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Fiat G.91

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The Fiat G.91, nicknamed Gina, was an Italian fighter aircraft that was intended to serve as standard equipment for NATO air forces in the 1960s. It was eventually only adopted by three - the Italian Air Force, West Germany's Luftwaffe, and the Portuguese Air Force - but enjoyed a long service life that extended over 35 years. It was widely used by Portugal in the Portuguese Colonial War in Africa. Template:TOClimit

Design and development

In 1953, European aircraft manufacturers were invited by NATO to submit aircraft for evaluation for the Light Weight Strike Fighter (LWSF) role. The G.91 was designed to this specification by the Italian engineer Giuseppe Gabrielli, hence the "G" designation. The competition was intended to produce an aircraft that was light, small, expendable, equipped with basic weapons and avionics and capable of operating with minimal ground support. These specifications were developed for two reasons: the first was the nuclear threat to large air bases, many cheaper aircraft could be better dispersed, and the other was to counter the trend towards larger and more expensive aircraft.

The technical requirements were:

  • 1,100 m (3,610 ft) takeoff distance over a 15 m (49 ft) obstacle
  • Capability to operate from grass strips and streets
  • Max speed of Mach 0.95
  • Range of 280 km (170 mi) with 10 min over the target
  • Armoured protection for the pilot and the fuel tanks
  • 4 × 12.7 mm (.5 in) or 2 × 20 mm or 30 mm guns
  • A maximum of 2,200 kg (4,850 lb) empty weight and 4,700 kg (10,360 lb) max weight[1]

The designs were required within two months of the competition.

Fiat Aviazione proposed the G.91 and other companies entered 10 projects. These were assessed starting on 18 March 1953 by AGARD (Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development) under the leadership of Von Karman. The challenge of providing an engine that matched the requirements of lightness and power, reliability and ease of maintenance was solved by using the Bristol Orpheus turbojet.

File:Fiat G.91.JPG
A preserved example of the G.91 in Frecce Tricolori's colors
Cockpit of a G-91 R1 in Malignani school (Udine).

The G.91 first flew on 9 August 1956[2] and the competing designs were evaluated in 1957. Besides the G.91, these included the Northrop N-156, Dassault Étendard IV, Sud-Est Baroudeur, Aerfer Ariete and Breguet Taon. Despite the G.91's impressive performance in trials, which resulted in its selection as the winner of the contest,[2] after the loss of the Fiat G.91 prototype, the French government preferred to pursue development of the locally-designed Étendard.[3] The British government similarly ignored the competition to concentrate on Hawker Hunter production for the same role. In fairness, it should also be pointed out that the Italian government also ordered the G.91 for the Italian Air Force before the results of the competition were known. These pre-production machines would later go on to serve for many years with the Italian aerobatic team, the Frecce Tricolori as the G.91 PAN.[4] The type was also considered by Austria, Norway, Switzerland, and even the United States Army, which briefly evaluated the type as a possible Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft before relinquishing all fixed-wing aircraft operations to the USAF.

The re-engineering work on G.91 was very extensive and resulted in the second prototype being fitted with a bigger tail, 6 cm (2 in) higher canopy, a ventral fin and some other modifications. It flew in July 1957, but it was not sent to the final evaluation.[5] The third and fourth G.91 prototypes were sent to France, for the competition.[2] The later G.91R was 20% heavier than estimated, but it was powered by a Bristol Orpheus B.Or 801 of 17.6 kN (3,700 lbf) to compensate. It was capable of supersonic speed in a dive, as demonstrated by test pilot Riccardo Bignamini on 20 February 1957 when he broke the sound barrier four times in 9,000 m (29,500 ft) dives.[6]

Aeritalia built 174 G.91s for Italy, plus 144 R/3 variants for West Germany (including 50 that had been ordered and then cancelled by Greece and Turkey). The German order involved a production run of 294 G.91s built in Germany by Flugzeug-Union Süd (a consortium of former competitors Messerschmitt, Heinkel and Dornier). These were the first combat aircraft built in Germany since World War II. The first order was for 50 machines from Aeritalia, then Dornier and other German firms had an order for 232 machines, later increased to 294. The Luftwaffe also bought 44 G-91T/3 two-seat trainers and another 22 were produced in Germany, ending production in 1972.

The Luftwaffe had intended to equip a further four wings with the G.91R/3 but initial operating experience with the type left the Luftwaffe disappointed with the aircraft's performance and further orders were cut. Some Luftwaffe G.91s were emblazoned with "pig" emblems as a comment on the aircraft's lacklustre performance.[7]

Operational history

File:G-91 at Malignani.JPG
G-91 R1 in Malignani school (UDINE)
File:Fiat G91.jpg
Portuguese Air Force G-91 preserved at Sintra Air Base

The first G.91s entered service in August 1958, with 103mo Gruppo, 5a Aerobrigata, called "Caccia Tattici Leggeri (CTL)", based at Pratica di Mare, the same with Reparto Sperimentale di Volo. The next operational unit was 14mo Gruppo, Seconda Aerobrigata in 1961. This unit had its role shifted to tactical support, because her groups were 14mo, 103mo (dispatched from 5 A/B to this Aerobrigade) and 13mo (only in reserve). All them were based at Treviso-Sant'Angelo.

The differences in firepower (two 30 mm DEFA guns, four underwing pylons) and improved avionics made the German machines far more effective than Italian examples, even if they were heavier. In addition, mass-production made the G.91 force more credible. The first examples, 12 Fiat-Aeritalias built aircraft, were delivered to Aufklarungsgeschwader (AG) 53 for training and experiments. This unit was based at Erding, near Munich along with Waffenschule 50. The first Dornier-built examples were tested on 20 July 1960.

The last G.91 was phased out and retired by Italy in 1995.


Since 1961, Portugal was committed to fight independentist guerrillas within its African overseas territories. This war is known as the Portuguese Colonial War (1961-1974).[8] Upon pressure from the United States because of the United Nations embargo, the Portuguese F-86 Sabre fleet, which was the main provider of close air support in the colonies, returned to the continent; thus leaving the necessity to fill a gap left, not only in the close air support role, but also in the air defense role.

From 1965, Portugal began to purchase the G.91 to deploy to its territories of Mozambique, Guinea and Angola to replace the F-86 Sabre. The first 40 G.91 were purchased second-hand from the Luftwaffe, out of the aircraft that had originally been produced for Greece and which differed from the rest of the Luftwaffe G.91s sufficiently to create maintenance problems.

In 1973, with the United Nations weapons embargo against Portugal, the Air Force faced problems purchasing further numbers of close air support aircraft. An attempt was then made to acquire more Fiat G.91s from Germany by having Dornier disassembling the aircraft and then selling them as spare parts to Switzerland and Spain. These spare parts would be later sold to Portugal and assembled locally with different serial numbers. However, the deal did not follow through as the German government vetoed it.

Portuguese G.91s continued in this role until the withdrawal from Africa in 1975 after the fall of the Portuguese ruling regime due to a leftist military coup in Lisbon.

From 1976, a second purchase consisting of 70 G.91 R/3 and 26 G.91 T/3 was made. Portugal finally phased out the last of its G.91s in 1993.


File:Italian G-91T.jpg
An Italian trainer Fiat G.91T of the 60° Stormo (60th Wing) is parked on the flight line while transiting Bitburg Air Base in 1988.

Trainer and reconnaissance variants were produced right from the start of G.91 production, but the basic design of the aircraft remained virtually unchanged throughout almost the entire production run of the aircraft. The one major difference is that the R series aircraft were single seaters, while the T series aircraft had two seats. To accommodate the extra seat, the T series aircraft had a slightly longer fuselage.

  • G.91 - Prototypes and pre-production aircraft.
  • G.91R/1 - Light attack/reconnaissance aircraft, fitted with modified nose housing three cameras.[9]
  • G.91R/1A - Revised instrumentation.[9]
  • G.91R/1B - Strengthened airframe.[9]
  • G.91R/3 - Single-seat ground-attack, reconnaissance version for the Luftwaffe. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Orpheus turbojet engine. Armed with two 30 mm DEFA cannons.
  • G.91R/4 - Similar to the G.91R/3, but armed with four 12.7 mm (0.5 in) Colt-Browning machine guns. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Orpheus turbojet engine.
  • G.91T/1 - Trainer version of G.91R/1 for Italian Air Force.
  • G.91T/3 - Trainer version for Luftwaffe.
  • G.91PAN - Aerobatic display aircraft for Frecce Tricolori, converted from pre-production G.91s.


An additional 67 aircraft built by Aeritalia were significantly uprated from earlier versions. These aircraft, designated G.91Y and nicknamed "Yankee", replaced the original Bristol-Siddeley Orpheus engine with two General Electric J85 units.[10] The G.91Y first flew on 12 December 1966[11] and displayed an improvement in speed, range, payload, and maneuverability. It increased maximum speed to 1,110 km/h (690 mph, 600 kn, Mach 0.91). The machine guns were replaced by a pair of DEFA 552 30 mm cannon with 125 rpg. All the aircraft built served with the Aeronautica Militare.


File:Fiat G.91 operator.png
Operators of the G.91 in dark blue, cancelled orders in light blue, evaluations in yellow.


There are numerous examples preserved in museums around the world.

Specifications (G.91R)

File:Airforce Museum Berlin-Gatow 207.JPG
A Matra Type 116M rocket launcher mounted on a Fiat G.91, on display at the Luftwaffenmuseum der Bundeswehr, Berlin.

General characteristics



See also

Comparable aircraft

Related lists



  1. Ferrari 1992, p. 83.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Niccoli 2002, p. 168.
  3. Crosby 2002, p. 183.
  4. Green 1964, p. 35.
  5. Ferrari 1992, p. 85.
  6. Ferrari 1992, p. 84.
  7. Doll and Dorner 1974, p. 19.
  8. Nicolli 2003, p. 174.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Niccoli 2002, p. 169.
  10. Taylor 1969, p. 216.
  11. Niccoli 2002, p. 178.
  12. Hispano SURA R80 rockets. Flight Global Archive. Retrieved on 2008-10-23.


  • Crosby, Francis. "Fiat/Aeritalia G91." Fighter Aircraft. London: Lorenz Books, 2002. ISBN 0-7548-0990-0.
  • Doll, Peter and Herman Dorner. The New Luftwaffe in Action (In Action No.1013). Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1974.
  • Ferrari, Massimo. "Addio G.91R" (in Italian). RID magazine, August 1992.
  • Green, William. The World's Fighting Planes. London: Macdonald, 1964.
  • Niccoli, Riccado. "Fiat G.91, NATO's Lightweight Fighter." International Air Power Review. Volume 7, Winter 2002.
  • Taylor, John W. R. "Fiat G.91". Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the Present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.

External links

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