Tag Archives: Nazi Germany

Focke Wulf Ta 154 Moskito

Nazi flag Nazi Germany (1943)
Heavy Fighter – 52 ~ 97 Built

V1 being piloted by Kurt Tank. (Monogram Close-up 22)

Designed as a stopgap to combat the ever-growing numbers of Royal Air Force bombers and de Havilland Mosquitos, the Focke-Wulf Ta 154 was a project plagued with problems, from the glue used for its wooden construction to the unreliable landing gear. After the construction of dozens of prototypes and variants the project was eventually canceled due to inadequate performance and the lack of skilled workers available able to handle the plane’s specialized wooden construction process.

Development

Until the large RAF (Royal Air Force) bomber offensive on Cologne (Köln), Essen, and Bremen in mid-1942, the Luftwaffe had focused on developing offensive aircraft. Shortly after these raids, Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Erhard Milch, the Minister of Air Armaments, held a development conference to spark ideas for possible uses of the Jumo 211 engine. Afterward, Milch made it clear that using “homogenous wood” was a viable option for producing light airplane airframes. The term ‘homogeneous’ refers to the fact that the construction material was all of the same type of plywood. Coincidentally, Milch was also very interested in the creation of a new light, high-speed night bomber.

Blueprint of the Ta 154 before receiving its final designation. (Monogram Close-up 22)

In September of 1942, Focke-Wulf presented the concept of developing a plane equivalent to the De Havilland Mosquito to the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM, the Nazi Ministry of Aviation). It was detailed as being a high-speed, dual-engined, and unarmed bomber. Focke-Wulf’s proposal would be constructed of 50% wood, 39% steel, and 11% fabric (it is not specified whether this was by weight or volume). The RLM immediately gave Focke-Wulf a high-priority contract. The design continued to be refined as a high-speed bomber until 16 October 1942, when Generalfeldmarschall Milch decided to voice the importance of the aircraft’s secondary role as a night fighter. At the time, Germany was in dire need of twin-engine fighters with a large operational range in order to combat the growing waves of Allied bombers, which carried out their missions day and night. In order to satisfy Milch’s requirements, the aircraft was now to be equipped with a FuG 212 search radar and a fixed armament of two MK 103 and two MG 151 cannons.

Cutaway of the Ta 154’s wing spar. (National Air and Space Museum Archives)

With the Ta 154 being constructed mostly of plywood and having promising performance estimates, the Technische Amt (Technical Research Office) was highly interested. They believed they had finally found a second generation night fighter that could adapt to the material shortages facing the Reich at that point and capable of replacing the aging Bf 110. Consequently, Erhard Milch focused his attention even more on the Ta 154’s night fighter capabilities and decided to stop pursuing high-speed bomber research. On 13 November 1942, the Technical Research Office continued their support for the project, then known as the “Ta 211” or the “Focke-Wulf Night Fighter,” and urged Focke-Wulf to continue developing the aircraft. Shortly after, the aircraft received the designation “Ta 154,” which it would keep for the duration of its existence.

On 8 January 1943, just days after Focke-Wulf was told to construct ten prototypes of the Ta 154, the “Ta 154 Startup Conference” took place. At the conference, it was made clear that while the project was promising, there were not enough skilled woodworkers to produce the aircraft. In addition, it was correctly theorized that the Jumo 211 wouldn’t produce enough horsepower at altitude to match the enemy’s aircraft development. The Technische Amt requested an armament of four MK 103 cannons, but in March of the same year, an analysis of the plane revealed that the nearly eight foot long cannons would not be able to fit. It was decided in June 1943 that production of the Ta 154 would be separated into three areas, Silesia, Thuringia, and the Warthe District, with the Warthe District being responsible for the most variants.

Kurt Tank at the controls of the V1 shortly before takeoff. (Tank Power No.304: Focke-Wulf Ta 154)

After only 9 months in the making, the first prototype took flight in early July 1943, flown by Hans Sander. It is often publicized that Kurt Tank, designer of the plane, piloted the Ta 154 on its maiden flight, but this is incorrect, as he was too important to risk in such a potentially dangerous test. Sander later described the plane as being easier to control than the Heinkel 219, which he had flown prior. However, performance was not up to par with the estimates Focke-Wulf started with. Problems continued when it was speculated that installing the FuG 212 radar, flame dampers, and drop tanks requested by the Technische Amt would slow the Ta 154 down to an estimated 360 mph (580 km/h) at altitude. Not only would it slow the aircraft significantly, but it would also lower the service ceiling from 34,100 ft (10,400 m) to 30,800 ft (9,400 m). Due to this, Focke-Wulf demanded the delivery of the more powerful Jumo 213 engines the aircraft desperately needed. Focke-Wulf was promptly declined and were told the engines would be ready in mid-1944.

Kurt Tank taxiing the V1. (Monogram Close-up 22)

On 29 October 1943, a very successful Luftwaffe pilot by the name of Thierfelder test flew the Ta 154. Although he praised the Ta 154, RLM’s head of planning, Oberst Diesing, criticized the plane just months later, stating that any ordinary pilot would not have the same positive experience. The Oberst’s critiques didn’t stop there, however, as he alleged that pieces of the aircraft fuselage fell off when firing the guns and airframe vibrations would discourage pilots from flying the aircraft.

During another conference on 17 March 1944, a date for the start of production could not be set due to the lack of trained workers experienced with handling the plane’s bonding materials and insufficient bonding resin. In addition, the delivery of the Jumo 213 engines was set back further, and it was decided to complete the first production model in the coming months. On 12 April 1944, flight captain Hans Sander, who test flew both the Fw 187 and Ta 154, presented a prototype to Hermann Göring. Göring already had a massive interest in the development of the Ta 154, and the demonstration only fortified his overinflated view of the plane. Soon afterward, the prototype construction program called for prototypes V1 through V9 to be fitted with new metal control surfaces. Unfortunately, the V3 had recently crashed, and the V4 was being repaired after it had crashed.

V1 being towed prior to taking off. (National Air and Space Museum Archives) [Colorized by Michael Jucan]
In mid-1944, trials at Langenhagen uncovered more problems, including the weakness of the landing gear and its hydraulics. Focke-Wulf released a report soon after detailing the total number of crashes so far. V1, V3, V4, V5, V8, and V9 had all crashed from 1943 to May 1944. The crash of the V8 had been caused by an engine fire, resulting in both the pilot and radio operator dying in the crash. Had the cockpit been made of metal, the crew would have survived. This motivated all those working on the Ta 154 to produce a metal fuselage or continue working on the C model, which possessed a metal nose and cockpit.

On May 29, 1944, RAF bombers bombed the factory in the Posen province, as well as destroying the glue manufacturing facility owned by the Goldschmitt Company (Tegofilm). There was also an attempt by Allied fighters to strafe the Langenhagen airfield where the Ta 154 was being tested. This was planned by the Allies to stop the planned production of the Ta 154, as it was believed that it could prove a worthy opponent to their air superiority. In the end this, along with shifting priorities, contributed to the termination of the Ta 154 program.

The V7 at Langenhagen shortly before takeoff. (Monogram Close-up 22)

More problems continued to arise in late-1944, as the mounts for the MK 108 cannons could not handle the recoil of the large caliber gun. Consequently, any Ta 154’s that did see combat were only fitted with the remaining two MG 151/20 cannons and did not have a metal fuselage. Those aircraft were deployed in Northern Germany. Furthermore, finding a suitable source for resin was proving ever more difficult. More prototypes had been planned under the names V1a, V11, V14a, and V24, with the last two being planned for static testing of the C variant. During another meeting on May 24th between Kurt Tank, Milch, Galland, Heinkel, Vogt, Frydag, Saur, and Göring, Tank finally admitted that the project was stalled because of the lack of the necessary resin. Moreover, Göring was becoming disappointed in the engine’s performance affecting the entire aircraft and feared that upgrading to the Jumo 213 would still leave much to be desired. Göring continued to voice his concerns with the wooden underside of the aircraft which made belly landings impossible. Tank’s Ta 154 was now on the chopping block. On 6th July, 1944, GFM Milch notified Focke-Wulf that the Ta 154 and Ta 254 programs would be terminated immediately.

All the remaining aircraft were left to sit at airfields. This resulted in most being destroyed in air raids and strafing attacks by Allied planes. Of the few remaining Ta 154’s used by separate night-fighter groups, many were destroyed to prevent capture by Allied troops. Of the 50-100 complete aircraft and many incomplete airframes, the Allies found a single Ta 154 A-1 intact, formerly used by NJG 3 (Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 / Night Hunter Squadron 3) at Lechfeld. The Ta 154 was placed behind a stack of jet engines waiting to be scrapped. It is likely that any captured Ta 154’s were scrapped, as none survive today. There is, however, a replica of the forward sections of the V3 at the Luftfahrttechnisches Museum in Rechlin, placed there in 2006. Many replicas exist at the museum, including the Me 262 HG I, He 162, and Ju 388.

Variants

V1 after it has received its designation. (Monogram Close-up 22)

There were many different variants of the Ta 154 built or proposed despite its relatively short lifespan. The first prototype was completed in July 1943, with prototype numbers ranging from V1 to V23. V1 through V10 were the first batch of prototypes ordered by the RLM. V11 through V14 were static airframes meant for destructive tests, with the former three resembling A models, and V14 resembling the C variant. V15 was a prototype of the A-2 variant. The use of V16 through V21 is not clear, but V20 is thought to have been the prototype for the C-1 variant, which was never produced. V22 was particularly special because of its lengthened fuselage, and there exists a photo of its wreckage. V23 is less known, but both the V22 and V23 were test beds for the Jumo 213 A. There is close to no information detailing prototypes past V10. Only brief explanations of their purpose is available.

The A-0 model was the pre-production version, of which a total of about twenty-two were constructed. They were equipped with FuG 220 radar, but had their flame dampers removed. The A-1 was the first production variant, very similar to the A-0, of which six were built. The A-2 variant was almost identical to the A-1 in all aspects, and four were built. The A-4 variant featured the addition of upturned wing tips to aid in lateral stability. Only two A-4s are known to have been built.

After the first A model Moskitos were tested, the B model was drawn up. It was based on the A-4, but incorporated a bubble canopy and a metal nose section to protect the pilot in case of belly landings. In early December 1943, however, Technische Amt decided to abandon the Ta 154 B model, and instead focus on the production of the C model, which also had a bulbous canopy, but now had an extended fuselage. It was during this time that the D variant was also realized, but was soon renamed the Ta 254. It would be equipped with Jumo 213 engines, MW 50 injection, and larger wings. No B, C, or Ta 254 models were built.

Production

The backside of the A-1. (Tank Power No.304: Focke-Wulf Ta 154)

The process to build the Ta 154 was not expensive in regards to the amount or costs of the necessary materials, but was pricey in terms of the manpower required for its careful assembly. The fuselage of the Ta 154 alone took four hundred hours to complete. All kinds of jigs and presses were constructed to aid in the process of molding the wood to the correct shape. The key to making so many Ta 154s was having as many workers as possible, but the curing process for the glue resin that was used took up to a full day to cure, which meant lots of time was spent waiting rather than working. Unfortunately for Focke-Wulf, the amount of workers that were experienced in working with these materials were few and far between. This meant the quality of the planes came down to the craftsmanship of each individual worker. Compared to the quality of the RAF Mosquito, the Ta 154 was inferior. The German wood workers were not used to the pressures of wartime production that the British were accustomed to.

The Ta 154 was trialed in some unorthodox ways. To test the strength of the components, a mockup missing both engines and a large portion of its wings was built specifically to be dragged underwater by a towing unit. This was done in 1943 at Lake Alatsee in Füssen, Bavaria. The towing unit was an “FGZ”, a trio of pontoon boats with a large crane in the center of the three. The mockup was dragged underwater at speeds up to 8.45 m/s (16 knots, 30 km/h) to simulate the pressure of flying. There were a total of six of these tests, and on the sixth test, the damage to the mockup became extensive. The nose cone became deformed, each end of the cut-off wing sections were mangled, and the canopy was broken.

Role

The Ta 154, although originally intended to be a high-speed bomber, was fully realized as a night fighter. The purpose of a night fighter is to counter aircraft, specifically bombers in this case, at night or in low visibility conditions. Such an aircraft was highly valued by the Luftwaffe in their efforts to counter the nightly RAF bombing raids targeting German industrialized zones.

Operational Service

Very limited information is available on the actions of the Moskitos assigned to 3.NJGr 10 and NJG 3, however, on March 22, 1945, four Ta 154s were spotted at Stade Airfield. They were observed next to Ju 88 and He 219 night fighters, as well as one undergoing armament tests at a range on the base. Three of the four Ta 154s were covered in light-colored paint, while the last was in a spotted camouflage. To back up the evidence that several were in operational service, a document from Junkers on March 16, 1945, details several Ta 154s being assigned to III./NJG 3. The document proceeds to tell of the experience of the Ta 154s against De Havilland Mosquitos, a fight during which the British plane usually came out on top. Another document from the British, ATI 2nd TAF Report A 685, was made on May 10, 1945. This report detailed the discovery of a crashed Ta 154 in operation as a night fighter on May 6, 1945. The camouflage pattern was a light blue on the majority of the aircraft, with gray spots decorating the top half of the plane. The crew of the aircraft was nowhere to be found, and the aircraft was looted by locals. In addition, the horizontal stabilizer was completely metal, and an angled wing tip device was fitted to improve stability. This points to one of two A-4s produced.

Design

V1 in its original paint scheme. Note the absence of flame dampers. (Monogram Close-up 22)

The Ta 154 “Moskito” was a twin-engined heavy fighter with shoulder-mounted wings, fuselage-mounted horizontal stabilizers, a tricycle landing gear arrangement, while being composed almost entirely out of wood. Perhaps the least noticeable characteristic of the Ta 154 that gave it major problems was its wings. They had no dihedral, which resulted in instability in turns. This problem was fixed in the A-4 variant that took advantage of upturned wingtips. The problem that affected the Ta 154 the most was failure of the front landing gear assembly. Because of the tricycle landing gear arrangement, the front gear had to be long enough to allow clearance for the propellers on the ground. The length of the front landing gear and the lack of thick supports meant failures happened often. The crew of the Ta 154 almost exclusively consisted of a single pilot and a radio operator. The Ta 154 was equipped with a multitude of different radio and radar instruments. This includes the FuG 212 or FuG 220 search radar, FuG 17 VHF Transceiver, PeilG VI direction-finding set, FuBL 2F, FuG 101 altimeter, FuG 25 IFF set, and FuG 28a transponder.

The Ta 154 was often equipped with flame dampers, which are fitted to the exhaust of the engines. The purpose of flame dampers is to dampen engine noise and decrease the visibility of flames exiting the exhaust. The Ta 154, with the exception of very few variants, was equipped with two Jumo 211 F/N/R engines. The variants that did not have those specific engines were provided with Jumo 213 A/E engines that marginally improved the Ta 154’s performance. The A-1 and A-2 variants were equipped with MW 50 injection, which was a combination of water and methanol that both increased boost pressure substantially and allowed the engine to suck in more air. This injection could result in up to hundreds more horsepower than the engine would normally run, but could only be used in short bursts. GM 1, a nitrous-oxide injection system, was also proposed for the A-2 variant. Concerning armament, the Ta 154 was armed with two 20 mm MG 151/20 and two 30 mm MK 108 cannons, although field modifications were made to individual planes. Some modifications included replacing the original armament with two or four MG 151/20’s, or, in rare cases, four MK 108 cannons. The typical ammo count for an armed Ta 154 was 300 rounds total for the MG 151s, and 200 round total for the MK 108 cannons. A bomb load of a single 500kg bomb was proposed for the A-2 variant, but it is unknown whether or not this was attempted. More than one Ta 154 is alleged to have been converted to A-2/U4s, which were equipped with Schräge Musik. Schräge Musik was the German name for upward firing guns that allowed an aircraft to fire on enemies without facing directly at them. This allowed night fighters like the Bf 110 and Do 217 J to catch enemy bombers unaware with gunfire from below them.

At the end of the Ta 154 program, a radical idea to rig up an Fw 190 on a superstructure above spare Ta 154s was realized. The interior of the Moskito would be filled with explosives, as well as replacing unneeded fuel tanks with more explosives. The Ta 154 fly unmanned, and the pilot of the Fw 190 would maneuver both planes on a course into an enemy bomber formation, where the pilot would detach from the Moskito fully laden with explosives. Once the Moskito reached the middle of the formation, it would be remotely detonated by the pilot of the Fw 190. Just like many variants of the Ta 154, this was also never completed.

Variants

Prototypes

  • Ta 154 V1 – First prototype, designated TE+FE, not fitted with armament or flame dampers and equipped with Jumo 211F engines powering three-bladed VS 11 propellers, later retrofitted with Jumo 211N engines. Its first flight took place on July 1, 1943, and it crashed during testing on 31 July 1943 due to landing gear legs collapsing upon landing.
  • Ta 154 V2 – Second prototype, designated TE+FF, fitted with flame dampers and FuG 212 C-1 radar but unarmed. Later retrofitted with Jumo 211N engines. Destroyed in an air raid on August 5, 1944.
  • Ta 154 V3 – Third prototype, designated TE+FG, identical to V2 except for a larger vertical stabilizer. Crashed on 28 February 1944 due to the nose wheel buckling and destroying the nose section. Later damaged beyond repair in an air raid in mid-1944.
  • Ta 154 V4 – Fourth prototype, designated TE+FH, first flight took place on 19 January 1944. Later retrofitted with a raised canopy and an MG 81 in the dorsal position behind the pilot. Crashed on 18 February 1944 due to landing gear experiencing an uncommanded retraction upon landing.
  • Ta 154 V5 – Fifth prototype, designated TE+FI, crashed on 7 April 1944 due to landing gear failure on landing.
  • Ta 154 V6 – Sixth prototype, designated TE+FJ. Possibly captured by Soviet troops at Rechlin.
  • Ta 154 V7 – Seventh prototype, designated TE+FK, painted in RLM 75/76 camouflage pattern, fate unknown.
  • Ta 154 V8 – Eighth prototype, designated TE+FL, first Ta 154 equipped with Jumo 213 engines and VS 111 propellers. Crashed on 6 May 1944 due to an engine fire, both crew members, Otto and Rettig, were killed on impact.
  • Ta 154 V9 – Ninth prototype, designated TE+FM, crashed on 18 April 1944 due to the right wingtip striking the ground, killing H. Meyer on the ground.
  • Ta 154 V10 – Tenth prototype, designated TE+FN, equipped with Jumo 213A engines, fate unknown.

Production Variants

  • Ta 154 A-0 – Pre-production variant fitted with FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2 radar and flame dampers removed.
  • Ta 154 A-1 – Production variant, fitted with Jumo 211F, N or R engines
    • Ta 154 A-1/R1 – equipped with GM 1 and an MG 81 in a new dorsal position.
  • Ta 154 A-2 – Fitted with two MG 151/20s and two MK 108 cannons, proposed to equip GM 1 NOS injection and one 500 kg bomb.
    • Ta 154 A-2/U4 – Night fighter variant, same armament as A-2, with the addition of two diagonally placed MK 108 cannons in the rear fuselage. (Schräge Musik)
  • Ta 154 A-4 – Fitted with two MG 151/20 (200 rpg) and two MK 108 (110 rpg) cannons and FuG 218 radar. The most interesting part of the A-4 was the addition of upturned wingtips.
  • Ta 154 B-1 – Proposed two-seat night fighter variant with a raised canopy, metal nose section, drop tanks, and Jumo 211N engines. Research discontinued in favor of the C variant with Jumo 213 engines.
  • Ta 154 C – Proposed variants to be fitted with Jumo 213A engines and incorporating a metal nose section as well as a raised canopy.
    • 5 cm B.K. armed Ta 154 C – A concept of a Ta 154 C variant armed with a 5 cm B.K. 5 cannon conceived in early 1944. None were produced.
  • Ta 254 A – Proposed variant family with Jumo 213E engines, MW 50, four broad-blade VS 9 airscrew assembly and longer wings, enlarging the wing area to 452 ft2 (42 m2)
  • Ta 254 B-1 – Proposed two-person night fighter variant with metal nose section, powered by two DB 603L engines driving VDM propellers.
  • Ta 254 B-2 – Proposed three-person day fighter variant with metal nose section, powered by two Jumo 213F or G engines equipped with three-bladed VDM propellers.
  • Ta 254 B-3 – Proposed one-person all-weather fighter, powered by two DB 603L engines and to be fitted with MW 50 field modification.
  • Ta 154 Mistel – A proposed variant of an unmanned Ta 154 A-4/U3 filled with explosives with an Fw 190A attached above via a detachable superstructure. The 190 pilot would fly the two planes into an enemy bomber formation, detach the superstructure, and detonate the Ta 154’s explosives.

Operators

  • Nazi Germany – A-1 variants were used by the 3rd Staffel of the Nachtjagdgruppe 10 (3.NJGr 10) and Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 (NJG 3). It is not known whether they were lost in combat or achieved any air victories.

Focke-Wulf Ta 154 A-0 Specifications

Wingspan 52 ft 6 in / 16 m
Length 41 ft 4 in / 12.6 m
Height 11 ft 10 in / 3.6 m
Wing Area 348¾ ft² / 32.4 m²
Wing Loading 56.58 lbs/ft2 / 276.23 kg/m2
Engine 2x 1,410 hp (1036 kW) Jumo 211F/2 liquid-cooled inverted V12 piston engine
Propeller 2x 3-blade VS 9 broad-blade airscrew assembly
Powerplant Ratings
Horsepower output Revolutions per minute (rpm) Altitude
Take Off 1,340 hp 2,600 rpm Sea Level
Normal

(Approx. 84% Throttle)

1,006 hp 2,050 rpm 7,200 ft / 2,200 m
853 hp 2,100 rpm 12,500 ft / 3,820 m
907 hp 2,240 rpm 19,400 ft / 5,900 m
670 hp 2,340 rpm 27,900 ft / 8,500 m
Military

(100% Throttle)

1,198 hp 2,270 rpm 6,200 ft / 1,900 m
1,004 hp 2,450 rpm 11,500 ft / 3,500 m
1,046 hp 2,420 rpm 17,400 ft / 5,300 m
865 hp 2,470 rpm 23,000 ft / 7,000 m
Fuel Grade 87 Octane Leaded Gasoline
Fuel Capacity 422 US Gal / 1,600 L
Oil Capacity 42⅓ US Gal / 160 L
Weights
Empty 13,580 lbs / 6,160 kg
Combat 17,840 lbs / 8,090 kg
Maximum Take Off 19,730 lbs / 8,950 kg
Maximum Landing 15,490 lbs / 7,025 kg
Climb Rate 1,770 ft / 540 m per minute
Maximum Speed 385 mph / 620 km/h at 19,700 ft / 6,000 m
Cruising Speed 332 mph / 534 km/h at 9,800 ft / 3,000 m
Landing Speed 115 mph / 185 kmh
Range 990 mi / 1,600 km
Maximum Service Ceiling 31,200 ft / 9,500 m
Crew 1 pilot + 1 radar operator
Armament
  • 2x MK 108 (100 rpg)
  • 2x MG 151 (150 rpg)

Gallery

Focke-Wulf Ta-154 V1 TE+FE – July 1943
Focke-Wulf Ta-154 V3 TE+FG – March 1943
Focke-Wulf Ta-154 V7 TE+FK – March 1944

Focke-Wulf Ta 154 Replica, Luftfahrt Technisches Museum, Rechlin
Ta 154 V3 replica at Luftfahrttechnisches Museum Rechlin by Peter Cook / CC BY-SA 2.0

Videos

Sources

Primary:

  • D.(Luft) T.3803 Junkers Verstelluftschrauben-Anlage Jumo 211 F und J. (1943)
  • Jumo 211 F und J – Baureihe 1 – Leistungsschaubild. (1941)
  • Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau GmbH Nr.26a-Mistel Ta 154 A – Fw 190 A-8 “Beethoven”. (18 July 1944)

Secondary:

Messerschmitt Me 163S Habicht

Nazi flag Nazi Germany (1945)
Rocket Interceptor Trainer – 1 Built

A rear 3/4 view of the Soviet captured “White 94” Me 163S. Colorization by Michael Jucan [Yefim Gordon]
The Messerschmitt Me 163S (Schulflugzeug / Training Aircraft) Habicht (Hawk) was an unarmed two-seat training glider based off of the famous Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet. Originally designed for the purpose of training novice pilots for landing, the Habicht ultimately never saw active service with the Germans and only a single example was produced through the conversion of a serial Me 163B-1. With the sole example captured by the Russians after the war, the Habicht underwent extensive testing by the Soviet Air Force which helped them understand the flying characteristics of the Komet and prepared Soviet pilots for flying the powered Komets. The Habicht undoubtedly played a part in helping Soviet engineers understand the Komet and thus played a part in the future development of Soviet rocket aircraft.

History

A closeup view of the Me 163S showing the right wing. [Yefim Gordon]
The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet was one of Nazi Germany’s most famous aircraft produced during the Second World War. Although bearing the title of the world’s first mass-produced rocket-powered interceptor, the Komet did have its fair share of flaws, such as the volatile and sometimes dangerous Walter HWK 109-509 rocket engine, which prevented it from becoming an effective weapon against the Allies.

As the Komet was designed to have a limited amount of fuel to engage Allied bombers, pilots were expected to glide the Komet back to friendly airfields once they disengaged from combat. With gliding landings as a potential problem for the less experienced pilots, one of the ideas proposed by Messerschmitt designers in 1944 was to introduce a dedicated trainer variant of the Komet which would have a student pilot accompanied by an instructor pilot. Designated as the Messerschmitt Me 163S (Schulflugzeug / Training Aircraft) Habicht, the trainer glider differed from the production model with the addition of an instructor’s cockpit behind the forward cockpit. This addition was accompanied by the removal of the Walter HWK 109-509 rocket engine and the Habicht would have to be towed by another aircraft in order to get airborne. Another interesting addition to the Habicht was a second liquid tank behind the instructor’s cockpit for counterbalancing. All the liquid tanks would be filled with water for weight simulation and ballast. A total of twelve examples were planned for production, but only one was produced due to wartime production constraints.

The sole example of the Habicht was built by converting an earlier Me 163B-1 production model. Due to the scarcity of information regarding the Me 163S, it is unknown exactly when the Habicht was produced and what sort of testing it may have undergone during German possession. However, it is known that the Soviet Union was able to capture the only example during the final stages of the World War II’s Eastern Front. The sole Habicht was sent to the Soviet Union along with three Me 163B Komets during the Summer of 1945 for thorough inspection and testing. In historian Yefim Gordon’s book “Soviet Rocket Fighters – Red Star Volume 30”, he claims that in addition to the three Komets, seven Habicht trainer models were also captured. This, however, remains quite dubious as there is no evidence that more than one Habicht existed, and all current photographic material, research materials, and books all suggest that only a single example was produced.

The Me 163S in simulated flight configuration aided by struts. [Yefim Gordon]
As the Soviets were particularly interested in rocket propulsion aircraft, the State Defence Committee issued a resolution which called for the thorough examination of the Walter 109-509 jet engine and the Me 163 Komet along with captured German documents on rocket propulsion. The three Me 163B Komets, of which only one was airworthy, and the Me 163S Habicht were sent to the Flight Research Institute (LII), the Valeriy P. Chkalov Soviet Air Force State Research Institute (GK NII VSS), and the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI). The Habicht and Komets saw extensive testing in Soviet hands, undergoing several structural, static and wind tunnel tests. During the initial flight testing period, the Komet only flew as a glider as Soviet pilots and engineers were unsure of whether or not the Walter rocket engine was ready for use since bench tests were not completed. Securing the T-Stoff and C-Stoff propellants for the rocket engine was also a problem. In order to understand the handling characteristics of the Komet, the Habicht was flown numerous times at different altitudes, as was the unpowered Komet. A Tupolev Tu-2 bomber was responsible for towing the Habicht to these altitudes. Under Soviet ownership, the Habicht was given the nickname of “Карась” (Karas / Crucian Carp) due to the glider’s distinct silhouette. The test pilot responsible for flying the Habicht was Mark Lazarevich Gallaj. In general, the Habicht was considered relatively easy to handle by the Soviet test pilots. It is unknown how many test flights the Habicht underwent, but the aircraft certainly aided Soviet pilots in understanding the handling characteristics of the Komet. The Habicht’s service came to an end once the Soviet state trials of the Komet concluded. The sole example was scrapped sometime in 1946, along with seemingly all the other Komets.

If the Me 163S was able to be mass produced and flown with the Luftwaffe, the aircraft would have been a valuable tool to train German pilots. Landing the Komet was a problem for some pilots and in some cases resulted in fatalities but, with the use of the Habicht, the number of accidents would have certainly decreased.

Design

The Me 163S hung upside down in an unspecified TsAGI workshop for static testing. [Yefim Gordon]
The Messerschmitt Me 163S Habicht was a semi-monocoque aluminum based two-seat training glider developed off the standard tailless Messerschmitt Me 163B-1 Komet. The sole example was converted from a production Komet, which meant dramatic modifications had to be made to the aircraft. The Walther HWK 109-509 rocket engine was removed and in its place was a cockpit for an instructor. The fuel tanks in the airframe were all filled with water to simulate fuel weight while another water tank was added behind the instructor’s cockpit for ballast purposes. There was no armament fitted to the glider. There was a small transparent section between the student pilot’s cockpit and the instructor pilot’s cockpit, presumably for the purpose of communication. As there are no known German documents on the Habicht and Russian documents are scarce, not much is known on the other differences the Habicht may have had. Detailed specifications of the Habicht are unknown, but theoretically it should have been identical to the standard Me 163B-1 Komet except for possibly weight, air drag and center of gravity.

Operators

  • Nazi Germany – The intended operator and producer of the Me 163S Habicht.
  • Soviet Union – The main operator of the Me 163S Habicht. A single Habicht was captured and tested by the Soviets after the war. The Habicht was scrapped in 1946.

*Editor’s note: As noted above, the exact specifications of the Me 163S Habicht are unknown. However they are presumed to be similar to that of the Me 163B-1 Komet.

Gallery

Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji

Me 163S Habicht “White 94” in Russian Service [Haryo Panji]
Me 163S Habicht in German Service [Haryo Panji]
 

 

Now known as the “White 94”, the Me 163S sits idly by. [Yefim Gordon]
A closeup view of the Me 163S showing the transparent section between the two cockpits. [Yefim Gordon]
The Me 163S in simulated flight configuration aided by struts. [Yefim Gordon]
A top down view of the “White 94” Me 163S. [Yefim Gordon]
A photo of the “White 94” Me 163S in flight being towed by a presumed Tupolev Tu-2. The pilot in the photo is likely Mark L. Gallaj. [Yefim Gordon]
The Me 163S inside TsAGI’s T-101 wind tunnel for testing. The struts support the Habicht and simulate its flight configuration. [Yefim Gordon]
An alternate closeup view of the Me 163S during static tests. [Yefim Gordon]

Yet another inverted static test, but this time the tail wheel strut and tire were removed from the Me 163S. [Yefim Gordon]

Sources

Akaflieg Berlin B9

Nazi flag Nazi Germany (1942)
Experimental Aircraft – 1 Prototype Built

Three-quarters view of the B9, note the large glazed cockpit. Colorized by Michael Jucan [airwar.ru]
The Akaflieg Berlin B9 was a German experimental twin engine aircraft designed with the pilot placed in the prone position.  It was designed to withstand extremely high g-forces. One prototype was built and tested by a glider production workshop in 1943 but it would not be adopted for mass production. The author would like to especially thank Carsten Karge from the Archiv Akaflieg Berlin for providing information on this generally unknown aircraft.

Why prone position?

During sharp up and down turns while flying an aircraft, strong g-forces appear that act on the pilot, potentially leading to loss of consciousness. Under normal flying conditions, the g-forces that appear are relatively harmless. The first effect of the g-force which the pilot notices is the difficulty of moving his body normally, as normal movements feel much heavier. Another effect of strong g-forces, which is much more dangerous, is the loss of oxygen flow to the brain. In some cases, the flow of oxygen and blood to the human brain can be greatly diminished, which can lead to the pilot losing consciousness momentarily. This effect lasts a short time, but it is enough for the pilot to lose control of the plane with a potentially fatal outcome.

While today, devices such as advanced anti-g suits help the pilot withstand strong g-forces, during the World War Two, other solutions had to be found. The Germans had noticed that, especially during sharp dive bombing actions, the pilots often lost consciousness. One way to tackle this was to put the pilot into a prone position, which in essence means to fly the plane while lying on the belly. In this position, the pilot has both his heart and his brain at the same level, which means that blood is no longer stopped from travelling to the brain during high-g maneuvers. Thus, this flying position allows the pilot to endure much greater g-forces than he would normally be able to if he would be in an ordinary sitting position. Other advantages of the prone position are the reduced aircraft size, smaller fuselage, less drag due to the smaller cockpit, and it would be easier for the pilot to operate the plane when conducting bomb sighting and ground attack, among other advantages.

During the war, the Germans would test several such aircraft designs, sush as the Henschel Hs 132 or B9, mostly for the ground attack role. Beside a few prototypes built, none were ever used operationally.

History

The SF 17 prone glider was the forerunner of the B9 powered aircraft [Akaflieg Stuttgart]
In order to test the idea of an aircraft with the pilot in the prone-position, the Aero-Technical Group (Flugtechnische Fachgruppe/FFG) of Stuttgart designed and later built the FS 17 all-wood test glider. It was especially designed to withstand forces up to 14 G. It made its first test flight on 21st March, 1938. In the spring of 1939, FFG Stuttgart made the first design drawings and calculations for a prone-piloted aircraft. This aircraft was to be powered by two Hirth HM 50 engines with an estimated speed of 250 mph (400 km/h).

FFG Stuttgart never completed this project as it was forced, for unknown but likely politicaly reasons, to hand over the project to Akaflieg (Akademische Fliegergruppe/Academic Aviator Group) Berlin. It is possible the order came from the German Experimental Department for Aerospace (Deutsche Versuchanstalt für Luftfahrt e.V. Berlin-Aldershof) DVL or even from the Ministry of Aviation (RLM – Reichsluftfahrtministerium), but precise information is lacking. Akaflieg Berlin, founded in 1920, was one of the oldest gliding clubs in Germany and it still exists today.

The RLM designation for this aircraft was “8-341” but Akaflieg used the simpler B9 designation. The technical characteristics that the new plane was supposed to have were a good field-of-view for the pilot in the prone position, a high degree of safety for the pilot, a high speed during diving, good general flying characteristics and being able to withstand forces of up to 25 G, or 22 G depending on the sources.

Akaflieg Berlin had a small number of engineers and workers and an adequately equipped workshop to complete the task given. For this purpose, a design team was formed with Theodor Goedicke, Leo Schmidt and Martin G. Winter, which was responsible for the creation of this new aircraft design. The first prototype was to be ready by August 1942 but this was never achieved, and the prototype was only completed in early 1943. It made its first test flight on the 10th April, 1943 at the Schönefeld airfield, near Berlin.

The Design

Front view of the B9 [airwar]
The B9 was a single-seat, low wing, mixed construction aircraft with the pilot in prone position. It consisted of a metal airframe, made of steel ribs, covered with wood and canvas. The main fuselage’s cross-section was trapezoidal shaped. As the B9 was specifically designed to withstand forces of up to 25 G, it had to have a strong fuselage.

The wings were made of wood covered with duralumin sheets. In order for the wooden wings to withstand the strong torsional forces which occur during high acceleration maneuvers, the spaces between the spars were heavily reinforced. The middle part of the wings viewed from above have a square shape and then narrow towards the wing tips. The wings were held in place by four bolts on each side. The rear tail design was a simple one, with standard rudder and elevators.

The B9 had a standard retractable landing gear copied from the Me-108, which consisted of two larger wheels and one smaller non-retractable wheel at the back. The landing gear was lowered and raised manually. The front wheels retracted into the engine nacelles, but they were not fully enclosed.

The B9 had a large 4.9 ft (1.5 m) long glazed cockpit with good all-around view. But, as the pilot was in a prone position, the above and the rear views were limited by the human body’s inability to turn the head in these directions. The glazed cockpit was made of two parts, the front windshield and the rear larger canopy that opened to the right side. The cockpit interior had to be especially designed for a pilot lying in the prone position. The usual flight controls were almost useless in this situation and, thus, certain changes were necessary. It was important to divide the controls on both sides of the cockpit, in order to avoid the pilot crossing hands, which could lead to complications in flight. On the right side were the controls for ailerons and elevation. The pilot would use his right hand to gain access to the harness and the canopy release mechanism. For controlling the rudders and brakes, the pilot would use his feet. Using his left hand, he would operate the remaining instruments, the throttles, flaps, ignition switches, emergency pump, fire warning, undercarriage control and others. Additional engine and flight instruments were located behind the pilot. These included, among others, the distance indicator, climb indicator, compass, oil and fuel pressure gauges and airspeed indicator. For the pilot to be able to see them, a small mirror was provided. There were also inclined and horizontal line markers on the inner windshield to help the pilot with orientation. For flying at high altitude, an oxygen supply system with a mask was provided to the pilot.

The aircraft was powered by two Hirt HM 500 air-cooled engines, with 105 hp each. The maximum speed was around 140 mph (225 km/h) but, according to some sources, it was as high as 155 mph (250 km/h). The four fuel tanks, with a total capacity of 25 gallons (95 l), were located between the spars on both engine sides. The B9’s effective operational range was 250 mi (400 km). Originally, the B9 was meant to be equipped with two variable-pitch propellers, but it was instead fitted with ordinary wooden fixed pitch propellers made by the Schäfer company.

As the B9 could be used as a ground attack aircraft, a bomb rack was meant to be installed, but it is not clear if this was ever implemented.

Operational Testing

The B9 in flight [airwar]
The operational prototype was ready by the summer of 1943. The first test flights were carried out by Ing. L. Schmidt and Dipl.-lng. E. G. Friedrichs. On one flight, L. Schmidt had an accident, the details of which are not known, but the plane probably suffered only minor damage.

The B9 was meant to make a series of test flights in order to ascertain if the prone position design had any merit and to test the general flying and overall structural performance. If these proved to be successful, the B9 would serve as base for future development and be put into active service. The B9 aircraft received the ”D-ECAY” marking, which was painted on both sides of the fuselage.

The tests were carried out from July to October 1943, during which time around thirty pilots had the opportunity to fly it. The test flights were conducted without any major problems and only one accident was recorded. This accident was caused not by any mechanical problems, but by a pilot mistake during takeoff. The B9 was damaged, but it was repaired and put back into service in only a few weeks.

The pilots did not have many objections to flying in the new prone position. They described it as comfortable and that it was relatively easy to adapt to the new commands. There were some issues, like fatigue and tiredness of the neck and shoulder muscles because of the constant moving of the upper arms. There were also some complaints about the chin supporter, which was deemed as unpleasant during flight but it was essential during high g-force maneuvers. During these test flights, the control panel and the controls did receive some changes in design. The large and fully glazed cockpit provided the pilot with good front and below fields of view, while the rear and upward view was somewhat problematic due to the prone position.

These tests showed that this type of aircraft was well suited for bomber, ground attack, high speed reconnaissance and possibly even in a high-speed fighter role. But it was also noticed that, due to the somewhat restricted view, the use of low speed prone pilot aircraft without air support was not recommended. Despite being designed to withstand forces of up to 25 G, the maximum achieved was only 8.5 G. One of the reasons for this was the use of low rotational speed propellers.

For 1944 and 1945 unfortunately, there is no information about the B9’s operational use. The B9 was found abandoned at the Johannisthal airfield near Berlin after the war. In what condition it was by the time of capture is not known. What is unusual is that the B9 was captured by the Americans and not the Soviets (according to author Hans J.W.). What the Americans did with the plane is unknown to this day, but it was most likely scrapped.

Only one B9 plane prototype was ever built. By 1943 and 44, a large amount of resources were invested in the production of fighters for the defense of the Reich and there were neither the time nor the resources needed to develop and test such an aircraft.

Akaflieg Berlin B9 Specifications

Wingspan 30 ft 10 in / 9.4 m
Length 19 ft 8 in / 6 m
Height 7 ft 7 in / 2.3 m
Wing Area 128 sq ft / 11.9 m²
Engine Two Hirt HM 500 engines, with 105 hp each
Empty Weight 2,207 lbs / 940 kg
Maximum Takeoff Weight 2,458 lbs / 1,115 kg
Fuel Capacity 95 l
Maximum Speed 140 mph / 225 km/h
Range 250 mi / 400 km
Maximum Service Ceiling 13,000 ft / 4.000 m
Climb to 13,125 ft / 4,000 m 4 minutes and 12 seconds
Crew One pilot
Armament None

Gallery

Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji

 

Akaflieg Berlin B9 – Prototype [Haryo Panji]
B9 drawings [airwar]

Sources

Hütter Hü 136 Stubo

Nazi flag Nazi Germany (1938)
Armored Ground Attack Aircraft – 1 Replica Built

Stubo I Replica [aviationmuseum.eu]
The Hütter 136 was an interesting concept for a ground attack aircraft that employed numerous experimentations in its design. The cockpit was fully armored, the landing gear was replaced by a skid, and the entire propeller would be jettisoned off during landings. The aircraft came in two forms: the Stubo I, a short design with the ability to carry an external 500 kg bomb, and the Stubo II, a lengthened version that could carry two internal 500 kg bombs. The program never progressed as far as production and work stopped on the project shortly after the Henschel Hs 129 was ordered for production.

History

Artist’s Impression of the Stubo I [Heinz Rodes]
During the years leading up to the Second World War, Nazi Germany found itself needing a competent air force to rival those it would soon face. Restrictions set by the Treaty of Versailles severely hindered the German military both in size and equipment in order to ensure that German power would not threaten the continent again, as it did during the First World War. History notes that the Germans broke this treaty, at first covertly and then overtly, with the Allies showing no response or protestation to the blatant violations. Germany began amassing a massive military force in preparation for war. New programs and requirements were laid down in preparation for the inevitable war. These projects included many newly tested concepts, such as dive-bombing. The Junkers Ju-87 Stuka proved the effectiveness of dive bombing in the Spanish-Civil War, with a famous example being the Bombing of Guernica, but a newer attacker was eventually needed to complement it. An order in 1938 was put out by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Aviation Ministry, “RLM”) to develop a new armored ground-attacker. One of the companies that would participate in this requirement would be Hütter.

2-way and cutaway of the Stubo II

The designs of Ulrich and Wolfgang Hütter are relatively unheard of when it comes to aircraft. They began their aviation career designing glider aircraft in the 1930s, such as the popular Hü 17, some of which were used post-war. The Hütter brothers built a career in designing aircraft for the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) between 1938 and 1944 under the codename of Ostmark. The two began working on the project mentioned before for an RLM request for a new ground-attacker in 1938. The requirement laid down very specific guidelines to be followed. The new aircraft needed to have good flight performance and an armored airframe for extra protection, as well as enough speed to evade fighters. In preparation for the new designs, the RLM notified designated factories that would begin to produce these airframes upon adoption into service. The Hütter brother’s response would be the Hü 136. Other competitors included the Henschel Hs 129 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 189V-1b, an armored ground attack version of their reconnaissance plane. Not all projects for a new attacker were armored at this time. Other new designs included the Junkers Ju 187 and Henschel Hs P 87.

The Hütter Hü 136 was nicknamed the Stubo, a shortened version of the name Sturzbomber (Dive Bomber). The aircraft itself would be a single-engine design. Two versions of this aircraft existed. The first, Stubo I, was meant to fill the need for a heavily armored attacker and would be used in ground-attack and dive-bombing tactics. The second was the Stubo II, a two-seater which was essentially a longer version of the Stubo I and carried twice the bomb load internally. The flight performance of the Stubo II was estimated to be the same as that of the Stubo I although, given the design characteristics, that estimation is highly doubtful. The two designs did not meet the requirements for bomb load and range. To make the aircraft more efficient, the brothers took an interesting design change. Taking a note from their glider designs, they removed the conventional landing gear and replaced it with an extendable landing skid, which made the aircraft lighter and freed more space for fuel. This, however, posed serious designs problems. The Hü 136 now had to take off using a detachable landing gear dolly, similar to how the Messerschmitt Me 163B rocket plane would take off a couple years later. Due to this, the propeller would not have enough clearing and would hit the ground during landings. To fix this, the two brothers made the propeller detachable. During landings, the aircraft would eject the propeller, which would gently parachute to the ground above an airfield for recovery and reuse. To assist in landings, a new surface brake was also added to the aircraft.

2-way and cutaway of the Stubo I

The far more conventional Henschel Hs 129 would be designated the winner of the competition. Subsequently, no construction was ever started on either the Stubo I or II. The Stubo proved to be an interesting but flawed concept. The limited visibility from the armored cockpit would negatively affect the aircraft in all operations. Dogfighting, bombing and even flying in general would be affected by the cockpit’s design. The change in landing gear design may have extended the range and lowered weight, but pilots now had to learn how to land using a skid. The fact the entire propellor evacuated the aircraft was a huge issue in itself. Once ejected, the landing could not be aborted, and if the landing attempt failed, there was no chance to loop around and try again.

This, however, would not be the last project designed by the Hütter brothers for the Luftwaffe. Wolfgang would begin working on a long-range reconnaissance version of the Heinkel He 219 called the Hütter Hü 211. Another project is the rather unknown Hütter Fernzerstörer (Far Destroyer), a long-range turboprop attacker meant to be used on the Eastern Front. With the war ending, no further Hütter aircraft were designed. One would think the story of the Stubo ends with its cancellation, but the story continued rather surprisingly recently. The Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, VA, acquired a full-scale replica of the Stubo I in 2017 and it is currently on display in their German Experimentals section, along with full-scale replicas of other “Luft 46” designs.

Design

The Stubo I was a single-engine armored ground attacker. In the front, it mounted a detachable propeller and a Daimler-Benz DB 601 inline engine. In the fuselage, a large gap was present between the engine and cockpit. This was most likely the fuel tank where the fuel tank was placed. Beneath the aircraft, a single 1010 Ibs bomb (500 kg) was mounted on an external hardpoint. This hardpoint most likely would be in the way of the landing skid, implying the payload had to be dropped before making an attempt at landing. For takeoff, a dolly would have to be mounted beneath the aircraft. This would be jettisoned shortly after the Stubo would be airborne. For landing, the aircraft would use an extendable skid. The wings of the aircraft had slight dihedral, which meant the wings were angled upward from the body. The Stubo I had an armored steel cockpit that was completely enclosed. For visibility, a small sight in the front and two side portholes were given. Had the aircraft been produced, peripheral vision would have been nonexistent and dogfighting would have been near impossible if it needed to defend itself. Normal operations, such as navigation and landing would have also been hindered, while combat operations such as target acquisition and attack run planning would have been exceedingly difficult. A tailfin was mounted directly behind the cockpit and not in a conventional tail design. Sources also mention the Stubo I would have mounted machine-guns, but the plans do not show exactly where or of what type these would have been.

Artist’s Impression of the Stubo II [Heinz Rodes]
The Stubo II was virtually identical to the Stubo I, aside from its extended fuselage. This lengthened design would allow the Stubo II to carry two 1010 Ibs (500 kg) bombs in a bomb bay, compared to the single bomb carried on a hardpoint by the Stubo I. Among smaller differences, the Stubo II’s wings had no dihedral compared to the angled dihedral of the Stubo I. With the lengthened fuselage, the landing skid was also extended to accommodate the longer airframe. It most likely also carried over the machine guns used on the Stubo I. The Stubo II uses nearly identical sized wings to the Stubo I, which gives the Stubo II a rather odd design, having the body lengthened but the wing size remaining the same. This would have definitely affected performance and possibly would have made the aircraft more unstable in maneuvering with the extra weight.

Variants

 

  • Stubo I – Armored ground-attacker that would carry a single external 500 kg bomb. Sources also mention machine guns, but documents don’t show where exactly they would have been located.
  • Stubo II – A lengthened version of the Stubo I, the Stubo II had an internal bomb load of two 500 kg bombs.

 

Operators

 

  • Nazi Germany – If the Hütter 136 would have entered production, Nazi Germany would have been the main operator of the craft.

Hütter 136 “Stubo I” Specifications

Wingspan 21 ft 4 in / 6.5 m
Length 23 ft 7 in / 7.2 m
Height (estimate) 5 ft 3 in / 1.6 m
Engine 1x 1,200 hp (894 kW) DB 601 Inline Engine
Loaded Weight 8,160 lbs / 3,700 kg
Maximum Speed 348 mph / 560 km/h
Range 1,240 mi / 2,000 km
Maximum Service Ceiling 31,170 ft / 9,500 m
Crew 1 pilot
Armament
  • 1x 1010 lbs (500 kg) bomb
  • At least 2 machine guns of unknown type (Most likely MG 15 or MG 17)

Gallery

Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji

Stubo I Side View [Haryo Panji]
Stubo II Side View [Haryo Panji]

Sources

Focke Wulf Fw 187

Nazi flag Nazi Germany (1937)
Twin Engined Fighter – 9 Built

The Fw 187 Falke was a twin engine fighter that was built by Focke-Wulf in 1936, at a time when the newly-formed Luftwaffe did not consider such an airplane type necessary. Despite receiving significant negative feedback, several prototypes were built and three pre-production versions were also constructed. The three pre-production types saw limited service defending the Focke-Wulf factory in Bremen against Allied bombing in 1940. Aside from that, they saw no other combat.

History

The first Fw 187 V1 shortly after being completed.

The twin-engined fighter was a concept few countries pursued in the early days of flight. The type only started serious development in the years directly preceding the outbreak of the Second World War, with planes such as the American Lockheed P-38 Lightning entering service. Most officials across the globe agreed that two-engine fighter aircraft would be rendered unnecessary by cheaper and lighter single-engine designs. In the early 1930s, Germany had no plans to develop such an aircraft either.

However, an aeronautical engineer by the name of Kurt Tank showed an interest. Kurt Tank was the main aircraft designer of the Focke-Wulf company, who developed most of the company’s most famous aircraft. During WWII, he would go on to create the iconic Fw 190 and would later have an aircraft designation named after him, with the Ta 152 and Ta 154. He began work on the new twin-engine project, despite there being no current requirement for such an aircraft. Tank had his first chance to reveal his design at a weapons exhibition held at a Henschel plant in 1936. Tank showed off his innovative design, claiming the twin-engine layout would offer a great speed of 348 mph (560 km/h) if the aircraft mounted the newly developed Daimler Benz DB 600 engines. One of the attendants of the event was Adolf Hitler himself, who found the design particularly interesting.

The Fw 187 on jackstands. This photo was taken during testing of the double-wheeled landing gear.

But to the Technischen Amt (Technical Research Office), the design was unnecessary, as it was believed single-engine designs could perform just as well as the twin-engined concept. Another pre-war doctrine was that the current bombers would be fast enough to outrun the fighters of the enemy, and escort fighters wouldn’t be needed. Tank, not happy with this response, took his design to Oberst (Colonel) Wolfram von Richthofen, the head of the Development section of the Technischen Amt. Tank persuaded him that technological advances would eventually allow the construction of more powerful fighters that would be able to catch up with the bombers which would thus require an escort fighter. Convinced by his claim, Richthofen agreed that it would be better to have a countermeasure now rather than later. Richthofen’s term as chief was short, but in this time he authorized three prototypes of Tank’s twin-engine design. The design was officially given the name of Fw 187.

Work began on the Fw 187 soon after, but, to Tank’s dismay, the requests for the DB 600 engine were turned down. Instead, he had to work with Junkers Jumo 210 engines, as DB 600s were only allocated to projects which were viewed as being highly important. The design work was handed over to Oberingenieur (Chief Engineer) Rudi Blaser, who was the one of the most experienced members onboard Focke-Wulf. Blaser had previously headed the design of the failed Fw 159 monoplane fighter, but he was ready to continue work and move on from his failure. Blaser wanted to achieve only one thing with this design: maximum speed.

The Fw 187 V2 on a test flight.

The first prototype Fw 187 was completed in early 1937. The Fw 187 V1 (designated D-AANA) was first flown by test pilot Hans Sander. In the initial flights, the aircraft reached speeds of up to 326 mph (524 km/h). The Luftwaffe was surprised to learn that despite weighing twice as much as the Bf 109, the Fw 187 was still able to go 50 mph (80 km/h) faster. They accused the team of having faulty instruments. Blaser was determined to prove them wrong and had a Pitot tube (a device that measures air speed using the total air pressure) installed on the nose of the V1, which would accurately tell the performance. Sander once again flew and confirmed the aircraft indeed had attained such a speed. Further flight trials showed the aircraft had superb maneuverability, climbing and diving. These great characteristics led Kurt Tank to name the aircraft his “Falke” or Falcon. This name became official as well, and wasn’t just a nickname the creator gave to his creation.

In the summer of 1937, the airframe had an impressive wing loading of 30.72 Ibs/sq ft (147.7 kg/m2), something no other fighter could equal at that point. Further tests by Sander put the airframe to the extremes to try the limitations of the aircraft in diving. The rudder, during dives, was predicted to begin fluttering after 620 mph (1000 km/h), but Blaser was more cautious, and thought it would start at a lower speed. To counteract this, a balance weight was attached to the rudder. Blaser assured Sander that the aircraft would perform better in dives as long as he didn’t exceed 460 mph (740 km/h). With the new weight attached, Sander took off to begin trials. Hitting 455 mph (730 km/h), Sander noticed the tail had begun violently shaking. With the tail not responding, Sander had started to bail when he reported a loud noise came from the rear. Sander’s control over the aircraft had returned and all vibrations had ceased. Upon landing, it was found that the weight itself had been the culprit of the vibrations and the sound Sander heard was the weight breaking off the rudder.

An aft view of the V6. The surface cooling system is visible in this shot.

Several modifications were made to the V1 during testing. The frontal landing gear was switched out for a dual wheeled design at some point, but was found it offered no benefit over the single wheel and thus was reverted. The propellers were also changed from Junkers-Hamilton to VDM built ones. Weapons were eventually added as well, but these were just two 7.92mm MG 17s. The 2nd prototype arrived in the summer of 1937. Visually, the V2 was identical to the V1, but had a smaller tailwheel, modified control surfaces, and Jumo 210G engines with enhanced fixed radiators.

However, in 1936, there was a change of leadership in the Technischen Amt. The supportive Richthofen was replaced by Ernst Udet. Udet was a fighter pilot, and his experience reflected upon his decisions. He made sure no more biplane designs were being built and all designs were now of monoplane construction. He had a major focus on fighters, and believed them to be the future. The modern fighter had to be efficient, with speed and maneuverability being the utmost importance. And, from this viewpoint, he saw twin engine fighters as not being as capable as single engine fighters. With this mindset, the Luftwaffe now saw no real reason to continue developing the Fw 187 as a single seat interceptor, but it could be developed as a Zerstörer (“Destroyer” heavy fighter), the same role the Bf 110 occupied. This required a crew of more than one and much heavier armament. Tank was reluctant, and felt his design was still as capable as single engine designs were, but he knew continuing to go against the Technischen Amt would result in his aircraft being terminated, so he regretfully obliged.

The V3 was in the middle of construction and changes had to be made as a result of this. The V1 and V2 had already been produced, and any drastic changes would further affect development, so no attempt to convert the two initial planes into two-seaters ever occured. To accommodate a radioman, the cockpit had to be lengthened. This worried Blaser, who was concerned these changes would affect the size and overall performance of the aircraft. Thus, he tried making the changes that affected the aircraft’s performance as little as possible. The fuselage was increased lengthwise, the tailfin was shortened, and increased cockpit volume demanded the fuel tank be moved farther back. Engine nacelles were also shortened to allow installation of landing flaps for when the aircraft carried larger ordnance. The 7.92mms were now complemented with two 20mm MG FF cannons, although V3 never mounted any actual weapons, only mock-ups.

The Fw 187 had good luck up until this point, but this good fortune ran out shortly after the V3 was produced. A few weeks after it was finished in early 1938, the V3 was doing a test flight when one of its engines caught on fire. The aircraft was able to safely land and the fire was extinguished, but the airframe had taken some damage and needed repairs. Tragedy struck once again not too long after, on May 14th. The V1 was lost and its pilot, Bauer, was killed during a landing accident. These two events happening so close together made the already negatively viewed Falke seem not only an unnecessary weapon, but now an unreliable one as well. Two more prototypes were built late in 1938, the V4 (D-OSNP) and V5 (D-OTGN). These two were mostly identical to the V3, but had several slight modifications, such as a modified windshield. Judging by photos, one obvious trait V4 and V5 had over V3 is the lack of the radio mast mounted on the cockpit of the V3. V4 and V5 were sent to the Echlin Erprobungsstelle, a major aircraft development and testing airfield for the RLM (Reichsluftfahrtministerium, German Ministry of Aviation). The trials at this site yielded favorable evaluations of the aircraft and three pre-production examples were ordered.

One of the A-0s flying overhead.

While all of this was going on, Tank was finally able to acquire two DB 600A engines for his Falke. The plane that mounted these engines would be the V6. Before the V6 was built, Tank had shown interest in surface evaporation cooling, a drag reducing novelty which had been researched and developed by Heinkel and was soon to be worked on by Messerschmitt. With the V6 now under construction, Tank drew plans to apply the feature into the prototype to give it peak performance. V6 (CI+NY) first flew in early 1939 and showed how well the new engines and surface cooling made the aircraft perform. On takeoff, the V6 had 1,000 HP from each engine, a 43% boost over the previously used Jumo 210s. During one test flight, the V6 was flying 395 mph (635 km/h) in level flight.

The three pre-production examples previously mentioned were designated Fw 197A-0. These were were fully armed. The A-0s added armored glass to the windshield and carried two more MG 17s. The A-0 planes also returned to using the Jumo 210 engines. Due to the additional weight, the performance of the A-0s was a bit lower than the prototypes. However, the RLM continued to argue against the Falke, claiming that, because it had no defensive armament, the Fw wouldn’t be as effective as the Bf 110 in the same role (despite it being able to outperform the 110 performance-wise). The final decision related to the Falke was an idea to turn it into a night-fighter in 1943. Nothing ever came out of this proposal.

The Factory Defender

Although the Bf 110 seemingly took the Falke’s place, its story continued. As the Royal Air Force (RAF) began its attacks over mainland Germany in 1940, aircraft firms scrambled to defend their valuable factories. Several firms formed a “Industrie Schutzstaffel”, which was an aerial defence program which would have aircraft company’s factories and testing sites be defended by aircraft piloted by test pilots and to be managed by on-site personnel. Focke-Wulf was one such firm and, luckily for them, three fully operational Fw187A-0s were ready and waiting to be used in combat. These examples were sent to the Focke-Wulf factory at Bremen and were sent on numerous missions to defend the plant from Allied bombing. Allegedly, Dipl.-Ing (Engineer’s degree) Melhorn claimed several kills while flying one of these aircraft. After the stint in Bremen, the three were put back into armament and equipment testing. In the winter of 1940 to early 1941, the three were sent to a Jagdstaffel unit in Norway, where they were evaluated by pilots. One of the three was sent to Værløse, Denmark in the summer of 1942 and temporarily assigned to Luftschiess-Schule. It is likely the remaining 3 and prototypes were either scrapped or destroyed by Allied bombing, as no examples are known to have survived the war. Some sources claim the aircraft Melhorn flew was the V6 converted into a single seater and armed for combat, but no proof supports this.

The Fw 187 was no secret weapon. After the fighting in France died down, the Propaganda Ministry began producing film and photos of the Fw 187 in 1940-1941 to persuade the Allies into thinking the Falke was fully operational and replacing the Bf 110 as the Luftwaffe’s all new Zerstörer. In reality, the latter was taking over the role of the former. The campaign sort of worked, as the Fw 187 was now a part of the rogue’s gallery that the Allies expected to fight. Identification cards, models and even movies were made to train pilots in the event they should encounter the two engine terror in combat. One such film denotes that the Fw 187 is “a rare bird” and that they should comically “make it extinct”. This shows that the Allies didn’t completely fall for the propaganda that claimed it was being produced in mass quantity.

Design

The Fw 187 had a twin engine design. The airframe was of all light metal construction. To reduce drag, the airframe was actually narrower at its widest point than other fighters of the time. The wings were of metal construction and divided into three sections. The connected segments carried the fuel and the outer segments had the flaps installed. The first and second prototypes had a single seat cockpit. The cockpit was covered by a canopy that slid aft. The cockpit itself wasn’t built for comfort, as it was built for an average sized pilot. The cramped cockpit lacked the necessary space to mount certain instruments and had these mounted outside on the engine cowlings. V1 had tail sitting landing gear, with all three wheels being able to retract into the hull. V2 was similar to V1, but had modified control surfaces. Beginning after the first two, all examples of the Fw 187 had an extended greenhouse cockpit to accommodate the radioman. The cockpit now opened up in two sections, one to the front and one to the rear. The fuselage was lengthened to some degree as well. The extended cockpit required the fuel tank to be moved down the fuselage. The engine nacelles were shortened to allow landing flaps to be added. V3 also had a radio mast mounted on the rear part of the cockpit. V4 and V5 had this removed.

For engines, the majority of the Falke’s used the Jumo 210 engine. V1 mounted the 210Da, V2-V5 using the 210G, V6 using the powerful DB 600A engines and the A-0 reverting back to 210Gs. The aircraft performance stayed the same overall, with the V6 having peak performance speedwise.

For armament, V1 mounted two MG 17 machine guns. V3 had accommodations for two more MG FF cannons but only mockups were added. When the A-0s were rolled out, an additional two MG 17s were added to fill the Zerstorer role. The extra two had their ammunition mounted in front of the radioman’s seat.

Variants

  • Fw 187 V1 – First prototype. Mounted two Junkers Jumo 210Da engines. Originally mounted Junkers-Hamilton propellers but was changed to VDM airscrews. Originally had two wheeled forward landing gear which was switched to single during development. Fitted with two MG 17 machine guns.
  • Fw 187 V2 – Second prototype, had different rudders and a semi-retractable tail-wheel. Had fuel-injection Jumo 210G engines.
  • Fw 187 V3 – Third prototype. Two seat version, the cockpit was lengthened to accommodate the radioman. The engine nacelles were shortened some degree to allow new landing flaps.V-3 also mounted two MG 17 machine guns and two MG FF cannons.
  • Fw 187 V4/Fw 187 V5 – Fourth and fifth prototypes. Nearly identical to V-3, aside from several small modifications, such as having different windscreens.
  • Fw 187 V-6 – Sixth prototype. High speed version that mounted Daimler Benz DB 600A engines.
  • Fw 187A-0 – Pre-production version. Three were constructed. Armed with two MG FF cannons and four MG 17 machine guns. Frontal armored windshields were added. These three were tested and sent to various locations for trial and defensive purposes.

Operators

  • Nazi Germany – The sole operator was Nazi Germany, which reportedly used the Falke during the air defense of Bremen in 1940.

Focke Wulf Fw 187A-0 Specifications

Wingspan 50 ft 2 in / 15.3 m
Length 36 ft 6 in / 11.1 m
Height 12 ft 7 in / 3.8 m
Wing Area 327.2 ft² / 99.7 m²
Engine 2x 700 hp (522 kW) Junkers Jumo 210Ga 12-cylinder liquid cooled inline engines
Propeller 2x 3-blade VDM airscrews
Powerplant Ratings
Horsepower output Altitude
Take Off 700 hp Sea Level
Normal 730 hp 3,280 ft
Weights
Empty 8,150 lbs / 3,700 kg
Loaded 11,000 lbs / 5,000 kg
Climb Rate
Rate of Climb at Sea Level 3,450 ft / 1050 m per minute
Time to 6,560 ft / 1999.4 m 1.9 minutes
Time to 19,700 ft / 6000 m 5.8 minutes
Speed 329 mph / 530 km/h at 13,780 ft / 4,200 m

322 mph / 518 km/h at Sea Level

Range 560 mi / 900 km
Maximum Service Ceiling 32,810 ft / 10940 m
Crew 1 Pilot

1 Radio Operator

Armament
  • 2x 20mm MG FF cannons
  • 4x 7.92mm MG 17 machine guns

Gallery

llustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji

Focke-Wulf Fw 187 V1- Prototype
Focke-Wulf Fw 187 Night Fighter
Focke-Wulf Fw 187 A-0
The V5 on standby. A visual difference between the V3 and the V4/V5 is the absence of a radio mast mounted on the cockpit.
Side view of the V6.
A period 3-way illustration of the Fw 187 A-0
The Fw 187 V3 after it’s engine fire. Notice it’s greenhouse cockpit and the way it opens.
A cockpit view of one of the A-0s. Note the glass floor.
The V4 taking off. The V4 and V5 were slightly modified versions of the V3.
Three pre-production Fw 187 A-0s on standby.
An aft view of the V6. The surface cooling system is visible in this shot.

Sources