FIAT CR42 rigged in December 2013 at Audley End (with Vintage Fabrics). Image by Geoff Jones.

FIAT CR42 rigged in December 2013 in Duxford (Image by Geoff Jones.)

Based upon an article by Geoff Jones:

The Fiat CR42 Falco was one of the most charismatic and capable biplane fighters at the start of World War Two. At a time when most aircraft designers were creating sleek, monoplane fighters, Celestino Rosatelli – who was behind some of Italy’s successful Schneider Trophy racers – was still convinced that the bi-plane fighter could be a champion given the right engine and aerodynamics. Rosatelli’s vision resulted in the Falco, which first flew on May 23, 1938 at Torino Caselle airfield, near Turin. The type enjoyed a relatively successful production run, with almost 1800 airframes rolling off the assembly line between 1939 and 1944 (more than any other WWII Italian fighter aircraft design). The Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) operated the bulk of these, but Germany, Sweden, Spain, Croatia, Belgium and Hungary all operated the type as well. Interestingly, a Fiat CR.42 may well have been the last biplane to claim a combat victory, as a Luftwaffe-operated example reportedly shot down a 14th FG P-38 Lightning over Croatia on February, 8th, 1945.

Just four complete examples remain today, and none are currently flying… although that is set to change before too long.

FIAT CR.42 Falco SURVIVORS:
MM5701 – RAF Museum, Hendon, England
Fv.2543 – Swedish Air Force Museum, near Linkӧping
MM4653 - 
Italian Air Force Museum, Vigna di Valle (Composite with parts from three aircraft from Sweden, Italy & France)
Fv.2542 – The Fighter Collection, Duxford, UK

A captured Italian Fiat CR.42 Falco (RAF serial BT474) of the RAF Air Fighting Development Unit, parked in a dispersal at Duxford, Cambridgeshire (UK). The aircraft was salvaged following a forced landing at Orfordness, Suffolk, on 11 November 1940, and was kept by the AFDU through the war. It is preserved and displayed at the Royal Air Force Museum Hendon, as MM5701 '13-95'. ( Image credit Wikipedia)

Fiat CR.42 Falco (RAF serial BT474) of the RAF Air Fighting Development Unit, parked at RAF Duxford. The aircraft forced landed on the beach at Orfordness in Suffolk, on November 11th 1940. Famed Royal Navy test pilot Eric “Winkle” Brown evaluated the diminutive fighter, and declared it “an aerobatic gem”. He noted further that it was remarkably fast for a biplane with a top speed of 270mph at 12,500′, and with marginal stability, which he believed was the hallmark of a good fighter. Royal Air Force Museum Hendon currently displays the fighter in its Regia Aeronautica markings as MM5701 ’13-95′. (Image credit Wikipedia)

The Fighter Collection at Duxford in the UK owns a former Swedish Air Force J-11 (as the CR42 was known in Swedish service). The aircraft crashed  in bad weather on a hillside near Tarnatjakko in April, 1942, sadly taking the life of its pilot Bertil Klintman. The wreck lay largely undisturbed where it fell for the next forty years before its recovery by helicopter in 1983. A Swedish group did actively work on restoring the aircraft for a while, but The Fighter Collection bought the fighter in 1995 and transported her to the UK.  

TFC sent much of the wreck to Italy, where the well-known Italian restoration groups AREA (Associazione Restauro Aeronautico) and GAVS (Gruppo Amici Velivoli Storici) rebuilt her fuselage to airworthy condition, while at the same time restoring the Italian Air Force Museum’s example.  The fuselage returned to Duxford about ten years ago, and the project seemed to go dormant for a while. However, by the summer of 2010 the FIAT CR.42 was standing on its own undercarriage, with its engine installed and freshly reconstructed wings stacked neatly alongside in Hangar 2.S at Duxford. By 2012, the CR42 was ready for fitting out, however TFC decided to out-source the job and moved the airframe to Vintage Fabrics at Audley End in Suffolk. Here the electrical and control systems for the flying surfaces and the engine have recently received attention. Vintage Fabrics were the perfect choice for finishing this project, as they already had prior experience completing the Italian Air Force’s CR.42 in 2004.

Because the CR42 is being restored to airworthy condition the restoration has to comply with all Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requirements both in the quality and traceability of materials used, the manuals, documentation and drawings for the aircraft type, not to mention compliance with modern safety requirements. The ‘mods’ raised to cover these design changes have all had to be processed, including where modern materials have been substituted for those detailed on the original drawings. GAVS have greatly assisted with the translation of original drawings and manuals, many of them written in ‘old technical Italian’.

According to internet sources, the team at Audley End have acquired, or remanufactured numerous parts and components for the project. These include a pressure reducer and filter for the main undercarriage, along with the associated gauges. The fuel system required lots of new parts, including a hand pump and barrel for the fuel vent cap. They then needed to source an oil tank and radiator, pneumatic injectors, various gaskets, and blower controls. Vintage Fabrics have also obtained air pressure gauges from the original manufacturer, and an air bottle from an ex-Afghan IMAM Ro-37 Lince has provided enough information for the restorers to make patterns and manufacture a new one. By last summer, they had also acquired and fitted newly-manufactured oil coolers, as well as new flying control cables made by Brunton’s of Musselburgh, UK. They removed the previously fitted Fiat A.74 engine, after test-fitting the cowlings and engine controls, and sent it for overhaul to Vintage Engine Technology Ltd (Vintech) at Little Gransden.

Vintech’s Paul Sharman told Geoff Jones recently that, “A lot of the work on the engine has been completed, but there’s still much to do before the engine is complete and run for the first time – we have been unable to use the engine from the crashed wreckage, but have used components from three different Fiat engines we have sourced. However, at this stage I do not foresee any major stumbling blocks that would prevent us, given time, from completing our contract to provide a working and airworthy engine”.

TFC’s Peter Rushen told Geoff Jones on April 7, 2014, “It is almost impossible to predict when the CR42 will be completed – we are scouring the world for parts for Spitfires, Hurricanes and other war-birds, but the CR42 is unique and we are having to manufacture from new many of the components we need. For this reason we regard it as a long-term project and will not be drawn to speculate on a completion date. Similarly our Contractors at Audley End will maintain the confidentiality that we expect of them regarding this project, for obvious reasons”.

The work continues though, and without doubt, we will be seeing a Fiat CR.42 take to the skies over Europe again within a few years. It is an exciting prospect indeed, and will make a fine pairing with TFC’s already airworthy Gloster Gladiator biplane fighter of similar vintage.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for the update! I knew the CR.42 was moved to Vintage Fabrics a year or two ago, and was wondering how things were progressing. It appears that they have cleared most of the hurtles that seemed insurmountable just a few years ago. Well done by all involved!

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