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The birth of the last fighter biplane in service in World War 2 took place during the trial for a new monoplane fighter for the Regia Aeronautica (the so-called “Series 0” aircraft). Waiting for the evaluation and testing of the various monoplanes, the Chief of Staff of the R.A., Gen. Valle, ordered the production of the CR.42 which he identified as a transition fighter with radial engine, conceived to ease the conversion on the new interceptors. This led to the building of the first prototype in early 1938 and on 5/23/38 it flew for the first time. Naturally, with the experience gained by the designer Celestino Rosatelli with excellent biplanes like the CR.30 and the CR.32, also his CR.42 had excellent flying characteristics, so that even before waiting for the results of the official military tests, a first series of 200 CR.42s had been already ordered, a higher number than the Macchi C.200 or the Fiat G.50, but this could be attributed also to the various teething troubles experienced by the new monoplanes.
The paradoxical result was that, whereas both the C.200 and the G.50 were out of production by mid-1942, the CR.42 was still in production in 1944, while Germany’s new jet fighter Me 262 was already operational!
Engined by the trusty 840 hp Fiat A.74 RC.38, the CR.42 was in service with 53° Stormo by 5/39 and before the entrance of Italy in the war, 300 aircraft had been already delivered to the Regia Aeronautica, constituting about 40% of the strength of the whole R.A. Top speed was 272 mph at 15,000ft, with a service ceiling of 32,970 ft and a range of 481 miles. The CR.42 was armed with 2 12.7mm machine guns. Meanwhile, the plane was also subject to several foreign orders: Hungary (50 examples) Belgium (40 examples) and Sweden (72 examples). Hungary was the first to buy the Italian biplane for its Magyar Királyi Légierö and placed orders for 52 aircraft during the summer of 1938, and equipped four Squadrons (1/1, 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4 of 1st Fighter Regiment) within the late spring of 1940. CR.42s of the Hungarian A.F. flew numerous sorties during the assault on Yugoslavia launched on 4/6/41 in concert by German and Hungarian and, when a special Air Force Brigade was formed less than two months later to accompany the Hungarian Fast Corps that was to participate in the assault on the Soviet Union to be launched on 6/22/41, the principal fighter element was provided by the 12 CR.42s of the 1/3 Squadron. By 12/41, after five months of continuous operations in which the 1/3 Squadron alone had flown some 300 sorties, destroying 17 Soviet aircraft in combat for the loss of two CR. 42s, the serviceability of the Air Force Brigade was deteriorating rapidly and it was therefore recalled to Hungary , the CR.42s being relegated to training role.
The CR.42 was declared obsolete in 1945 and the remaining aircraft were purchased by AB Svensk Flygtjänst and used in post- war years as target-tug aircraft.
There was also a short-lived experience of the CR.42 in Finland. In fact, 12 CR.42s had been bought through a public subscription and the Suomen Ilmavoimat received the first five in 4/40, but they were turned down (the problems caused by the Fiat G.50s were enough for the Finns.) and sent back to Sweden.
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