Portuguese Tiger – Part I: Fiat G.91R/4

In 2017 whilst travelling in Portugal, a visit to the Museu Do Ar in Sintra was an essential part of my journey. This great aviation collection displays the history of the Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa/FAP) from its early days, through to the Cold War and modern era.

One important aircraft to the Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) was the Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft. The fierce looking example on display at the museum is in the markings of Escuadra 121 Tigres.

Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) was the Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft - Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft – Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft in the fierce markings of Escuadra 121 Tigres - Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft in the fierce markings of Escuadra 121 Tigres – Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)

The Fiat G.91 was chosen as a NATO light weight strike fighter and first entered service in 1961 with the Italian Air Force who operated 231 aircraft (31 G.91, 97 G.91R recon-attack and 103 G.91T/1 two-seat trainers). The last were retired in 1995 and replaced by the AMX International A-11/TA-11 light ground attack aircraft.

The Fiat G.91 also entered service with the West German Luftwaffe in 1961 and the Portuguese Air Force followed in 1965. Greece and the United States trialed the Fiat G.91 in the early 1960’s but the small number of aircraft tested never entered regular operational service (4 for Greece and 2 for the USAF).

50 planned G.91R/4 aircraft for Greece and Turkey were diverted to West Germany and operated as trainers until fully retired in 1966. 40 of the aircraft were sold to Portugal and the remaining 10 were retired.

Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) was the Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft - Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft – Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft - Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft – Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft in the fierce markings of Escuadra 121 Tigres - Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
Shark mouth! Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft in the fierce markings of Escuadra 121 Tigres – Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)

By 1970 the West German Luftwaffe had 350 G.91 aircraft in service (310 G.91R/3 recon-attack and 40 G.91T/3 two-seat trainers) and operated the type until 1982. They were replaced by the Dornier/Dassault Alpha Jet.

The Portuguese Air Force operated the G.91 from 1965 to 1993. The first in service were the earlier mentioned G.91R/4’s from West Germany, which were followed with 70 G.91R/3 and 26 G.91T/3 two-seat trainers delivered from West Germany between 1976 and 1982 (a number of the latter purchase did not enter operational service and were used for spare parts).

The Fiat G.91/R4 had a standard armament of 4 x 12.7mm M3 Browning machine guns. 4 underwing pylons could carry rocket pods, gun pods and air to air/air to ground missiles. The example on display has fuel tanks and rockets underwing.

The Fiat G.91/R4 had a standard armament of 4 x 12.7mm M3 Browning machine guns - Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
The Fiat G.91/R4 had a standard armament of 4 x 12.7mm M3 Browning machine guns – Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
The Fiat G.91/R4 photo reconnaissance camera and German lettering from its past West German service – Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)

Portuguese G.91R/4’s were used in combat against African rebel forces seeking independence during the Portuguese Colonial War in Guinea (1966 – 1974), Mozambique (1968 – 1974) and Angola (1974 – 1975). 7 G.91’s were lost in combat in Guinea between 1966 and 1974 – 3 to Soviet supplied Strela 2 (SA-7 Grail) portable surface to air missiles. 1 was lost in a premature bomb detonation related accident on a strike mission in Mozambique in 1973. None were lost in Angola during brief service there between 1974 and 1975.

Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft - Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)
Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) Fiat G.91R/4 ground attack / reconnaissance aircraft – Museu Do Ar, Sintra (2017)

Although easier to get to the museum by car, it is possible to travel to Sintra by public transport from Lisbon and be able to spend plenty of time taking in the collection.  Friendly staff and a great collection, it is well worth a visit!

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