Aeritalia G91


The mystery plane
The mystery plane

You are correct that this aircraft is not the Me 262. At first glance, I thought it might be some version of the North American F-86 Sabre. The general layout is reminiscent of the F-86D, an all-weather/night fighter that did away with the classic nose inlet in favor of a chin inlet. The change was made to provide room for a radar in the F-86D's distinctive radome. The markings on the aircraft are indeed German, and the Luftwaffe did operate a fleet of Sabres. An example is the F-86K, a simplified model of the F-86D sold to US allies, pictured below.

German F-86K
German F-86K

However, there are a couple of inconsistencies between the F-86 and the plane in the photo you've provided. Most notably, the shape of the nose is different as is the top of the vertical tail. Upon further investigation, we've determined that the aircraft in question is actually an Aeritalia G91, originally known as the Fiat G91. The G91 was designed to meet a NATO requirement for a light attack fighter that could be used by all NATO members. A proposal from the Italian company Fiat was eventually selected as the winner. The G91 was developed during the mid-1950s and was in fact designed as a scaled-down version of the North American F-86K, which explains the many similarities.

G91 three-view schematic
G91 three-view schematic

Though originally proposed as a common, low-cost aircraft for all NATO members, only Italy, Germany, and Portugal ended up purchasing the plane. Most of these aircraft were of the G91R standard, a model originally ordered by Italy and optimized for reconnaissance duties. The G91R was essentially the same as the basic G91 but incorporated modifications to the nose allowing the installation of frontal and lateral oblique photo cameras. Italy acquired the G91R/1 model while Germany purchased the G91R/3 and R/4. R/4 models were also to be provided to Greece and Turkey, but these aircraft were later delivered to Germany and Portugal instead. The aircraft you saw is probably one of the G91R/3 or R/4 aircraft, additional photos of which are shown below.

German G91R/3 and G91R/4
German G91R/3 and G91R/4

The US Air Force also evaluated the R/1 and R/3 but did not choose to purchase any. Other variants included the G91T two-seat trainer and an enlarged, twin-engined version called the G91Y with greater payload. The Portuguese aircraft probably led the most active lives, having served in combat over Guinea, Mozambique, and Angola. These Portuguese planes were among the last G91s in service, but they were retired by 1993.
- answer by Jeff Scott, 24 August 2003


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