Luftwaffe Aviation History
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There was a time in the relatively short history of turbine-powered and liquid rocket-driven aircraft when the design and engine technology found in Germany was the world’s best and most creative. This was in the 1940s, a Golden Age when designers such as Ernst Heinkel, Willy Messerschmitt, Hans Multhopp, the Günter twins, Alexander Lippisch, the Horten brothers, Felix Krackt, and Woldemar Voigt, and manufacturers such as Heinkel AG, Arado, Messerschmitt AG, and Bachem were producing exotic aircraft that routinely approached the speed of sound (some beyond) and climbed to heights 8 to 9 miles (13 to 15 km) above the earth in a matter of minutes. When it all ended on 7 May 1945 with Germany’s surrender, few Allied countries took advantage of either the German designs or their designers. With the German air industry completely closed down (it would remain so for the next ten years before aircraft manufacturing was allowed again in 1955), the very people who had fathered some of the most advanced aerodynamic designs the world had known virtually walked away and were never heard from again.
There were a few exceptions. The Soviets busily dismantled entire German aircraft factories lying within their zone of occupation and hastily moved them to the USSR. Plant and equipment did not work out to be the booty they had hoped for. When train loads of equipment arrived in the USSR no one knew what pieces went where due to improper or no labeling at all of the pieces dismantled. However, the two to three hundred specialists of German aviation they collected in their zone of occupation (eastern Germany) after 1945 was another matter. Unlike physical plant and equipment, Heinkel AG, BMW, and Junkers specialists under their control could go on designing no matter where they might be replanted. This windfall of technical personnel with defeated Germany’s latest and freshest aviation designs later showed up in a few early turbojet-powered fighters designed by Aleksandr Yakvlev (Yak-15) and the design team of Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich (MiG). Sweden’s SAAB-29 is based on German airframe research as was the Douglas F4D Skyray and Bell Aircraft’s X-5 in America, the latter a copy of Messerschmitt’s P.1101. After consulting for a time with Lippisch, Convair came out with some delta-wing projects that led to the F-102 Delta Dagger, the F-106 Delta Dart, and the B-58 Hustler bomber, all of which were based on Lippisch’s DM-1 delta glider design. Most of Kurt Tank’s aircraft design group from Focke-Wulf followed their leader to Argentina where a grateful Juan Péron was presented with a version of Multhopp’s Fw Ta 183 prototype jet fighter, known in South America as the Pulque Dos.
For the most part, the world ignored the aeronautical achievements of the Germans. Even today only a handful of pictures of this almost unbelievable collection of turbine-powered and rocket-driven aircraft have found their way into literature on period German aircraft. There are photographs, indeed, several of these very aircraft are with us today in museums - Messerschmitt AG’s Me 163 and 262, Arado’s Ar 234-B reconnaissance bomber, Bachem’s Ba 349B, Heinkel AG’s He 162 “People’s Fighter, and the Horten brothers stealth-like all-wing Ho 229 V3 high-altitude fighter/fast bomber. Several secret designs were captured and after finishing touches applied were flown. The Soviets fell heir to the six turbojet heavy bomber Junkers Ju 287 V3, the liquid rocket-driven Ju 248 interceptor, and the ramjet-powered P.127 The Soviet’s may have beaten the United States to the speed of sound in 1947 with their captured DFS 346 liquid rocket-driven high speed research aircraft. Larry Bell of Bell Aircraft, Buffalo, New York took the incomplete Me P.1101 and built an exact copy he called the Bell X-5. But there were others. Literally dozens of high altitude fighter and fast bomber designs were drafted on paper and abandoned. Many other project designs were in various stages of design development when the hostilities ended in May 1945.
It is not surprising that the United States did not readily embrace the German aerodynamic accomplishments. Americans have seldom been ones to copy designs when they find themselves in second place. Furthermore, after World War II the United States was preoccupied with rocket technology, and to a lesser extent with turbine propulsion. While America was seeking out noted German rocket experts such as Wernher von Braun and Hellmuth Walter, gifted aircraft designers such as Siegfried Günter and Reimar Horten were unable to find work. Political problems were a large factor, but were ignored if the skills of the individual were in demand, as they were in the cases of von Braun and Walter. Airframe designers simply were not needed in the United States and Günter ended up in the Soviet Union while Kurt Tank and Reimar Horten went to Argentina. The loss to the West of not drawing on Günter’s expertise, in particular, was substantial. According to his former employer, Ernst Heinkel, one of Germany’s largest aircraft manufacturers, Günter was “one of the most important experts on airplane structures and aerodynamics in Europe in the 1940s.” His work on the P.1078 and P.1079 turbine series, said Heinkel embraced everything his firm was planning for the 1950s in the way of fresh turbine-propelled airframe development.
After failing repeatedly immediately after the war to interest the Allies in his abilities, Günter, then living in England, used the last of his money to fly back to Berlin in 1945 to see his father-in-law about work. Neither the Americans nor the British sent for him as he had hoped they would. Lacking money as well as job prospects in the west, he went to work for the former Soviet Union’s experimental aircraft design unit, OKB-4, in East Berlin, then was transferred to OKB-2 at Podberesje, USSR in October 1946. At OKB-2 Günter was welcomed by Professor Bock, former head of DVL, Hans Wocke, designers of the Ju 287, Wilhelm Benz, co-designer of the He 176 rocket plane and designer the He P.1078 “Julia.” Günter remained at OKB-2 until being returned home with several hundred of his colleagues in 1954. He never spoke about his eight years of aircraft design work in the USSR. Once, a journalists asked him if he had designed the MiG 15 for the Soviets? Günter quietly replied: “I did not design the MiG 15.” Well, somebody did a lot for the Soviets post-war because they didn’t even have a turbojet engine at war’s end in May 1945. It later appeared that a good many captured German aviation and turbojet engine designers helped the Soviet Union leap-frog into the world of supersonic flight but that is another story. Ernst Heinkel once said in 1950, “I am convinced that Günter has worked on those Soviet designs that today (1950) have become a problem for the Western World.” After Günter returned to West Germany in 1954 he rejoined his old company Heinkel AG when the industry reopened in 1955 after the World War II ban on manufacturing aircraft in Germany was lifted.
Why was Germany so advanced in airframe design and turbojet- and rocket-aeroengine technology in the 1940s? Much had to do with the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 which brought an end to World War I. The details of the treaty meant that manufacture and use of powered aircraft was limited for several years. To continue their flying, all of Germany turned to sailplanes and designers such as Messerschmitt, Lippisch, the Horten brothers, the Günter twins, and others began their aeronautical-work with sailplanes. They and others perfected the flying qualities of their sailplanes through study of aerodynamics - building and flying, rebuilding and flying again, and so on. Messerschmitt frequently boasted throughout his life that one could not build high performance
aircraft unless he knew how to build gliders...and that he, Messerschmitt, could build gliders while blindfolded.
Germany was also advanced in airframe design and engine technology because of men like Messerschmitt and Heinkel, men who valued straight line performance above all else. As early as the mid 1930s, the forward thinkers recognized the limitations of piston-driven propellers. Believing that a propeller-powered aircraft probably would never fly faster than 500 mph (805 km/h), Heinkel in particular, and Messerschmitt to a lesser extent, were looking for propulsion units and radically designed air-frames. Not everyone in Germany believed 500 mph was the limiting speed for a propeller. Kurt Tank and Claudius Dornier believed all through the 1940s that supersonic speeds could be obtained by a propeller-driven aircraft. They were wrong. In addition, some men were seeking to disprove the theory that neither man or machine would survive as speeds approached that of sound. Alexander Lippisch, one of Germany’s great practicing aerodynamicists, for example, believed that there were no limits on man’s ability to achieve forward motion. Of course, testing the limits depended on finding suitable propulsion units and efficient airframe designs.
It took until 1955 to confirm Ernst Heinkel’s belief that there were limits on the speed that propeller-driven aircraft could achieve. That was when the US Air Force ended its efforts to develop a propeller-driven strike fighter by substituting an Allision XT40 turboprop in a Republic XF-84 jet airframe. Although the XF-84's mission was not to test the limits of propeller-driven aircraft, it is known that the aircraft suffered tremendous difficulties (propeller reversing), but the most serious problem was caused by the supersonic propeller. When running, it produced extreme nausea in most personnel standing near the aircraft. No performance data on the XF-84H was ever released and it is now displayed on a plinth at Kern County Airport, Bakersfield, California.
In addition to the German designers’ quest for speed and performance, an equally compelling reason for their accomplishments in the 1940s was Germany’s declining fortunes in World War II. From 1943 onward German designers were called on increasingly to produce defensive weapons, which to the aircraft industry meant missiles, fighters, and interceptors. Every design resulted in an increase in power in turbine and liquid rocket drive units, and the resultant great strides in speed, led to every kind of new aerodynamic problem. German designers such as Hans Multhopp who was the most gifted aerodynamicist to come out of Germany, tackled these problems vigorously.
Just what were the Germans producing? Some of their designs were truly advanced, far too advanced for the technology available to translate them into worthwhile or even flyable machines. These included the rocket-driven aircraft of Lippisch, the orbital bomber of Sänger, the tailless fighters of Heinkel and of Blohm and Voss, and the all-wings of the Horten brothers (even though the Horten’s Ho 229 was well advanced for production). Other were old-fashioned, conservative designs for airframes originally housing piston engines of the 1930s and 1940s and later fitted with turbines for propulsion. Especially prominent during the last 2 years of the war were designs for turbine and rocket-driven high altitude interceptor aircraft, designs that under peacetime conditions would not have been feasible for all-purpose fighter aircraft. There were also designs for heavy bombers, but only a few prototypes were constructed because heavy bombers were not considered an important part of Germany’s war strategy early on.
The organization that carried out the planning function in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s was the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, (RLM) or German Air Ministry. The roots of the Air Ministry began with Adolf Hitler. In contrast with his fascination with high-performance automobiles, Hitler generally was unimpressed by high performance aircraft. Nevertheless, shortly after he seized power on 30 January 1933, he announced a bold plan for the creation of a new Luftwaffe with 4,000 airplanes.
History had shown the way for Hitler. By the end of World War I in 1918 it was pretty clear that airplanes had added a new dimension to warfare and had become an important tool for ground troops. In an offensive role airplanes could seek out enemy aircraft in the skies and bomb their bases, thus eliminating the air threat to army ground troops. In a tactical role airplanes could attack enemy ground formations and harass the movement of troops and supplies to the Front. Finally, in a defensive role, airplanes could protect one’s own ground troops from enemy attacks.
As Hitler was coming to power, there was no Air Ministry as such, instead he appointed Hermann Göring as the Reich or empire’s commissioner for Civil Aviation and Erhard Milch as his deputy. The Treaty of Versailles had imposed near-paralyzing air restrictions on Germany, as postwar Europe entered the 1920s. Its terms stipulated that the defeated Germany be left with only 140 aircraft, all of which were to be used for commercial purposes. This situation resulted in the organization of hundreds of sailplane/soaring clubs throughout Germany by ex-flyers and adventurous youth. When Hitler came to power in 1933, officials of the German War Office, or Wehrmacht, under the control of the Army, assumed that they would be in control of the fledgling secret Luftwaffe, just as they had been in World War I. However, Göring had no such intentions, and on 15 May 1933, he got his way by having the War Office, under Wernher von Blomberg, transfer all military air activities to him and his Commission for Civil Aviation. This transfer created the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, and in effect gave birth to an independent Luftwaffe. The birth of the Luftwaffe was pretty much kept secret form the rest of the world (due to the fact that the Treaty of Versailles was still in effect) until 1 March 1935, when it was publicly brought out into the open as the official German Air Force. It would be the job of the Air Ministry to develop and supply all the necessary aircraft for the Luftwaffe. This meant working in close collaboration with the German aircraft industry, academic institutions, and the like, to conduct scientific research on aircraft design and efficient management in the production of airplanes.
To get the near-dormant German industry active again, and the infant Luftwaffe up to a level of strength equal or superior to that of other nations of the world, Göring needed help. He himself was neither qualified or particularly interested in the details. He had no engineering or technical training, and was totally without corporate managerial experience. Nor was he a student of economics or history, and he lacked a whole-hearted dedication to aviation and the function of air power in a tactical or strategical role. He was, however, a retired captain of the crack phenomenally successful Richthofen Squadron and the recipient of the PourleMérite. Official records failed to confirm that Göring had in fact scored the necessary twenty-five kills required to be eligible for Prussia’s highest military decoration, he is thought to have obtained only twenty-two kills.
The first Chief of Staff for the new Air Ministry was Generalleutnant Walther Wever, a brilliant officer by anyone’s standards. He died on 3 June 1936 in a flying accident caused by his own impatience. Eager to get his Heinkel He 70 “Blitz” into the air at Dresden and headed back to Berlin late one evening, Wever failed to remove the aileron steering system block and the aircraft crashed moments after takeoff. Had Wever lived to mold the Luftwaffe into the fighting unit he believed necessary (he was a proponent of the strategic bomber concept), it is certain that Germany would have had large, four-engine heavy bombers for their attacks on England, as well as the ability to destroy Russian armament factories beyond the Ural mountains. However, the large long-range bomber program was dropped after Wever was succeeded by Generalleutnant Albert Kesselring in 1936, Generaloberst Hans Stumff in 1937, and Generaloberst Hans Jeschonnek in February 1939.
Another important figure in the early days of the Air Ministry was Ernst Udet. Like Göring, Udet was a born fighter pilot and ace from World War I (with 62 confirmed enemy kills Udet was the fourth highest scoring ace of the Great War 1914-1918). Udet was at that time a movie star, a world renowned stunt pilot. Widely popular in the United States, Udet was the sort of man many young Germans wished to imitate and young Germans joined the Luftwaffe by the tens of thousands. Although not a Nazi, Udet was appointed by Göring in 1936 to reorganize the Air Ministry’s technical department and to attract new recruits as airmen to the Luftwaffe. The technical office, or Technisches Amt, was the main activity in the Air Ministry. In addition, there was the Nachschub Amt, or supply office, and the Wirtschafts Amt, or contracts office. Within these three directorates all aircraft research and planning, as well as supply and procurement of various airplanes, was carried out. Generaloberst Ernst Udet committed suicide on 17 November 1941 reportedly over his alleged mishandling of all matters of aircraft production. Later in 1944, Albert Speer was placed in charge of Air Ministry activities as part of his Ministry for Armament and Munitions. All departments and divisions of the Air Ministry connected with the production were transferred to Speer’s Ministry and came under Karl Saur, Chief of Technical Air Equipment.
Looking back, it is easy to see the design flaws that would have led to dead ends, the bi-fuel liquid rocket driven Messerschmitt Me 163 fighter interceptor for example, with it short flight duration and its tendency to explode destroying both pilot and aircraft. German design was on the cutting edge (with proposed aircraft such as Hans Multhopp’s Fw Ta 183 and Felix Krackt’s DFS 346), and anything that appeared possible was tried. Heinkel AG’s He 162 “People’s Fighter” a small, lightweight interceptor, had a fatal design flaw resulting from poor placement of its wing and air intake for its dorsal-mounted turbine. The product of intensive collaboration by airframe designers, the plane was designed and built in 74 days. The first 162 was delivered in December 1944 and crashed 2 days later. But persistence was the byword, and everything, including experimental designs, was being tried in an effort to turn back the British Lancaster’s and the United States Army Air Force’s (USAF) B-24 and B-17 heavy bombers. However, high altitude interceptors, target defense interceptors, fighter aircraft, and so on are not developed quickly and haphazardly.
A fighter aircraft, for example, is basically a design compromise. Ideally, it should be maneuverable and controllable, quick to climb and able to sustain repeated dives on targets, carrying wing-mounted weapons, and be easily serviced under field conditions - but rarely do the military and the aircraft’s designers get their wish for all these characteristics in one aircraft. To get superior performance in one area, they may have to give a little in another. For example, an aircraft may not climb as quickly or go as fast as desired if it must carry a lot of externally mounted weapons and still be simple enough to be serviced in remote field operations. The general weakness of nearly all the German turbine and bi-fuel liquid rocket-driven aircraft developed during World War II was a lack of good design compromises. In many instances things that make for a balanced fighter were overlooked; in other instances, they were deliberately overlooked (such as the case with Lippisch’s Me 163 and he was the first to admit it). Lippisch’s bi-fuel liquid rocket-driven interceptors, for instance, are considered to have had about as much value as a “slingshot,” although they were astonishingly quick to climb, attaining perhaps 32,800 ft (10 km) in seconds, they had to rely on their glide momentum to attack and were good for only a few minutes of combat. Unable to stay and fight, they had little value. Consequently, these designs could seldom be regarded as adequate for fighter/interceptor aircraft.
Few of the German turbine and bi-fuel liquid rocket-propelled aircraft demonstrated fighter plane characteristics. Instead, a host of new techniques were designed to increase straight-line performance or interception capabilities. We see all-wing, tailless, delta, variable-angle wings, winglets, swept-forward, swept-backward wings, and other features engineers hoped would increase performance. Individual features, such as the swept-wing and variable angle wing, fitted on Messerschmitt’s P.1101, were truly advanced concepts. The Horten’s 229 all-wing fighter, full of technical problems (directional stability) that only now are being understood, represent a concept that eventually will be adopted more and more to fighter aircraft such as the Stealth Fighter. The German designs were on the cutting edge, the right track, but they had no idea what they were getting into in terms of translating their designs into production aircraft and meeting fighter performance criteria.
Nevertheless, many of the German designs were truly awe-inspiring such as the bi-fuel liquid rocket-driven supersonic research DFS 346. On the following pages, a sample of known German turbojet and bi-fuel liquid rocket driven aircraft designs are pictured. In a few cases the paintings and scale models shown are based on a great deal of information about the aircrafts fuselage shape, wing type, wing location, tailplane, engine, and general performance. But in most cases all there is to go on are design sketches, some wind tunnel scale models, and/or the proposed aircraft’s general statistics. In addition, several turbojet and bi-fuel liquid rocket-driven aircraft survived World War II and are now located in museums such as the Messerschmitt Me 163 and Me 262, Arado’s Ar 234-B, Bachem’s Ba 349B, Heinkel’s He 162, and Horten’s Ho 229.
As a general practice German aircraft were not given names. Instead, as each design was begun the aircraft was assigned a design number selected by the Air Ministry. Turbojet and bi-fuel liquid rocket-driven aircraft started out with a “Project” (usually shortened to “P”) number. Most of the “P” series designs were discarded even before a prototype was ordered. Some of these early numbers were dropped after a prototype had been built, while others, having lost in the Air Ministry sponsored design competitions, were eliminated from the firm’s portfolio. Several manufacturers used “EF” number designations, meaning “Eprobungsflugzeug,” or experimental aircraft. The Junkers company, for example, assigned an EF number to turbine-propelled aircraft. Within the Arado the prefix “E” meaning Entwung or project, was used for their proposed aircraft designs.
Aircraft that survived to operational status were predesignated, for example, as Me or He and followed by a number. The letters are simply an abbreviation of the manufactures’s name, for example “Me” for Messerschmitt or “He” for Heinkel. The major and minor 1933-1945 German aircraft manufacturing companies and the city of their headquarters are as follows:
AGO -Aktien Gesellschaft Otto Flugzeugbau GmbH - Oschersleben/Bode
Ar -Arado Flugzeugwerke GmbH - Berlin/Babelsberg
Ba - Bachem-Werke GmbH - Waldsee/Württemberg
Bf - Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (later Messerschmitt AG) - Augsburg
BMW - Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH - München
Bü - Bücker Flugzeugbau GmbH - Berlin/Rangsdorf
Bv - Blohm und Voss Schiffswerke-Abteilung Flugzeugbau - Hamburg
DB - Daimler-Benz AG - Stuttgart
DFS - Deutsches Forchunginstitut für Segelflug - Darmstadt/Griesheim
Do - Dornier Werke GmbH - Friedrichshafen
Fa - Focke, Achgelis GmbH - Delmenhorst
Fh - Flugzeugbau Halle GmbH - Halle
Fi - Gerhard Fieseler Werke GmbH - Kassel
Fk - Flugzeugbau Kiel GmbH - Kiel
Fl - Anton Flettner GmbH - Berlin/Johannisthal
Fw - Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau GmbH - Bremen
Go - Gothaer Waggonfabrik AG - Gotha
Ha - Hamburger Flugzeugbau (later Blohm und Voss) - Hamburg
He - Ernst Heinkel AG - Rostock/Marienhe
Ho - Horten Flugzeugbau GmbH - Bonn
Hs - Henschel Flugzeugbau AG - Berlin/Schönefeld
Hü - Hütter Segelflugzeug-Konstruckteurs
HWK - Hellmuth Walter Kiel - Kiel
Ju - Junkers Flugzeugbau AG - Dessau
Jumo - Junkers Motoren Werke - Dessau
Kl - Hanns Klemm Flugzeugbau und Leichtflugzeugbau GmbH - Böblingen
Li - Alexander Lippisch Luftfahrtforschungsanstalt - Vienna
Me - Messerschmitt AG - Augsburg
Nr - Nagler-Rolz Flugzeugbau - Vienna
Pe -Peshka Flugzeugbauwerke - Minden
Sa - Eugen Sänger - Trauen
Si - Siebel Flugzeugbauwerke KG - Halle
Sk - Skoda-Kauba Flugzeugbau - Prag/Cakowitz
So - Heinz G. Sombold - Naumburg
Ta - Kurt Tank (Focke-Wulf)
Wn - Wiener-Neustädter-Flugzeugbau GmbH - Wiene/Neustädt
Ze - Luftschiffbau Zeppelin und Abteilung Flugzeugbau GmbH - Friedrichshafen.
It is estimated that there were more than four-hundred or more proposed turbojet-powered and bi-fuel liquid rocket-driven aircraft. New paper designs seem to show up virtually every few weeks. The large number may give the reader the impression that the German aviation industry was somehow superior to any other country. Although it was certainly advanced in many areas, one cannot judge an industry from numbers of “projects” alone. As Hugo Junkers put it so well: “Aircraft ideas are as cheap as blackberries.” To an idea,” he said, “must be added practicality, money, and time - and the last commodity was very, very scarce in Germany during the desperate period in which most of the German projects discussed in this book were conceived. One must also bear in mind that, whereas the details of a great portion of the German work eventually were released to the public, details of the work of the victorious powers are not so easily found for comparison, because in the spirit of competition and national security, aircraft companies generally keep close guard on details of advanced aviation development.
A brief discussion accompanies each German aircraft along with numerous images...black & white as well as world class color digital images. It is not my intention to criticize the designs, their intended purposes, use or airworthiness of any particular aircraft design. I am amazed by most of them and see each, with a few exceptions, as beautifully designed, well-proportioned pieces of art. All the three dozen books listed are in print except for the Monogram Close-Up 229. The others can be ordered through Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, Pennsylvania or through Amazon.com.
Dr. David Olaf Myhra, Author and Historian
Naples, Florida USA
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