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World War II: Focke-Wulf Fw 190

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World War II: Focke-Wulf Fw 190

Focke-Wulf Fw 190

Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-8 Specifications:

General

  • Length: 29 ft. 5 in.
  • Wingspan: 34 ft. 5 in.
  • Height: 13 ft.
  • Wing Area: 196.99 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 7,060 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 9,735 lbs.
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 10,800 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance

  • Maximum Speed: 408 mph
  • Range: 500 miles
  • Rate of Climb: 2,560 ft./min.
  • Service Ceiling: 37,430 ft.
  • Power Plant: 1 × BMW 801 D-2 radial engine, 1,730 hp

Armament

  • 2 × 13 mm MG 131 machine guns
  • 4 × 20 mm MG 151/20 E cannons

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Design:

In the fall of 1937, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM - German Aviation Ministry) issued a call for new fighter designs. Though the Messerschmitt Bf 109 had just entered service, RLM desired a next-generation fighter to fight alongside it as well as to counter any new foreign designs. Approaching this request, the lead designer at Focke-Wulf, Kurt Tank, began working on a variety of fighter designs. While his early work focused on utilizing liquid-cooled inline engines, these efforts did not attract the attention of RLM.

This changed when Tank began creating a design centered on the BMW 139 radial engine. In an effort to streamline his aircraft, he designed a cowling which covered the engine entirely while admitting cooling air through a small hole in the propeller spinner. In addition to this radical approach, he replaced many of the traditionally hydraulic systems aboard the aircraft with electric motors. He did so because he believed that they would prove more rugged and less prone to fire in combat. Construction on a prototype dubbed Fw 190 V1, moved forward and was ready for testing in mid-1939.

Taking to the air for the first time on June 1, it displayed excellent handling qualities and a top speed of around 380 mph. Test pilots also positively commented about its wide landing gear stance which made landing and ground maneuvers easier than in the Bf 109. As testing continued, the aircraft was plagued by a high stall speed and engine temperature issues. Finding that his cowling system was not working, Tank replaced it with a more conventional design and a small engine cooling fan. In addition, the powerplant was replaced with the more powerful BMW 801 engine.

This change in engine required Tank to redesign large parts of the aircraft including strengthening the airframe, shifting the cockpit aft, and altering the tail shape. Designated V5, development of this prototype moved forward despite continued issues with engine overheating. Moved into pre-production as the Fw 190 A-0, the aircraft was armed with six 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns (two in the fuselage, four in the wings). Eventually 28 of this variant were constructed, though they were plagued by mechanical issues.

Becoming a Workhorse:

Under fire from RLM, the success of the program was aided by Oberleutnants Karl Borris and Otto Behrens who were able to address several of Fw 190's issues. The first group to make the aircraft operation was Behrens' Eprobungsstaffel 190 in March 1941. Production of the Fw 190A began that June with the aircraft reaching Luftwaffe squadrons that August. In combat, it quickly proved itself superior to the British Spitfire Mk. V, though engine problems persisted. These were largely solved with the arrival of the Fw 190A-2 in October which used the BMW 801 C-2.

The Fw 190A series soon became a workhorse for the Luftwaffe and saw service on all fronts. Through the course of the war, the aircraft progressed through numerous variants which featured a variety of armaments. Culminating with the Fw 190A-9, the series was largely able to maintain parity with newer Allied fighters until the arrival of large numbers of North American P-51 Mustangs. During the course of the war, 13,291 A-series Fw 190 were built for the Luftwaffe. In addition to its fighter role, two series, F- and G-, were designed as ground-attack aircraft and progressed through several variants during the war.

Problems at High Altitude & the Fw 190D:

From the Fw 190's earliest days, the aircraft had shown a dramatic drop in performance above 20,000 feet. In 1941, Tank began exploring options for eliminating this problem through the use of turbochargers and superchargers. These efforts resulted in the B-, C-, and D-series each mounting different engine configurations. While the B-series showed little promise, additional work moved forward on the latter two which mounted a turbocharged Daimler-Benz DB 603 and supercharged Junkers Jumo 213A respectively. As mechanical issues with the DB 603's turbocharger persisted, RLM elected to pursue the D-series.

Based on testing, this variant was found to have suitable performance at 25,000 feet to combat American B-17 Flying Fortress raids on Germany. To accommodate the new engine, Tank was forced to lengthen the fuselage and make other alterations. Beginning production in August 1944 with the Fw 190D-9, the "Dora" as it became known reached the front a month later. As previous attempts to improve the Fw 190 had produced mediocre results at best, frontline pilots expected little from the Dora.

They quickly found that it climbed and dove faster than the A-series and when flown by a skilled pilot was the equal of the P-51 and Mk. XIV Spitfire. Though intended for striking at Allied fighter formations, the course of the war saw the Dora largely used in an anti-fighter and ground attack role. Also, several Doras were used as fighter protection for Messerschmitt Me 262 jet bases. Two upgraded variants, the D-11 and D-13, were planned but neither was produced in large numbers before the end of the war.

Later incarnations of the aircraft proceeded under the designation Ta-152. This change was in recognition of Tank's contributions as the "Ta" represented his name. A departure from earlier Fw 190 designs, the Ta-152H was intended as a high-altitude interceptor. Mounting a 30 mm cannon and two 20 mm machine guns it was capable of 470 mph with a service ceiling of around 49,200 feet. A few saw service beginning in January 1945. Though promising, they were plagued by mechanical issues due to materials shortages and manufacturing issues.

Selected Sources

  • Aviation History: Focke-Wulf Fw 190
  • Fighter-Planes.com: Focke-Wulf Fw 190
  • Ace Pilots: Focke-Wulf Fw 190

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