|The NMUSAF's preserved C.200 in the markings of 372° Sq., Regia Aeronautica
||24 December 1937
||1,151 + 2 Prototypes
The Macchi C.200 Saetta (Italian: Arrow), or MC.200, was a World War II fighter aircraft built by Aeronautica Macchi in Italy, and used in various forms throughout the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force). The MC.200 had excellent manoeuvrability and general flying characteristics left little to be desired. Stability in a high-speed dive was exceptional, but it was underpowered and underarmed for a modern fighter.
From the time Italy entered war on 10 June 1940, until the armistice of 8 September 1943, the C. 200 flew more operational sorties than any Italian aircraft. The Saetta ranged over Greece, North Africa, Yugoslavia, France, across the Mediterranean and Russia(where it obtained an excellent kill to loss ratio of 88 to 15). Its very strong all-metal construction and air-cooled engine made the aircraft ideal for ground attack and several units flew it as a fighter-bomber. Over 1,000 were built by the time the war ended.
Design and development
Following the end of Italy's campaigns in East Africa, a program was started to completely re-equip the Regia Aeronautica with a new interceptor aircraft of modern design. The 10 February 1936 specifications  called for an aircraft powered by a single radial engine, with a top speed of 500 km/h, climb rate at 6,000 meters of 5 minutes, with a flight endurance of two hours, and armed with a single (later increased to two) 12.7 mm (0.5 in) machine gun.
Macchi's lead designer was Mario Castoldi, the creator of several racing aircraft which competed for the Schneider Trophy, including the M.39, which won the competition in 1926. He also designed the M.C. 72. In designing a modern fighter, Castoldi proposed a modern all-metal cantilever low-wing monoplane, with retractable landing gear, and an enclosed cockpit. The fuselage was of semi-monocoque construction, with self-sealing fuel tanks under the pilot's seat, and in the centre section of the wing. The distinctive "hump" elevated the cockpit to provide the pilot with an unobstructed view over the engine. The wing had an advanced system whereby the hydraulically actuated flaps were interconnected with the ailerons, so that when the flaps were lowered the ailerons drooped as well.
Power was provided by the 650 kW (870 hp) Fiat A.74 radial engine, although Castoldi preferred inline engines, and had used them in all of his previous designs. With "direttiva" (Air Ministry Specification) of 1932, Italian industrial leaders had been instructed to concentrate solely on radial engines for fighters, due to their better reliability. The A.74 was a re-design of the American Pratt & Whitney R-1830 SC-4 Twin Wasp made by engineers Tranquillo Zerbi and Antonio Fessia and was the only Italian engine that could provide a reliability similar to Allied products.
The licence-built A.74 engine could be problematic. In late spring 1941, 4° Stormo's Macchi C.200s then based in Sicily, had all the A.74s produced by the Reggiane factory replaced because they were defective units. The elite unit had to abort many missions against Malta due to engine problems. Although the Macchi C.200 was considered underpowered, the air-cooled radial engine provided some pilot protection during strafing missions. Consequently, the C.200 was often used as a cacciabombardiere (fighter-bomber). Moreover, it was maneuverable and had a sturdy all-metal construction. Its armament of two 12.7 mm (.5 in) machine guns was not sufficient, but the Saetta could compete with contemporary Allied fighters.
The first prototype (MM.336) C.200 flew on 24 December 1937, in Lonate Pozzolo, Varese, with Macchi Chief Test Pilot Giuseppe Burei at the controls. It was followed by the second prototype early the next year. During testing, the aircraft attained 805 km/h (500 mph) in a dive, although it could muster only 500 km/h (310 mph) in level flight due to a lack of engine power. Nevertheless, this was better than the performance of the competing Fiat G.50, Reggiane Re.2000, A.U.T. 18, IMAM Ro.51, and Caproni-Vizzola F.5. In 1938 the C.200 won the tender "Caccia I" (fighter 1st) of the Regia Aeronautica, even if after tests at Guidonia airport, on 11 June 1938, Maggiore Ugo Borgogno had warned that when turning at 90° and the pilot tried to make a tighter turn, the aircraft became extremely difficult to control, tending to turn upside down, mostly to the right and entering into a violent flat spin. Nevertheless, an initial order for 99 was placed to Macchi factory. The G.50 (which in same flight tests at Guidonia airport out-turned the Macchi ) was also placed in limited production, because it could be brought into service earlier. Production started in June 1939.
Like other of the early Italian monoplanes, the C.200 suffered from a dangerous tendency to go in a spin. Early production C.200 aircraft showed autorotation problems similar to the ones of the Fiat G.50, IMAM Ro.51, and the AUT 18. At the beginning of 1940 two deadly accidents occurred due to autorotation. Deliveries and production stopped, and the Regia Aeronautica thought of abandoning use of the type, as the skill involved in flying it was beyond that of the average pilot. The problem was the new profile of the wing. Castoldi soon tested a new profile, but a solution to the autorotation problem was found by Sergio Stefanutti, chief designer of SAI Ambrosini in Passignano sul Trasimeno, based on studies by Willy Messerschmitt and the NACA. He redesigned the wing section according to variable (instead of constant) profile by just covering parts of the wings with plywood.
The new wing entered production in 1939/1940 at SAI Ambrosini and became a standard on the aircraft manufactured by Aermacchi and Breda, a licensed manufacturer. After the modified wings of the Saetta were introduced, the C.200 proved to be, for a time, the best Italian fighter. To save weight, the first production C.200 series did not have armour fitted to protect the pilots. Armour plating was incorporated when the units were going to replace the Saettas with the new Macchi C.202 Folgore and often in only a limited number of aircraft. After the armour was fitted, the aircraft could become difficult to balance, and during aerobatic manoeuvres could enter an extremely difficult to control flat spin, forcing the pilot to bail out. On 22 July 1941, Leonardo Ferrulli, one of the top-scoring Regia Aeronautica pilots, encountered the problem and was forced to bail out over Sicily.
At the beginning of 1940, Denmark was set to place an order for 12 C.200s to replace the ageing Hawker Nimrod fighters, but the deal fell through when Germany invaded Denmark.
The most serious handicap was the low production rate of the type at over 22,000 hours in production time due to antiquated construction technology. A total of 1,153 Saettas were eventually produced, but almost all were gone by the time of the armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces in September 1943.
In an attempt to improve performance, a C.201 prototype was created with a 750 kW (1,000 hp) Fiat A.76 engine, but this was abandoned in favour of the Daimler-Benz DB 601-poweredC.202. The Saetta was to have been replaced outright by the C.202 after only one year in production, but the C.200's service life was extended because Alfa Romeo could not produce enough of the RA.1000 (license-built DB 601) engines, and more C.200s were built using C.202 parts while waiting for production to increase.
A Macchi C.200 on the ground
In August 1939 about 30 C.200s, by then nicknamed Saetta ("Arrow"), were delivered to 10° Gruppo of 4° Stormo, stationed in North Africa. Pilots of this elite unit of the Regia Aeronautica opposed the adoption of the C.200, preferring the more manouvrable Fiat CR.42. These aircraft were then transferred to 6° Gruppo of 1° Stormo in Sicily, who were enthusiastic supporters of the new fighter, and Gruppo 152° of 54° Stormo in Vergiate. When Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940, 144 C.200s were operational, half of which were serviceable. Although the first 240 aircraft had fully enclosed cockpits, the subsequent variants were given open cockpits at the request of the Italian pilots.
The first C.200s to make their combat debut were those of the 6° Gruppo Autonomo C.T. led by Tenente Colonnello (Wing Commander) Armando Francois. This squadron was based at the Sicilian airport of Catania Fontanarossa. A Saetta from this unit was the first C.200 to be lost in combat when on 23 June 1940 14 C.200s (eight from 88a Squadriglia, five from 79a Squadriglia and one from 81a Squadriglia) that were escorting 10 SM.79s from 11° Stormo were intercepted by two Gloster Gladiators. Gladiator N5519, piloted by Flt Lt George Burges, attacked the bombers but was in turn attacked by a C.200 flown by Sergente Maggiore Lamberto Molinelli of 71a Squadriglia over the sea off Sliema. The Macchi overshot four or five times the more agile Gladiator which eventually shot down the Saetta.
Only on 1 November were the C.200s credited with their first kill. A Sunderland on a reconnaissance mission was sighted and attacked just outsideAugusta by a flight of Saettas on patrol.  With the arrival towards the end of December 1940 of X Fliegerkorps in Sicily, the C.200s were assigned escort duty for I/StG.1 and II/StG.2 Ju 87 bombers attacking Malta, as the Stukas did not have adequate fighter cover until the arrival of 7./JG26's Bf 109s.
On 6 February 1941, the elite unit 4° Stormo received C.200s from 54° Stormo. With the autorotation problems solved, the Macchis were regarded as "very good machines, fast, manoeuvrable and strong" by Italian pilots. After intense training, on 1 April 1941, the 10° Gruppo (4° Stormo) moved toRonchi dei Legionari airport and started active service. In combat with the less manoueverable Hurricane it proved effective, with outstanding dogfight performance and no vices. When it entered service, the Supermarine Spitfire was the only Allied fighter that it faced which could outclimb the Saetta.