The Fiat G.55 Centauro (Centaur) was an improved version of the G.50, powered by a licence built DB 605 engine and armed with two machine guns and three 20mm cannon, thus solving most of the problems with the earlier aircraft. It was probably the best fighter aircraft to be produced in Italy during the Second World War, but arrived too late and in too small numbers to have any real impact on the fighting.
The two main problems with the very manoeuvrable G.50 had been its lack of engine power and its lack of firepower. Both of these problems were overcome in the G.55. The first was solved by replacing the underpowered Fiat radial engine of the G.50 with a license built version of the Daimler-Benz DB 605A-1 inline engine. This engine, as the Fiat RA 1050 RC 58 Tifone, was used in all of the 'series 5' fighters, a group that consisted of the Macchi MC.205, Reggiane Re.2005 and the Fiat G.55.
The second problem was partly solved in the prototype and pre-production G.55/0 series by adding a 20mm Mauser MG 151/20 cannon firing through the propeller hub, and was completely eliminated in the production G.55/I series by adding two further 20mm cannon in the wings.
The Fiat G.55 was at least as good as the Macchi MC.205V Veltro, matching it for speed, but with more firepower, but it entered service even later than the Macchi aircraft. Only 31 aircraft had been delivered by the time of the Italian armistice in September 1943. The G.55 did make its combat debut before the armistice, being used to defend Rome against Allied bombers. After the armistice the Fiat factories in northern Italy remained in German hands, and production of the G.55 continued. It was used to equip the fighter units of the Fascist air force fighting alongside the Luftwaffe, where it proved itself to be an equal to the Spitfires and Mustangs being flown against it.
There is no agreement on the number of G.55s that were completed during the war, with figures ranging from around 100 up to a rather more impressive 274 completed and 37 abandoned close to completion. The lower figures are more likely as the supply of the licence built engine was never satisfactory. A significant number of G.55s were completed after the war using parts built during the conflict, appearing as the G.55A and G.55B. The aircraft was also built with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine as the G.59.
The G.55/I was the main production version of the aircraft, and was armed with three 20mm cannon and two 12.5mm machine guns.
The G.55/II was more heavily armed than the G.55/I. The .5in machine guns in the nose were replaced by two extra wing-mounted 20mm cannon, for a total of five. The G.55/II made its maiden flight in 1944 .
The G.55S (Silurante or torpedo-carrier) was a torpedo bomber based on the G.55. The normal ventral radiator of the G.55, which was located just below the pilot's cockpit, was replaced by two radiators, under each wing. At least one G.55S was completed, making its maiden flight in 1945.
Fiat resumed production of the G.55 after the war, producing two variants. The G.55A was a fighter aircraft, armed with two .5in machine guns in the fuselage and either two more machine guns or two 20mm cannon in the wings. The G.55A made its maiden flight on 5 September 1946. Nineteen were acquired by the post-war Italian Air Force, but the biggest order, for 30 aircraft armed with four 0.5in machine guns, came from Argentina. Seventeen of these aircraft were returned to Italy in 1948 after a very short service life in South America, and were passed on to Syria.
The G.55B was a two-seat trainer produced alongside the G.55A. It made its maiden flight earlier than the fighter, on 12 February 1946. Ten went to the Italian Air Force, while Argentina ordered fifteen in 1948.
Engine: Fiat RA 1050 RC 58 Tifone (licence built DB 605A) 12-cylinder inverted V inline engine
Wing span: 38ft 10.5in
Length: 30ft 9in
Height: 10ft 3.25in
Empty Weight: 5,768lb
Maximum take-off Weight: 8,197lb
Max Speed: 391mph
Service Ceiling: 41,665ft
Range: 746 miles
Armament: One 20mm cannon in engine, two 20mm cannon in wings, two .5in machine guns in fuselage
Bomb-load: Two 353lb (160kg) bombs under the wings