Focke-Wulf FW-190D: The Luftwaffe’s Long Nosed “Butcher Bird”

Focke-Wulf FW-190D: 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 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.

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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 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 pilot’s list of airplanes they would like to fly at least once.

by Budd Davisson

Updated: October 31, 2018 — 9:24 AM


  1. Budd…. It sounded like youd written it…. RIP We all miss you


  2. One aspect not mentioned here was the engine/propellor controls of the FW was a single lever unlike the multiple controls of allied aircraft. This made prepping for combat much more efficient for the FW pilot, especially those with low time, a serious problem for the late war Luftwaffe..


  4. Grumman engineers were not astounded by the FW190, and it didn’t make the Hellcat look like a plowhorse. Go to and you can see the original USAF reports on comparative trials between the FW190 A/3 and F6F-3 Hellcat (and F4U Corsair). While the FW190 was superior to the Hellcat in rate of climb and level speed at higher altitudes, the Hellcat had a much tighter turning circle and was found to be more manoeuverable than the 190 at all altitudes. It could easily turn and loop inside the 190, whereas the 190 would stall sharply when attempting to follow the Hellcat. Far from being a “plowhorse” the Hellcat with its greater wing area was in fact much more nimble than the FW190. While rearward vision in the 190 was good, forward vision was poor, due to the canopy being only 6 inches higher than the engine cowling. All of the pilots who flew both aircraft in the tests stated that they would prefer the F6F-3 as a combat aircraft.

    1. Paul keep in mind you should not be turn fighting with a FW190D, The preferred tactic was to dive at the target from above and use the FW190’s superb roll rate to keep allied fighters in its gun sight’s, If the target snap turns the FW190 can simply roll to change orientation quick mid dive

      1. That’s all well and good…and might well be accurate. However, that’s not what was stated in the first sentence in the article:
        “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.”

        So this isn’t really true. The conclusion was that both the F6F and F4U were superior combat aircraft to the FW190. There was nobody “astounded” by the FW190. They had nice things to say about it, but the bottom line was, it was inferior to both Allied planes they compared it to. And remember, that was just the F4U-1 and the F6F-3, both early versions. The later versions, which were the ones that saw the most action, were superior to those.

    2. I think you’re confusing the FW 190A with the FW 190D. The Dora was much more advanced than the 190A in just about every aspect.

  5. No doubt the 190 was an excellent aircraft . But at the end of the day they were country had excellent aircraft that’s why they remembered and revered . Each have their weaknesses and strong points . You know as an American I heard all the time that you know the British Spitfire,American mustang ,the German 190 and 109 we’re such bad ass aircrafts. The same time I would hear how bad the Soviet pilots were and also how bad their aircraft were . Nobody ever thinks about the Soviets taking on the best and the most professional military in the world at the time. I’ve been studying World War II religiously for many years and I have to say that had beautiful ,modern aircraft that also performed excellent .

  6. A story: I have the gun camera film of my dad’s first kill, a FW 190 (but not the Dora). He was a 21 year old class of “44-B, 2nd Lt. B.L.Dennehy, of the 361st fighter group, 8th AF, at Bottisham, then Little Walden.The Buldge was possible because of overcast weather, as we had total air superiority in Dec. The weather broke 26 Dec. The FW was suddenly at 3:00 low. Dad got onto his ‘6 and there was barely evasive action, with the German catching fire and augering in. Likely why? SOB’s Adolf and fat Hermann were sending up kids with barely any flight time. Few old heads had survived (no limited tours), no fuel to train. Day after Christmas for that kid. When dad landed, taxied in and got the canopy open, he vomited and cried.

  7. Forgot to mention, of course he was in a P-51-D. How terrified those rookie Krauts must have been. But soon on the other side of the world, the young Japs of the “Divine Wind”. Boozed up on Saki and sure they would go to heaven; how sure? I very most likely wouldn’t be writing this if Bernie had met up with Galland or Hartmann. His best friend Milton Dahl had been with him since primary. 2 wks after arrival, on RTB in the pattern to land, a friendly from the adjacent group encroached the pattern. Mid air explosion. Dahl incinerated, the other pilot fell to death in his burning chute. Within days, the Group C.O., Full Col.Thomas Christian (29 years old – West Point) exploded, hit by ground fire in a low altitude attack that should have been done by the 9th AF, not with Peter Five Ones. Christian is in “Lou IV” the famous color photo.

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