and I donít recommend separating the canopy into two parts without using putty to reinforce it, otherwise it may crack. I noticed in some other builds a vacuform canopy was used in place of the kit supplied one. The kit supplied canopy is otherwise ok (I used it), although the frame etching is not correct Ė use photos or drawings.

The cockpit is detailed although itís lacking pneumatic air supply and oxygen bottles, although again the Fiat G.55 incorporated an advanced braking system. Also the sides of the cockpit walls need to be thinned for a tighter-realistic fit.

Fitting the engine top/bottom halves can be tricky, particularly around the exhaust ports, dry fit and use tape to secure before gluing and do one side at a time for each exhaust to be sure the top fuselage halves fit squarely. After doing this, the fit of the engine cowling to the fuselage is pretty good, and be sure to install the engine bulk head (A9) to help guide the fit. If you choose to install the exhausts after the model is assembled, as I did, be sure to reinforce its rectangular housing (C16) with extra sprue or use epoxy to hold it in place since youíll need to apply some force against the exhausts which can dislodge it. Thereís a small gap on the starboard side of the engine cowling, at the corner of the cowling next to the exhaust ports, which needs filling but isnít too bad - use Mr.Surfacer 1000 to fill it.

Tail Wheel, Tail Planes and Wings
The tail-wheel of the G.55A was fixed (non-retractable). Because of this, the tail wheel on this kit is a little tricky to install since the tail-wheel doors need to be glued together and then positioned into place, and since there are gaps between the attached-doors and fuselage, you need to stuff some filler into the tailwheel aperture to avoid the parts collapsing into the fuselage Ė I used tissue paper. Clean out the tail plane stub apertures on the fuselage since thereís allot of flashing and it will be difficult to align the tail-planes properly when the fuselage halves have been glued. I used the kit supplied resin guns which are bored out and are pretty good although the Master Model 12.7mm SAFATs are a better choice. The wing pitot tube is a bit thick and should be thinned down at the point.

I used a dual action, internal mix, siphon-feed Badger 150 with a medium size needle for the camo, there's no need for anything more sophisticated. I also used a Badger 350 for base work and spraying clears. The colors of Egyptian G.55As are not well documented, so I used the kit recommended colors as a starting point. Using British colors didnít make too much sense since Fiat didn't stockpile these colors, and even at that, British colors vary in hues wrt middle stone/pale stone and dark/light earth. Anyway, because there's only a handful of photos of Egyptian G.55As and no photos (or series of photos) with entire camouflage schemes, there was some room for interpretation. I was a little unsure about the accuracy of the kit suggested camo scheme so I went with something that looked Axis-like, although speculative, yet keeping the side diagonals of the camo as in the reference photo.

I cleaned the model with mineral spirits (don't use acetone). I pre-shaded the model using flat black and used no primer - the adhesion of acrylics to plastic is usually good enough. I then sprayed the lower surfaces with Testors 1162 Matt Sky Blue enamel (a substitue for GS H323) lightened by 20% white and reduced by 50% vol and buffed after 30 mins of dry time. The spinner and front side propeller blades should be a light-blue gray (I used Polly Scale GAC1 + Polly Scale Fr. Lt. Blu), although profiles incorrectly suggest white or as in the instructions, a green primer. The back side propellers are flat black, and all this is in keeping with the way Fiat painted its war-time fighters. For Sand I used Gunze Sangyo H79 (Testors US Sand is a good match) and for Brown (GS H37) I used Tamiya XF-52 Flat Earth. I rediscovered the quality of Gunze and Tamiya paints after using Polly Scale almost exclusively. Finally I used Testors flat black enamel for wash to highlight panel lines. The cockpit was painted an Italian anticorrosion green 34272 made from Polly Scale 34227 75% vol + Polly Scale RLM 02 25% vol.

Egyptian green-white colors pre-date the colors of the short lived United Arab Republic (the political union of Syria and Egypt that lasted between 1958-61 and whose capital was Cairo), red-white-black which continue to this day. The instructions say the orientation of Egyptian roundels on the wings point in one direction (starboard) wrt to the Islamic crescent. This seemed odd, so I looked a little more closely into this matter and I couldn't find any consistency wrt to which way the Islamic stars and crescent pointed; some sources indicated pointing starboard, others said port side, still others said pointing to the stern of the aircraft, and still others said that no star or crescent existed at all and finally another source said pointing outward as RA/ANR markings do, so I chose outward pointing since this made the most sense to me.

To apply the decals, spray a light coat of gloss. Then apply Mr. Mark Softer on the painted surface, and apply the decal over Mr. Mark Softer and then apply Mr. Mark Softer over the decal when it sets after a minute or so. Let dry between 30 min - 1 hr and apply Mr. Mark Softer until air and water bubbles are removed Ė this can take a few applications. The clear carrier should disappear. When applying the black stripe decals use one piece for the upper wings and another for the lower wings to avoid folding. Cut out black stripes for the fuselage outer ring measuring 5.8cm and the smaller ring astern is 5.3cm. The kit supplied decals are printed by AVIPRINT and are a bit thick, not Cartograf quality, but still do a good job. Finally don't apply all the decals at the same time, take your time. Spray a coat of gloss to seal and then a flat.

Landing gear
The landing gear assembly is a weak point of this kit and is one aspect of the kit that could be improved with an after-market accessory. Assemble the landing gear and doors together before attaching to the lower wing in order to get the correct angle - the rear vertical edge of the landing gear doors need to be perpendicular to the wing at the point of attachment or parallel to vertical panel lines. Take care to get the correct angle of the wheels since the landing gear struts come in two parts. The bump skid bulge immediately aft of the tail wheel should be removed.

The supplementary air intake (A16 - labelled incorrectly in the instructions as C16) is immediately in front of the windshield on the port side. The engine cowling curves somewhat which is incorrect according to drawings which makes fastening the supercharger intake a little tricky, and also on the port side, just aft of the engine cowling, juts out where it meets the fuselage necessitating a little sanding. Instructions indicate to install the DF loop, however the G55A did not carry a DF loop (C26). The kit supplied radio mast (Sares) corresponds to Serie I planes (used in this build). However the radio mast should be pointed (RT.AN.104) and was introduced in the G.55A to supplement new radio equipment SCR to bring communications inline with Allied equipment. Radio wire was made of stretched sprue and is unpainted, so it isn't so visible in my pics.

What could I have done better?
The white wing bands could have been narrower. The tail wheel should have been shortened to the oleo strut. The top wing camo might have been simpler or more Allied-like than Axis-like, perhaps closer to a Hurricane/Spitfire although the sides of Egyptian G.55As seem to contradict the use of this camo scheme too. I wish there was an Egyptian Stormo!

I used what is now quiet clearly a dated HP Photosmart 720 digital 3.3MP camera. Although the resolution of the camera is still fine, the sharpness of highly pixelated photos is low. That meant I couldnít use the higher resolution settings available for this camera. Thereís a good online article regarding this issue and it was evident on this camera. The camera was fine 10+ years ago but itís lacking today. The photos were taken in a light dispersion box with two EBW 500 watt daylight bulbs pointed at the sides of the box. A third bulb for the top side would have improved the photos but were otherwise acceptable.

Would I build this kit again Ö yes! The kit wasnít hard to build and took approximately 30hrs. Iím surprised Tamiya, Hasegawa or Italeri havenít yet produced a Centauro in 1/48 given the planes long-time popularity with modelers. However given how good this kit is, its a market-missed opportunity. All-in-all, the detail and general fit of this kit are excellent, thereís little filling and sanding and the final model certainly looks like a real G.55A in Egyptian markings. Recommended.

 Technical Data

Aircraft: Fiat G.55A
Manufacturer: Fiat S.A.
Type: Fighter
Year: 1946
Engine: FIAT Tifone RA 1050, 12-cylinder V, liquid-cooled 1,475hp
Wingspan: 38 ft 10 1/2 in (11.85 m)
Length: 30 ft 9 in (9.37 m)
Height: 12 ft 4 in (3.77 m)
Weight: 8,200 lb (3,720 kg) (Loaded)
Maximum Speed: 385 mph (620 km/h) at 24,300 ft (7,400 m)
Ceiling: 41,700 ft (12,700 m)
Range: 1,025 miles (1,650 km)
Armament: 4 x 12.7mm (0.5 in) SAFAT machine guns
Crew: 1

 Additional Images

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* Finished Kits - Special Hobby 1/48 Fiat G.55A by Vince Tassone - FKVT009
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November, 2017
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