The Chaca and her FIATs
|La Chaca |
The Chaca above is an emblem used originally by the 2nd Fighter Regiment of the Fuerza Aèrea Argentina, the Argentine Air Force. It represents an enraged Latin maid, or a housekeeper, armed with a broom, who’s about to bring her force to bear on someone who’s intruding into her space. (Whoever has experienced that, knows how terrifying that can be).
Although she looks very fierce and deadly, the Argentines thought that even the Chaca, in a modern confrontation, could have used some force multipliers in the form of a group of fighter aircraft. Attilio Baldini and Sergio Bontti recounts the story of how the Chaca came to adorn the noses of the FIAT G.55 fighters of the Fuerza Aérea Argentina, in this article, originally translated from Spanish into Italian by Silvano Martí, that I took and translated to English from the n. 137 issue of Ali Antiche magazine.
I hope you will find it interesting.
Your comments, as usual, will be very appreciated.
|FIAT G.55A. 1st Fighter Group, 4th Air Brigade of the F.A.A. El Plumerillo (Mendoza), March 1952. Sporting the Chaca. (Drawing by Javier Ruberto.) |
The FIAT G.55 in the Fuerza Aérea Argentina
By Attilio Baldini and Sergio Bontti
When WWII ended and, with that, most of the restrictions concerning the arms trade, the Argentine armed forces enthusiastically outlined a series of projects to re-equip themselves.
The five-year plan of the Secretaría de Aeronáutica clearly set the goal to equip the F.A.A. (Argentine Air Force) with an aviation component in step with the relevant role that Argentina had assumed, which should have been comparable to the air forces of the more advanced countries.
In a few months, thanks to abundant financial resources and a strong offer, no less than 619 aircraft were purchased, most of them in Europe. And procuring modern training aircraft was one of the primary concerns of the Argentine Purchasing Committee.
Buying aircraft in Italy was considered an interesting option, and the negotiations began in 1946, when the Argentine Air Force Secretary, Brigadier General César Raùl Ojeda and the Director of the Instituto Aerotécnico Major Brigadier Juan Ignacio San Martín travel to Europe.
San Martín had completed his post-graduate studies at the Istituto Politecnico of Turin, in Italy. At the beginning of 1947, the two-seat trainer FIAT G.46 – 2B was selected, which was a version of the G.46 powered by one Gipsy Queen 30 engine. Due to the delicate post-war financial position of FIAT, the purchase of a batch of FIAT G.55A Centauro fighters was proposed, to finance the production of the G.46 destined to Argentina. That would have provided the Italian company with the funds necessary to build the G.46 trainers.
The Argentines accepted the advantageous deal, because the FIAT G.55s would allow their cadets to get used to a high performance aircraft, making the selection of the pilots more suitable to fighters easier.
The Argentinian press of the time echoed the Argentine Government announcement of the purchase, from FIAT, of forty-five training aircraft, some with Daimler Benz engines and some with Rolls Royce engines.
That denotes a certain confusion, since all the G.55s purchased by Argentina had Daimler Benz DB 605 engines. The media inaccurately referred to further still on-going negotiations for the purchase of FIAT G.59 airplanes powered by Rolls Royce Merlin engines, which eventually ended with the purchase of the two-seat B version of the FIAT G.55 instead.
The final deal eventually comprised thirty single-seat FIAT G.55As and fifteen two-seat FIAT G.55Bs.
The first sixteen single-seat aircraft of the A variant came from the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) line. Their original matriculation numbers are unknown. All the other airplanes, including the two-seat G.55Bs, were new from the factory.
At the time of writing these notes no official documentation had been found that would allow the correlation of the new aircraft serial numbers with the registration numbers assigned by the Argentine F.A.A. In the Argentine Air Force the FIAT G.55s were called “FIAT Grandes” (big), while the G.46Bs were called “FIAT Chicos” (small).
It is worth noting that, in the same context, the Argentine Aviación Naval (the Navy’s air arm) received an offer by the “Agenzia Generale per l’Italia Hermes” of a batch of Macchi C.205s, with identical armament and engines to those of the FIAT G.55s; but the proposal was not accepted.
At the beginning of 1947, an Argentine mission reached Italy to take delivery of the new FIAT fighters and receive flight training and maintenance instruction. To complete the initial training received in Galatina (Lecce) by five Argentinian pilots and five aircraft mechanics, FIAT personnel was sent to Argentine. Among them there was Valentino Cus, who had been the G.55A and G.55B original test pilot. These FIAT employees remained in Mendoza for some time to fly and train the Argentine crews.
The first nine G.55As arrived in crates in Buenos Aires on the ship Ugolino Vivaldi in June 1947. They were transported to the El Palomar (Morón) base, where they were rigged and armed in a hangar next to Douglas’ one. The FIAT technicians participated in the assembly. Shortly after, the Italian group lost one of its members when the aircraft mechanic Giuseppe Duboi died in the crash of the Douglas C-54 registered T-44.
The first test flights of the Italian aircraft took place at the El Palomar base, and the Grupo 1 de la Agrupación Aerea de Combate (Combat Air Group 1), based in El Plumerillo (Mendoza) took charge of the fighters.
On June 24, 1947, at El Palomar, Valentino Cus took off in one of the assembled Italian fighters to exhibit the new air force equipment in front of the military authorities and in the presence of the Italian ambassador.
The first public presentation of five FIAT G.55s of the Grupo 1 took place on July 21, during a military parade for the Argentine national independence celebrations.
On August 22, the first G.55As registered C 10, C 11, C 12, C 13 landed in El Plumerillo. An almost unknown fact is that, for a period of a few weeks, these aircraft were matriculated with EA-XX numbers, as they were advanced training aircraft, with progressive numbers that continue the series of numbers of the Beechcraft AT-11 Kansans (EA-01 to EA-020).
In the Agrupación Aerea de Combate the newly arrived FIATs operated alongside the Curtiss H750 Hawks. The pilots routinely made four or five flights on the two-seat Northrop 8A-2 (A-17), before transitioning to the Curtiss and finally to the G.55s.
During the flight operations, some issues arose due to the lack of spare parts. Three aircraft reported the failures of ball bearings and of the pinions of the timing shafts.
On September 10, 1947, the first two two-seat G.55s (C 31 and C 32) and a single seat one (C 14) arrived in Mendoza. On September 26, during the celebration of the 3rd Aviation Week, Lieutenant De La Càrcova performed loops, rolls and immelmanns tunrs; and that was the first show of the G.55 in front of the public in Mendoza. The second one took place on October 1, when the FIAT G.55s were sent to Buenos Aires, Rosario and Tucuman.
September, 1947. In the occasion of the 3rd Aviation Week celebration, the FIAT G.55A registered C-09 and the G.55B registered Ea.23 were exhibited with other aircraft. The G.55B can be seen on the left of the Bristol 170 matriculated T-34
Another picture taken on the occasion of the 3rd Aviation Week celebration. It shows the FIAT G.55A registered C-09. The Bristol 170 T-34 can be seen on its left.
On December 3, three more single-seat G.55s arrived (C-01, C-02, C-03). At the end of December 1947, 427 hours had been flown with the G.55As but only 32 with the G.55Bs.
At the beginning of 1948, the Combat Air Group was disbanded. Therefore, starting February 21st the aircraft were taken over by the Second Fighter Regiment, an independent unit consisting of two groups with four flights each. A further reorganization of the force created one single group with two flights.
Frequently, the aviation publications of the time reported that seventeen FIAT G.55As were returned to FIAT to be sold to Egypt. However, this is not certain. The 1948 F.A.A. inventory clearly shows that all the aircraft were available to the fighter units, except the C-05 and the C-11 that had been lost in accidents. Furthermore, the documents show that the single-seat FIAT G.55 were matriculated from 1 to 30, while the two-seat ones were numbered from 31 to 45, all preceded by the letter C (that is a curious detail, because the letter C referred to fighter aircraft and the FIAT G.55Bs were trainers).
FIAT G.55B C-39 of the 1st Fighter Group of the Argentine Air Defense Command. El Plumerillo Air Base (Mendoza). March 1951. (Drawing by Javier Ruberto).
In 1952, the aircraft in service were fifteen FIAT G.55As, plus five in storage or undergoing maintenance, and eight G.55Bs plus three temporarily out of service.
The FIAT G.55 was a very much liked aircraft in Argentina. Thanks to its flight characteristics it was considered a “ganador,” that is, a winner: fast and with a lot of power that gave the pilots the feeling of flying an agile and robust airplane.
A pilot reported having reached mph 416 at ft 23300, while another Argentine aviator reached mph 440 in a dive, after having climbed to ft 13000.
|February 22, 1948|
The FIAT G.55 climbed and turned better than the Spitfire Mk. XI, as it was ascertained in a series of 1950 comparative evaluations flights with the Spitfire Mk XI registered LV-NMZ. The test flights had been requested by the F.A.A. to Mr. James Ehving Storey, owner of the Spitfire, in view of the prospective purchase of the Merlin-powered FIAT G.59.
However, the FIAT G.55 was an airplane developed in wartime which needed a lot of maintenance. The engines had to be taken down every 100 hours, and their inverted V configuration made it difficult to access some components for cleaning or replacement.
The engine-coolant radiator conduits were prone to break, as well as the tubes of the coolant. According to some technicians, pneumatic problems with the brakes arose from the beginning.
|The Argentine FIAT G.55A mounted a FIAT R.A. 1050 R.C.58 Tifone, inverted V 12 engine. The military matriculation number 48637 painted on the engine block means that the aircraft was equipped with a reconditioned engine|
During aerobatic flights, oil leaked from the carter vents and soiled the windshield, reducing the pilot’s visibility and dirtying the aircraft. That problem was partially solved with the installation of a conduit that discharged the oil through the belly of the fuselage.
As in other fighters of the time, the great power of the engine generated a powerful momentum creating a strong tendency to yaw during take-offs. This frequently caused the failure of the landing gear legs at the point where they join the wing.
|June 24, 1952. A technical crew is recovering the G-55A C-27, after a forced landing in the Pampa del Salitral (Lavalle-Mendoza)|
The maintenance of the FIAT G.55s was entrusted to the F.A.A. aircraft technicians who could count only on a limited supply of minor spare parts purchased with the airplanes. The lack of a test bench for the engines forced some units to be unavailable for some time.
One task that required special attention was the complicated setting of the fuel injection pump, that had to be carried out for each single fuel injector. In some cases, when the required maintenance was more complex, the aircraft were sent to the Tristán Suarez workshops at Buenos Aires Ezeiza airport. These shops had been founded by a group of former FIAT employees who had decided to remain in Argentina at the end of their foreign assignment. They had imported tools such as milling machines to carry out the reboring of engine cylinders and even the much-needed engine test beds. For example, when a FIAT G.55 suffered a gear-up landing, the semi-wings were taken down and the plane was shipped on land to the Tristán Suarez workshops.
|Ceremonial parade of FIAT G.55As at the base of the 2nd Fighter Regiment.|
During their operational lives, the G.55s were employed as advanced trainers, although they participated in military maneuvers and operations meant to evaluate the capabilities of the Argentine Air Force until August 12, 1954.
At the end of their service lives, twelve very worn aircraft remained which could not be flown anymore. The FIAT G.55s effectively ceased flying on December 31, 1954, a date after which there are no more operational records.
Several accidents due to engine failures, the difficulty in obtaining supplies and the lack of spare parts, particularly for the landing gear, decimated the FIAT flight lines. It must be said that two or three years after the decommission of the G.55s, there were found crates full of new and complete FIAT landing gears in the Argentine Custom warehouse of Buenos Aires.
As a technician/non-commission officer recounted, one day an order from above arrived that forbade flying with the FIATs. All the airplanes were taken to the Luria hangar. That order was the March 11, 1955 “Resolución n. 232” that took up the considerations of the Expediente Secreto 5730 (Classified Document 5730) which said that the FIAT G.55s were affected by structural deficiencies, caused by fatigue, and that the cost of maintaining them was excessive for the F.A.A.
|A beautiful picture of a G.55B|
The FIAT G.55s were demolished by axes in the El Plumerillo base, by the workers of the company that had purchased them as scrap aluminum.
According to some witnesses, one G.55 that was missing some wing panels remained at the base of the 4th Air Brigade as a training aid, but that airplane also disappeared. With an operational life of only seven years, the FIAT G.55 was the shortest-lived fighter of the F.A.A.
Today that would be considered a terrible waste, even more if we considered that the total flight time of the aircraft that had suffered accidents in 1954 was less than 315 hours, mostly flown by the Pilot Raoul Marcilese who, with 450 recorded hours, was the one who flew more time with the G.55.