AML 1/72 Fiat G.50bis/AS 'Freccia'

KIT #: 72-031
PRICE: $14-32.00
DECALS: Four options
REVIEWER: Ryan Grosswiler
NOTES: Short run with photoetch, resin, vacuform canopy

   When the feature-film length version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 came out in 1996, it was billed, "Every year Hollywood makes hundreds of movies. This is one of them!" 
   As a fighter, the Fiat G.50 Freccia could be summed up in much the same way: "World War II featured hundreds of combat aircraft types. This is one of them."
   The shift occurring in fighter design during the late 1930 saw aircraft designers throughout the world accepting an evolutionary move away from the spritely, lightly-wing-loaded biplane carrying a pair of rifle-caliber guns to the fast, heavily armed monoplanes that would characterize World War II. This leap was naturally accomplished in fits and starts, however, with several air forces stubbornly retaining the light armament and open cockpit of that earlier era while nonetheless embracing these clean new airframes. Such was the case here.

   Recognizing the trend, the Italian Regia Aeronautica put out a request in 1937 to industry requesting monoplane fighter designs. A fly-off was held between the resulting three contenders, the G.50, the Macchi C.200, and IMAM Ro-51. The first two were selected for production, and the G.50 entered service in 1938.  At first it was thought highly of, with light controls and maneuverability just as good as the biplanes it was replacing. However, being just too late for combat in the Spanish Civil War, nothing could be learned and applied to the type's development. By the time the little Fiat finally had a chance at real combat it was in the skies over Britain in the fall of 1940--where its pathetically short range and light armament made it a non-contributor, despite the enthusiasm of the pilots. Sort of like those thirty- and fortysomething Ph.D applicants who hang out in man-bikinis on the periphery of the Spring Break debauchery, hoping to get laid. It would instead be the fighter's competitor, the C.200, and its direct development, the C.202, where the vast majority of Italian aces would score their kills.
   The Freccia finally saw some mild success against Hurricanes, P-40s, and Blenheims in the North African desert, and in the opening phase of the Italian adventure in Russia. One RAF pilot who flew a captured example assessed it as being "a great aircraft for touring but not for war." The design suffered from the transitional period in which it emerged and the protracted period of non-combat that followed, both of which exacerbated its lack of development potential. A few Italian pilots did manage to make ace on the machine, but by and large it was simply just...there.
   Like many others of the miscellany of cast-off foreign aircraft types operated by them, the Freccia saw its most successful use by the Finns. Performing impressively at the tail end of the Winter War and the beginning of the Continuation War, it further proved that equipment performance is often secondary to training and morale in the outcome of battle. Several Finnish pilots made ace on it. However, it was one of the few aircraft that apart from fitting it with skis, Finns made no attempt to upgrade or develop in any way.
   Probably the biggest compliment one could give the Fiat G.50 is that the superb G.55 Centauro was derived from it--the one Axis-parter fighter type the Germans were keenly interested in manufacturing for themselves. Chief engineer Giuseppe Gabrielli would go on to design the highly successful G.91 and G.222 for postwar Italy's NATO allies.

  For many years the old Airfix kit from the '60s was the sole choice, not bad but apparently with some shape issues about the fuselage: in the '90s an Italian company--RCR, I think--made a correction set that included the Airfix parts and a crisp new fuselage in resin. AML came out with this one around 1999, released several times over ten or fifteen years following. It's just been released again at this writing, but since the sprue arrangement now looks quite different with fewer options, the molds might have been revised. I do not know if this kit has any relation to the newer one from Fly.
   My sample is a nice limited run release, with two sprues in dark gray plastic featuring fine raised and recessed detail, a little vacuform windshield/canopy, a fret of photoetch, and two wafers of resin detail parts and a third bearing the cowl type with the bumps. Decals cover four machines: two Regia Aeronautica, plus a captured South African machine and a Luftwaffe trainer sporting very interesting camouflage. All four options a depicted in a full-color sheet which encloses the instructions.
   Impressively, the plastic parts include three different vertical stabilizer options and two different fuselages to cover both the G.50 and -bis versions, different only apparently by some extra minor paneling just behind the engine for the extra fuel tank equipping the later sub-type. The standard un-bumped cowl is also present in four parts.
As usual with limited run releases, this begins with clipping off all the main parts, sanding their mating surfaces, and checking fit. This included checking the canopy--always best to take care of this now if there are problems.
AML's construction sequence is modeler-friendly enough. I made only the following deviations: 

1) The fuselage is engineered in three parts:  two fuselage sides and the top. This is likely to accommodate the earlier full-canopy version. Glue the fuselage bottom seam and dry-fit the fuselage top (Part #61), tape in place, and allow to cure. Then fit and glue the cockpit floor and bulkhead, ensuring that the still-loose fuselage top closes over these properly (note that the cockpit floor sits too low. It should be about level with the top of the wing). Only then glue the fuselage upper seams. After this, detail and paint the cockpit. Only when all this is done add Part 61.

2) Hold off on fitting the various plastic and resin gun parts until the engine cowl is securely in place. This will allow you to line the guns up properly with their troughs in the cowl top. I did quite a bit of extra work in this here since it's an area of interest on the finished model, and ended up fitting a set of resin .50 cal perforated barrels left over from another project sleeved into a set of metal blast tubes.
General assembly was otherwise trouble-free. After and overall sanding, landing gear was made up and added. Then the various sticky-outies were replaced with metal and attached, including a pair of exhaust stacks from K&S aluminum tubing.
   A shot of white primer started this out. No whiz on an airbrush, I worked quite a while to get the subtle camouflage right, overspraying a few botched mottles and eventually toning it all down with a light overspray of the base coat. This was sealed in Future, or whatever they call it now, and the decals went on, a mix of kit and spares box markings. A wash and general weathering followed. 

   This kit is so much better than what preceded it that I went out and bought another. It captures the little Fiat's odd hunchbacked look perfectly. Though unavailable for a few years, it just got re-released just before this writing. There's also a resin SBS kit which looks absolutely fantastic, but this one retails at less than a third the price.
   There are few monographs out there covering this aircraft, including an old Profile Publications pamphlet and a title from the excellent Ali D'Italia series which may be found if you poke around online auction sites a little. I simply strung together bits from various Regia Aeronautica-interest titles on my bookshelf plus the Internet to build a complete picture.
   For most of the photographs and the color scheme: Dunning, Chris. Courage Alone: the Italian Air Force 1940-1943. Hikoki Publications, 1998.

Ryan Grosswiler


April 2020


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