Focke-Wulf Fw 190

Focke-Wulf Fw 190

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger (English: Shrike) was a German single-seat, single- engine fighter aircraft designed by Kurt Tank in the late 1930s and widely used during World War II. Powered by a radial engine in most versions, the Fw 190 had ample power and was able to lift larger loads than its well-known counterpart, the Messerschmitt Bf 109. The Fw 190 was used by the Luftwaffe in a wide variety of roles, including day fighter, fighter-bomber, ground-attack aircraft and, to a lesser degree, night fighter.

When the Fw 190 started flying operationally over France in August 1941, it quickly proved itself to be superior in all but turn radius to the Royal Air Force’s main front-line fighter, the Spitfire Mk. V, especially at low and medium altitudes. The 190 maintained superiority over Allied fighters until the introduction of the improved Spitfire Mk. IX in July 1942 restored qualitative parity. The Fw 190 made its air combat debut on the Eastern Front in November/December 1942; though Soviet pilots considered the Bf 109 the greater threat, the Fw 190 made a significant impact. The fighter and its pilots proved just as capable as the Bf 109 in aerial combat, and in the opinion of German pilots who flew both, provided increased firepower and manoeuvrability at low to medium altitude.

The Fw 190 became the backbone of the Jagdwaffe (Fighter Force), along with the Bf 109. On the Eastern Front, the Fw 190 was versatile enough to use in Schlachtgeschwader (Battle Wings or Strike Wings), specialised ground attack units which achieved much success against Soviet ground forces. As an interceptor, the Fw 190 underwent improvements to make it effective at high altitude, enabling it to maintain relative parity with its Allied opponents. The Fw 190A series’ performance decreased at high altitudes (usually 6,000 m (20,000 ft) and above), which reduced its effectiveness as a high-altitude interceptor, but this problem was mostly rectified in later models, particularly in the Junkers Jumo 213 inline-engine Focke-Wulf Fw 190D series, which was introduced in September 1944. In spite of its successes, it never entirely replaced the Bf 109.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190
Focke-Wulf Fw 190

The Fw 190 was well liked by its pilots. Some of the Luftwaffe’s most successful fighter aces claimed a great many of their kills while flying it, including Otto Kittel, Walter Nowotny and Erich Rudorffer.

Early Development

Genesis

Between 1934 and 1935, the German Ministry of Aviation (RLM) ran a contest to produce a modern fighter for the rearming Luftwaffe. Kurt Tank entered the parasol-winged Fw 159 into the contest, against the Arado Ar 80, Heinkel He 112 and Messerschmitt Bf 109. The Fw 159 was hopelessly outclassed, and was soon eliminated from the competition along with the Ar 80. The He 112 and Bf 109 were generally similar in design, but the 109’s lightweight construction gave it performance edge the 112 was never able to match. On 12 March 1936, the 109 was declared the winner.

Even before the 109 had entered squadron service, in autumn 1937 the RLM sent out a new tender asking various designers for a new fighter to fight alongside the Bf 109, as Walter Günther had done with his firm’s follow-on to the unsuccessful He 100 and He 112. Although the Bf 109 was an extremely competitive fighter, the ministry was worried that future foreign designs might outclass it, and wanted to have new aircraft under development to meet these possible challenges. Kurt Tank responded with a number of designs, most based around a liquid-cooled inline engine.

However, it was not until a design was presented using the air-cooled, 14-cylinder BMW 139 radial engine that the Ministry of Aviation’s interest was aroused. As this design used a radial engine, it would not compete with the inline-powered Bf 109 for engines, when there were already too few Daimler-Benz DB 601s to go around. This was not the case for competing designs like the Heinkel He 100 or twin-engined Focke-Wulf Fw 187, where production would compete with the 109 and Messerschmitt Bf 110 for engine supplies. After the war, Tank denied a rumour that he had to “fight a battle” with the Ministry to convince them of the radial engine’s merits.

Design Concepts

At the time, the use of radial engines in land-based fighters was relatively rare in Europe, as it was believed that their large frontal area would cause too much drag on something as small as a fighter. Tank was not convinced of this, having witnessed the successful use of radial engines by the U.S. Navy, and felt a properly streamlined installation would eliminate this problem.

The hottest points on any air-cooled engine are the cylinder heads, located around the circumference of a radial engine. In order to provide sufficient air to cool the engine, airflow had to be maximized at this outer edge. This was normally accomplished by leaving the majority of the front face of the engine open to the air, causing considerable drag. During the late 1920s, NACA led development of a dramatic improvement by placing an airfoil-shaped ring around the outside of the cylinder heads (the NACA cowling). The shaping accelerated the air as it entered the front of the cowl, increasing the total airflow, and allowing the opening in front of the engine to be made smaller.

Tank introduced a further refinement to this basic concept. He suggested placing most of the airflow components on the propeller, in the form of a oversized propeller spinner whose outside diameter was the same as the engine. The cowl around the engine proper was greatly simplified, essentially a basic cylinder. Air entered through a small hole at the centre of the spinner, and was directed through ductwork in the spinner so it was blowing rearward along the cylinder heads. To provide enough airflow, an internal cone was placed in the centre of the hole, over the propeller hub, which was intended to compress the airflow and allow a smaller opening to be used. In theory, the tight-fitting cowling also provided some thrust due to the compression and heating of air as it flowed through the cowling.

As to the rest of the design philosophy, Tank wanted something more than an aircraft built only for speed. Tank outlined the reasoning:

The Messerschmitt 109 and the British Spitfire, the two fastest fighters in world at the time we began work on the Fw 190, could both be summed up as a very large engine on the front of the smallest possible airframe; in each case armament had been added almost as an afterthought. These designs, both of which admittedly proved successful, could be likened to racehorses: given the right amount of pampering and easy course, they could outrun anything. But the moment the going became tough they were liable to falter. During World War I, I served in the cavalry and in the infantry. I had seen the harsh conditions under which military equipment had to work in wartime. I felt sure that a quite different breed of fighter would also have a place in any future conflict: one that could operate from ill-prepared front-line airfields; one that could be flown and maintained by men who had received only short training; and one that could absorb a reasonable amount of battle damage and still get back. This was the background thinking behind the Focke-Wulf 190; it was not to be a racehorse but a Dienstpferd, a cavalry horse.

An Fw 190F’s tailfin, showing the triangular hinged panel for access to the tailwheel retraction mechanics inside of it.

In contrast to the complex, failure-prone fuselage mounted main gear legs of the earlier Fw 159, one of the main features of the Fw 190 was its wide-tracked, inwards-retracting landing gear. They were designed to withstand a sink rate of 4.5 meters per second (15 feet per second, 900 feet per minute), double the strength factor usually required. Hydraulic wheel brakes were used. The wide-track landing gear produced better ground handling characteristics, and the Fw 190 suffered fewer ground accidents than the Bf 109. (The Bf 109’s narrow-track, outwards-retracting landing gear hinged on its wing root structure to help lower weight, but this led to inherent weakness and many failures and ground loops.) The Fw 190’s retractable tail gear used a cable, anchored to the “elbow” at the midpoint of the starboard maingear’s transverse retraction arms, which ran aftwards within the fuselage to the vertical fin to operate the tailwheel retraction function. The tailwheel’s retraction mechanical design possessed a set of pulleys to guide the aforementioned cable to the top of the tailwheel’s oleo strut, pulling it upwards along a diagonal track within the fin, into the lower fuselage — this mechanism was accessible through prominently visible twin triangular-shaped hinged panels, one per side, in the fin’s side sheetmetal covering. On some versions of the Fw 190 an extended oleo strut could be fitted for larger-sized loads (such as bombs or even a torpedo) beneath the fuselage.

Most aircraft of the era used cables and pulleys to operate their controls. The cables tended to stretch, resulting in the sensations of “give” and “play” that made the controls less crisp and responsive, and required constant maintenance to correct. For the new design, the team replaced the cables with rigid pushrods and bearings to eliminate this problem. Another innovation was making the controls as light as possible. The maximum resistance of the ailerons was limited to 3.5 kg (8 lb), as the average man’s wrist could not exert a greater force. The empennage (tail assembly) featured relatively small and well-balanced horizontal and vertical surfaces.

The design team also attempted to minimize changes in the aircraft’s trim at varying speeds, thus reducing the pilot’s workload. They were so successful in this regard that they found in-flight-adjustable aileron and rudder trim tabs were not necessary. Small, fixed tabs were fitted to control surfaces and adjusted for proper balance during initial test flights. Only the elevator trim needed to be adjusted in flight (a feature common to all aircraft). This was accomplished by tilting the entire horizontal tailplane with an electric motor, with an angle of incidence ranging from −3° to +5°.

Another aspect of the new design was the extensive use of electrically powered equipment instead of the hydraulic systems used by most aircraft manufacturers of the time. On the first two prototypes, the main landing gear was hydraulic. Starting with the third prototype, the undercarriage was operated by push buttons controlling electric motors in the wings, and was kept in position by electric up and down-locks. The armament was also loaded and fired electrically. Tank believed that service use would prove that electrically powered systems were more reliable and more rugged than hydraulics, electric lines being much less prone to damage from enemy fire.

Like the Bf 109, the Fw 190 featured a fairly small wing platform with relatively high wing loading. This presents a trade-off in performance. An aircraft with a smaller wing suffers less drag under most flight conditions and therefore flies faster and may have better range. However, it also means the wing generates less lift at lower speeds, making it less maneuverable and also reduces performance in the thinner air at higher altitudes. The wings spanned 9.5 m (31 ft 2 in) and had an area of 15 m² (161 ft²). The wing was designed using the NACA 23015.3 airfoil at the root and the NACA 23009 airfoil at the tip.

Earlier aircraft designs generally featured canopies consisting of small plates of perspex (called Plexiglas in the United States) in a metal framework, with the top of the canopy even with the rear fuselage. This design considerably limited visibility, especially to the rear. The introduction of vacuum forming led to the creation of the “bubble canopy” which was largely self-supporting, and could be mounted over the cockpit, offering greatly improved all-round visibility. Tank’s design for the Fw 190 used a canopy with a frame that ran around the perimeter, with only a short, centerline seam along the top, running rearward from the radio antenna fitting where the three-panel windscreen and forward edge of the canopy met, just in front of the pilot.

The eventual choice of the BMW 801 14-cylinder radial over the more troublesome BMW 139 also brought with it a BMW-designed cowling “system” which integrated the radiator used to cool the motor oil. An annular, ring-shaped oil cooler core was built into the BMW-provided forward cowl, just behind the fan. The outer portion of the oil cooler’s core was in contact with the main cowling’s sheet metal. Comprising the BMW-designed forward cowl, in front of the oil cooler was a ring of metal with a C-shaped cross-section, with the outer lip lying just outside the rim of the cowl, and the inner side on the inside of the oil cooler core. Together, the metal ring and cowling formed an S-shaped duct with the oil cooler’s core contained between them. Airflow past the gap between the cowl and outer lip of the metal ring produced a vacuum effect that pulled air from the front of the engine forward across the oil cooler core to provide cooling for the 801’s motor oil. The rate of cooling airflow over the core could be controlled by moving the metal ring in order to open or close the gap. The reasons for this complex system were threefold. One was to reduce any extra aerodynamic drag of the oil radiator, in this case largely eliminating it by placing it within the same cowling as the engine. The second was to warm the air before it flowed to the radiator to aid warming the oil during starting. Finally, by placing the radiator behind the fan, cooling was provided even while the aircraft was parked. The disadvantage to this design was that the radiator was in an extremely vulnerable location, and the metal ring was increasingly armoured as the war progressed.

Fw 190 V1 in its original form with the streamlined engine cowling and ducted spinner. The pointed tip of the internal spinner can also be seen. Pilot is probably Hans Sander.

Variants

First prototypes – BMW 139

  • Fw 190 V1 – (civil registration D-OPZE), powered by a 1,550 PS (1,529 hp, 1,140 kW) BMW 139 14-cylinder two-row radial engine. D-OPZE first flew on 1 June 1939.
  • Fw 190 V2 – Designated with the Stammkennzeichen alphabetic ID code of FL+OZ (later RM+CB) the V2 first flew on 31 October 1939 and was equipped from the outset with the new spinner and cooling fan. It was armed with one Rheinmetall-Borsig 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine gun and one 13 mm (.51 in) synchronized MG 131 machine gun in each wing root.
  • Fw 190 V3 -Abandoned
  • Fw 190 V4 -Abandoned
Fw 190 V5k. This is the V5 with the original small wing. The 12-blade cooling fan and redesigned undercarriage and canopy fairings are visible.

Later Prototypes – BMW 801

  • Fw 190 V5 – Fitted with the larger, more powerful 14-cylinder two-row BMW 801 radial engine. This engine introduced a pioneering example of an engine management system called the Kommandogerät (command-device) designed by BMW, who also designed the 801’s forward cowling with its integral oil cooling system: the Kommandogerät functioned in effect as an electro-mechanical computer which set mixture, propeller pitch (for the constant-speed propeller), boost, and magneto timing.
  • Fw 190 V5k – (kleine Fläche — small surface) The smaller span initial variant re-designated after the longer span wing was fitted. The V5 first flew in the early spring of 1940. The weight increase with all of the modifications was substantial, about 635 kg (1,400 lb), leading to higher wing loading and a deterioration in handling. Plans were made to create a new wing with more area to address these issues.
  • Fw 190 V5g – (große Fläche — large surface) In August 1940 a collision with a ground vehicle damaged the V5 and it was sent back to the factory for major repairs. This was an opportune time to rebuild it with a new wing which was less tapered in plan than the original design, extending the leading and trailing edges outward to increase the area. The new wing had an area of 18.30 m² (197 ft²), and now spanned 10.506 m (34 ft 5 in). After conversion, the aircraft was called the V5g for große Fläche (large surface). Although it was 10 km/h (6 mph) slower than when fitted with the small wing, V5g was much more manoeuvrable and had a faster climb rate. This new wing platform was to be used for all major production versions of the Fw 190.
Side-view of Fw 190 A-0.

Fw 190 A

  • Fw 190 A-0 – The pre-production Fw 190 A-0 series was ordered in November 1940, a total of 28 being completed. Because they were built before the new wing design was fully tested and approved, the first nine A-0s were fitted with the original small wings. All were armed with six 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns — four synchronised weapons, two in the forward fuselage and one in each wing root, supplemented by a free-firing MG 17 in each wing, outboard of the propeller disc.
  • Fw 190 A-1 – The Fw 190 A-1 was in production from June 1941. It was powered by the BMW 801 C-1 engine, rated at 1,560 PS (1,539 hp, 1,147 kW) for take-off. Armament included two fuselage-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17s and two wing root-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17s (in all four MG 17s synchronized to fire through the propeller arc) and two outboard wing-mounted 20 mm MG FF/Ms.
  • Fw 190 A-2 – The introduction of the BMW 801 C-2 resulted in the Fw 190 A-2 model, first introduced in October 1941. The A-2 wing weaponry was updated, with the two wing root-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17s being replaced by 20 mm MG 151/20E cannon.
  • Fw 190 A-3 – The Fw 190 A-3 was equipped with the BMW 801 D-2 engine, which increased power to 1,700 PS (1,677 hp, 1,250 kW) at takeoff. The A-3 retained the same weaponry as the A-2.
  • Fw 190 A-3/Umrüst-Bausatz 1 (/U1) — (W.Nr 130270) was the first 190 to have the engine mount extended by 15 cm (6 in), which would be standardized on the later production A-5 model.

  • Fw 190 A-3/U2 — The A-3/U2 (W.Nr 130386) had RZ 65 73 mm (2.87 in) rocket launcher racks under the wings with three rockets per wing. There were also a small number of U7 aircraft tested as high-altitude fighters armed with only two 20 mm MG 151 cannon, but with reduced overall weight.

  • Fw 190 A-3/U3 — The A-3/U3 was the first of the Jabo (Jagdbomber), using an ETC-501 centre-line bomb rack able to carry up to 500 kg (1,100 lb) of bombs or, with horizontal stabilising bars, one 300 L (80 US gal) standard Luftwaffe drop tank. The U3 retained the fuselage-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17s and the wing-mounted 20 mm MG 151 cannon, with the outer MG FF being removed.

  • Fw 190 A-3/U4 — The A-3/U4 was a reconnaissance version with two RB 12.5 cameras in the rear fuselage and a EK 16 gun camera or a Robot II miniature camera in the leading edge of the port wing root. Armament was similar to the U3, however, and the ETC 501 was usually fitted with the standardized Luftwaffe 300 litre-capacity (80 US gal) drop tank.

  • Fw 190 A-3a (a=ausländisch — foreign) In autumn 1942, 72 new aircraft were delivered to Turkey in an effort to keep that country friendly to the Axis powers. These were designated Fw 190 A-3a, designation for export models and delivered between October 1942 and March 1943.
  • Fw 190 A-4 – Introduced in July 1942, the A-4 was equipped with the same engine and basic armament as the A-3.
  • Fw 190 A-4/Rüstsatz 6 (/R6) — Some A-4s were fitted with a pair of under-wing Werfer-Granate 21 (BR 21) rocket mortars, and were designated Fw 190 A-4/R6.

  • Fw 190 A-4/U1 — The A-4/U1 was outfitted with an ETC 501 rack under the fuselage. All armament except for the MG 151 cannon was removed.

  • Fw 190 A-4/U3 — The A-4/U3 was very similar to the U1, and later served as the prototype for the Fw 190 F-1 assault fighter.

  • Fw 190 A-4/U4 — The A-4/U4 was a reconnaissance fighter, with two Rb 12.4 cameras in the rear fuselage and an EK 16 or Robot II gun camera. The U4 was equipped with fuselage-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17s and 20 mm MG 151 cannon.

  • Fw 190 A-4/U7 — The A-4/U7 was a high-altitude fighter, easily identified by the compressor air intakes on either side of the cowling. Adolf Galland flew a U7 in the spring of 1943.

  • Fw 190 A-4/U8 — The A-4/U8 was the Jabo-Rei (Jagdbomber Reichweite, long-range fighter-bomber), adding twin standard Luftwaffe 300 L (80 US gal) drop tanks, one under each wing, on VTr-Ju 87 racks with duralumin fairings produced by Weserflug, and a centreline bomb rack. The outer wing-mounted 20 mm MG FF/M cannon and the cowling-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 were removed to save weight. The A-4/U8 was the precursor of the Fw 190 G-1.

  • Fw 190 A-4/R1 — The A-4/R1, was fitted with a FuG 16ZY radio set with a Morane “whip” aerial fitted under the port wing. These aircraft, called Leitjäger or Fighter Formation Leaders, could be tracked and directed from the ground via special R/T equipment called Y-Verfahren. More frequent use of this equipment was made from the A-5 onwards.

  • Fw 190 A-5 – The A-5 was developed after it was determined that the Fw 190 could easily carry more ordnance. The D-2 engine was moved forward another 15 cm (6 in) as had been tried out earlier on the service test A-3/U1 aircraft, moving the centre of gravity forward to allow more weight to be carried aft.
  • Fw 190 A-5/U2 — The A-5/U2 was designed as a night Jabo-Rei and featured anti-reflective fittings and exhaust flame dampers. A centre-line ETC 501 rack typically held a 250 kg (550 lb) bomb, and wing-mounted racks mounted 300 L drop tanks. A EK16 gun camera, as well as landing lights, were fitted to the wing leading edge. The U2 was armed with only two 20 mm MG 151 cannon.
  • Fw 190 A-5/U3 — The A-5/U3 was a Jabo fighter fitted with ETC 501s for drop tanks and bombs; it too featured only two MG 151s for armament.
  • Fw 190 A-5/U4 — The A-5/U4 was a “recon” fighter with two RB 12.5 cameras and all armament of the basic A-5 with the exception of the MG FF cannon.
  • Fw 190 A-5/U8 — The A-5/U8 was another Jabo-Rei outfitted with SC-250 centreline-mounted bombs, under-wing 300-litre drop tanks and only two MG 151s; it later became the Fw 190 G-2.
  • Fw 190 A-5/U9 — Test installation of the A-7 modifications.
  • Fw 190 A-5/U12 — A special U12 was created for bomber attack, outfitted with the standard 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 and 20 mm MG 151 but replacing the outer wing 20 mm MG-FF cannon with two underwing gun pods containing two 20 mm MG 151/20 each, for a total of two machine guns and six cannon.
  • Fw 190 A-5/R11 — The A-5/R11 was a night fighter conversion fitted with FuG 217 Neptun (Neptune) radar equipment with arrays of three dipole antenna elements vertically mounted fore and aft of the cockpit and above and below the wings. Flame-dampening boxes were fitted over the exhaust exits. 1,752 A-5s were built from November 1942 to June 1943.
  • Fw 190 A-6 – The A-6 was developed to address shortcomings found in previous “A” models when attacking U.S. heavy bombers. A structurally redesigned and lighter wing was introduced and the normal armament was increased to two MG 17 fuselage machine guns and four 20 mm MG 151/20E wing root and outer wing cannon with larger ammunition boxes.
  • Fw 190 A-7 – The A-7 entered production in November 1943, equipped with the BMW 801 D-2 engine, again producing 1,700 PS (1,677 hp, 1,250 kW) and two fuselage-mounted 13 mm (.51 in) MG 131s, replacing the MG 17s.
  • Fw 190 A-8 – The A-8 entered production in February 1944, powered either by the standard BMW 801 D-2 or the 801Q (also known as 801TU). The 801Q/TU, with the “T” signifying a Triebwerksanlage unitized powerplant installation, was a standard 801D with improved, thicker armour on the BMW-designed front annular cowling, which still incorporated the BMW-designed oil cooler, upgraded from 6 mm (.24 in) on earlier models to 10 mm (.39 in). Changes introduced in the Fw 190 A-8 also included the C3-injection Erhöhte Notleistung emergency boost system to the fighter variant of the Fw 190 A (a similar system with less power had been fitted to some earlier Jabo variants of the 190 A), raising power to 1,980 PS (1,953 hp, 1,456 kW) for a short time.

 

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German Military History with a focus on World War 2 History including other areas of German History