The Luftwaffe's Long Nosed "Butcher Bird"
When Grumman engineering pilots climbed out of a captured FW-190A in
England after their first flight, they were astounded: it made their
beloved Hellcat look like a plow horse. It was light, rolled like lightning
and climbed like an artillery shell. It represented a whole new world
of performance that was only just beginning to show up in the US in
the form of the then-new Mustang. The problem was, the FW-190 had been
in combat for two years when the first Mustangs arrived. The FW-190
was quite possibly the world’s first truly modern fighter.
Both the Mustang and the FW were designed to replace older designs.
The FW-190 was to replace the 109 and the Mustang the P-40 and P-38
and the generational differences were obvious in both cases although
the earlier airplanes were only a few years old.
The older designs were difficult to handle on the ground, partially
because they were intended to be flown by military career professionals.
The FW and the Mustang were both much easier to fly. In the case of
the FW, the difference was dramatic. Fully 30% of ME-109 production
was lost due to takeoff or landing accidents, while the FW was considered
a pussycat in the same situation.
Pilots loved the FW for many reasons. The Messerschmitt cockpit was
claustrophobic and a medium-sized man felt scrunched into position with
his shoulders touching the sides. Worse, he had to search for his enemy
through a birdcage maze of canopy framing. The various controls were
crude and scattered around the cockpit. The FW pilot, however, reclined
in an airy, ergonomically correct cockpit that, in both comfort and
layout, wasn’t matched by the Allies until after the war. Plus,
the flight controls were light and well balanced, making the airplane
a nimble dancer with minimum input from the pilot. Kurt Tank, the airplane’s
designer, is revered for the “feel” and performance he made
integral parts of his design.
With a pair of 20 mm cannons in each wing and two machine guns in the
nose, The FW-190 was lethal in the extreme. At the same time, the slower
firing cannons represented a different armament concept from the fast
firing machine gun packages of the American fighters. The Germans reasoned
only a few 20 mm hits would bring an airplane down. However, the bullets
were further apart so the chances of a hit were less likely. The Americans’
six and eight gun .50 caliber packages allowed low time pilots to put
more bullets in the target because, in comparison, it was not unlike
pointing a garden hose.
By the time the FW-190D, the “Dora,” came along in 1944,
with the FW’s radial engine replaced by an inline, V-12 Jumo 213
of more than 1770 horsepower, the airplane’s primary target was
the never-ending high altitude stream of B-17’s headed for Germany.
Plus, German high command knew the B-29 was on the horizon and they
had nothing that could get that high and fight effectively. With water/methonal
injection, the FW-190D’s horsepower soared to 2240 hp at sea level
(for ten minutes), which, combined with the supercharger, make the “Dora”
a real high altitude threat. The longer engine and its annular radiator
necessitated a four-foot fuselage extension and eventually the type
mutated into the super long wing, high altitude interceptor, the TA-152H.
Probably the highest praise given the FW-190 is that it is on every
fighter pilot’s list of airplanes they would like to fly at least
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