The scientific tourist #132 — The Focke-Wulf Fw 190

This weeks image is of a Fw 190 at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia:

The Fw 190 was originally designed in the late 1930’s as a fighter, but was used as a workhorse airframe in a dizzying array of variants by the Luftwaffe in WWII. It was used as an air superiority fighter, strike fighter, escort fighter, ground attack aircraft (as outfitted above) and less successfully as a night fighter.

Unusual for its time in Europe, the Fw 190 was powered by a 14-cylinder radial, air-cooled engine. Previously, air-cooled engines were deemed to be unsuitable for fighters, as it was felt that their large frontal area couldn’t be accommodated in a slim-body aircraft like a fighter. Yet the 190’s designer, Kurt Tank, was able to pull this off with a tightly-fitted streamlined engine cowling. The 190 was also radical for its extensive use of electrically- (vs. hydraulically-) driven mechanisms.

Yet the Fw 190 was likely most notable for the acceleration it introduced into the realm of aircraft design during the second World War. By repeatedly challenging the RAF’s air supremacy, the long series of Fw 190 variants forced the U.K. (and later, U.S.) military establishments to keep improving their fighters’ performance over the course of the war.

Over 20,000 Fw 190s were built between 1941 and 1945 — at least 28 survive today, of which nearly half are in museums in the U.S. The above aircraft was originally built as an A-4 variant (late 1942 / early 1943, fighter), but was later rebuilt in the F-8 configuration (late 1944 / early 1945, ground attack).

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