by Budd Davisson
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 worldís 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, wasnít 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 airplaneís designer, is revered for the ìfeelî 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 Americansí 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 ìDora,î came along in 1944, with the FWís radial engine replaced by an inline, V-12 Jumo 213 of more than 1770 horsepower, the airplaneís primary target was the never-ending high altitude stream of B-17ís 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-190Dís horsepower soared to 2240 hp at sea level (for ten minutes), which, combined with the supercharger, make the ìDoraî 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 pilotís list of airplanes they would like to fly at least once.