Flying fewer than five months after the P-38, on June 1, 1939, the beautiful Focke Wulf Fw 190 was one of the best fighters of World War II. Designer Professor Kurt W. Tank and his team were aided by Flugkapitan Hans Sanders, a brilliant test pilot who would make the first flight of every variant of the "Würger" (Butcherbird).
Tank had worked with Willy Messerschmitt earlier in his career, and his fighter would come to be the greatest rival to the Messerschmitt Bf 109 within the Luftwaffe. Tank placed tremendous emphasis on clean lines, low structural weight, ease of manufacture and maintenance, and structural integrity.
As with the Sopwith Camel of World War I, an effort was made to concentrate the maximum amount of weight as close to the center of gravity as possible, to improve maneuverability. Two design elements of the Würger stood out immediately in comparison to the Messerschmitt Bf 109. The first was its use
of a cleanly cowled radial engine. The second was its wide-track landing gear that conferred excellent takeoff and landing characteristics, an area in which the Bf 109 was notoriously deficient.
The Focke Wulf Fw 190 was fast and maneuverable from the start, and packed a heavy armament package, consisting usually of four machine guns and two cannons. Provision was made for carrying a bomb or a drop-tank under the fuselage centerline.
Small yet ferociously powered, the Focke Wulfe Fw 190 was one of the finest aircraft to see service during World War II. It was structurally sound, with a cockpit positioned for an ideal center of gravity. The landing gear's wide track contributed to ease of takeoff and landing.
Read more about the Focke Wulf Fw 190, and find specifications for this classic airplane, in the next section.
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Focke Wulf Fw 190 Specifications
When, after considerable development, the first production Focke Wulf Fw 190s were deployed with Jagdgeschwader 26 in France, they caused consternation within the Royal Air Force, for the Würger was clearly superior to the Mark V Spitfires then being flown on offensive sweeps over Occupied Europe.
The British took immediate steps to counter the new fighter, introducing the Spitfire Mark IX, which had an equivalent performance. Of course, the Germans introduced improved models of the Focke Wulf Fw 190 as well, and there was the usual seesaw race for supremacy.
Most pilots preferred the Focke Wulf Fw 190 over the Messerschmitt, although the latter had a few stalwarts who insisted on flying the Bf 109 long after the Würgers were available to them. The Messerschmitt had better performance at altitude. Over time, this led to a division of labor that saw more and more Fw 190s assigned to ground assault work, where they were extremely effective.
The Würger was remarkably versatile, and filled many roles, including air-superiority fighter, ground attack, torpedo plane, and photo-reconnaissance. It was also very adaptable, fitted initially with the Daimler-Benz DB 603 engine to become the very potent Fw 190D, which many pilots, particularly the Germans who flew them, consider to be the best fighter of the war.
The basic aircraft was further developed with longer wings and fuselage, and the Junkers Jumo 213E-1 liquid cooled Vee-type engine of 1750 horsepower. This aircraft honored Kurt Tank with the designation Ta 152, signifying his responsibility for the design.
Unfortunately for the Germans, Hitler had engaged to fight too many powerful enemies in a war of many fronts, including the aerial front over Europe. Although more than 20,000 Focke Wulf Fw 190s were built, there were never enough to meet the Luftwaffe's needs.
Aesthetically, the Focke Wulf Fw 190 was attractive from every angle, particularly when in flight, and it is described with poetic beauty in Pierre Closterman's great book The Big Show. Despite the large number built, only a very few remained in service anywhere after the war ended, although some were used briefly by the revived French Air Force. There were a few museum examples, but none were flying.
Today, the expensive and rewarding hobby of restoring or even rebuilding warbirds has been expanded to include the construction of several Focke Wulf Fw 190s, which, one hopes, will soon be flying at air shows across the country.