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In the autumn of 1957 the 14 countries that then formed the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted a series of competitive trials among a number of western European aircraft manufacturers to select a lightweight ground attack fighter plane. After extensive testing, the aircraft selected as NATO's standard strike fighter was the G.91 produced by Aeritalia, the Italian airframe manufacturers established by the giant automotive firm of fiat.
The G.91, which resembled a scaled-down versions of America's North American F-86 Sabrejet, was a superb aircraft and well suited to its mission of hitting fast and hard at potential enemy ground targets. Its sophisticated array of armament included either four .50-caliber machine guns or two 30-millimeter cannons mounted in the sides of its fuselage, two 500-pound conventional bombs, air-to-air guided missiles and up to 31 air-to-ground rockets. It also had the capability of carrying nuclear weapons, but their type, size and number have remained classified information.
To protect the aircraft as it made low-level ground attacks at speeds of up to 650 miles per hour, the G.91 carried heavy armor plating around its fuel tanks and the cockpit. In the event the aircraft was damaged the pilot could save himself by activating his fully automatic ejection seat.
Although the G.91 was specifically designed for low-level operations, it could fly at attitudes above 30,000 feet. And at that height, despite being powered by an extremely small engine (a Fiat-built Bristol Siddeley Orpheus turbojet engine of only 5,000 pounds static thrust), the Italian craft could exceed Mach 1, the speed of sound.
The international character of the G.91 is underscored by the fact that its engine was designed in England, and it was armed with .50-caliber Colt-Browning machine guns. Some models had sophisticated Canadian computer equipment.The G.91 had proved to be a remarkably long-lived combat aircraft. It remained in production throughout most of the 1960s and appeared in at least nine different versions, the latest being the twin-engine G.91-Y. Powered by General Electric engines, this version had about 60 percent more thrust than the single-engine G.91 and was produced for the use of the Italian Air Force.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
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Updated: March 12, 2004