Introduction and Development
The Fiat CR.20 was the second Fiat fighter designed by Celestino Rosatelli to enter service with the Italian Air Force, following on from the CR.1. That earlier fighter was a largely conventional aircraft for its period, with a fabric-covered wooden framework. Its only unusual feature was its sesquiplane wings, with a larger bottom wing and smaller top wing, the reverse of the normal pattern.
The CR.20 was the of Rosatelli's aircraft to use an all-metal structure, mostly covered by metal panels at the front of the fuselage and varnished fabric elsewhere. The CR.20 was also a sesquiplane, but used the more conventional arrangement of wings, with a larger upper and smaller lower wing. The wings were connected by Warren-type 'W' struts giving the aircraft a distinctive appearance shared by the later CR.32 and CR.42.
The CR.20 was powered by the Fiat A.20 12-cylinder V inline engine. This was a water cooled engine, and thus required a radiator. On the CR.20 (as on the CR.1) this was mounted directly above the engine. The entire CR.20 family was armed with two forward firing 0.303in machine guns.
The first of four prototypes made its maiden flight on 19 June 1926, and the type entered production in 1927. The basic CR.20 was followed by the CR.20bis, with a new undercarriage, and the CR.Asso, which used a more powerful engine and remained in production until 1933. By this date just under 700 CR.20s of all types had been completed.
The CR.20 was the main fighter aircraft used by the Italian Air Force during the late 1920s and early 1930s, before being replaced by the Fiat CR.32. The remaining CR.20s were then passed onto training units, remaining in use until the late 1930s.
Like the CR.1 the CR.20 never saw action as a fighter aircraft, but unlike the CR.1 it was used in combat. The CR.20 entered service in time to take part in the final stages of the Italian conquest of Libya, before seeing service throughout the war in Abyssinia. In neither case did the Italians face any aerial opposition, and so the CR.20 was used as a ground attack aircraft.
Lithuania purchased fifteen CR.20s in 1928.
In the aftermath of the First World War the newly independent Hungary was banned from operating military aircraft, but as in Germany and Austria a secret air force was soon formed. During this secret period one single-seat CR.20 and one two-seat CR.20B were purchased. They were followed by a more open purchase of twelve CR.20bis aircraft made in 1932. These aircraft remained in service until replaced by the Fiat CR.32 in 1936.
Austria was the largest export customer for the CR.20, purchasing 16 CR.20bis, 16 CR.20bisAQ and four CR.20Bs. Some of these aircraft were still in service at the time of the Anschluss with Germany, and briefly served with the Luftwaffe as training aircraft.
At least five CR.20bis aircraft were purchased by Paraguay, taking part in the Gran Chaco war against Bolivia. It is possible that seven were purchased and two lost in early accidents. One of the five was lost early in the war, but three of the surviving four made the type's aerial combat debut on 11 June 1933, scaring off a Bolivian air raid. A more serious clash came on the following day, when the CR.20bis was finally involved in a (brief) clash with enemy fighter aircraft. Only two of the five known aircraft survived the Gran Chaco war.
One CR.20 may have been sold to the Soviet Union. Another four appear to have been used by Poland during a fighter competition in August 1929, but are not otherwise recorded.
The CR.20 was the first production version of the aircraft, and closely resembled the prototype. Around 250 were built, all by Fiat.
The CR.20bis entered production in 1930. It had a new undercarriage, replacing the simple cross-axle landing gear of the CR.20 with a much improved model. The new undercarriage had the two wheels carried independently, used oleo-pneumatic shock absorbers and had brakes. Fiat built 235 CR.20bis aircraft, some of them as the CR.20bisAQ.
The CR.20bisAQ was a version of the CR.20bis that used the Fiat A.20AQ engine, giving the aircraft better performance at higher altitudes.
Fiat CR.20 Idro (Sea)
The Fiat CR.20 Idro (Sea) was a floatplane version of the basic CR.20, with twin floats replaced the original undercarriage. A total of 46 were built, half by Macchi and half by CMASA. The Idro was used to equip the Italian seaplane fighter units, but was not popular with its pilots.
Fiat CR Asso
The final major production version of the aircraft was the Fiat CR.Asso (or CR.20 Asso). This was powered by a 450hp Isotta Fraschini Asso Caccia air-cooled engine, and could be identified by its larger horizontal tail surfaces and new engine cowling. 204 were built between 1931 and 1933, 104 by Macchi and 100 by CMASA.
The Fiat CR.20B was a two-seat version of the CR.20 and CR.20bis, produced alongside them. It was used for training, and by the front line fighter squadrons as a liaison aircraft.
Engine: Fiat A.20 12-cylinder Vee inline engine
Wing span: 43ft 1 3/4in
Length: 22ft 0 1/4in
Height: 9ft 1 3/4in
Empty Weight: 2,138lb
Maximum take-off Weight: 3,064lb
Max Speed: 161mph
Service Ceiling: 27,885ft
Endurance: 2 hours 30 minutes
Armament: Two forward firing 0.303in Vickers machine guns