The Focke-Wulf 190

By Chuck Hawks

The Focke-Wulf 190 was designed by Kurt Tank, and was a nasty surprise to the RAF in September 1941. Only a little over 200 were completed in 1941, but in 1942 1,850 were built, which amounted to about 40% of German single seat fighter production.

The new fighter was powered by a BMW 14-cylinder twin row air cooled radial engine. This engine put out 1,760 hp, and, coupled with the aircraft's excellent handling qualities, gave the early FW 190A models a clear superiority over the RAF's Spitfire Mk V.

Many German aces flew the FW 190. Georg-Peter Eder, who spent a lot of time in the cockpit of the FW 190, ran up 78 confirmed victories plus 40 probables. 36 of his confirmed kills were 4-engine bombers. He himself was shot down 17 times, and wounded 14 times. Intercepting the American heavy bomber "streams" was dangerous work indeed.

Like so many of the top German aces, Eder started flying the Bf 109 early in the war, and later transitioned to the FW 190. Many of the 107 (!) Luftwaffe aces to score over 100 confirmed victories flew both types, and many also flew other types as well, such as the Me 262 jet fighter.

An example would be Gunther Rall, the 3rd highest scoring ace of the War (275 victories). Between 1939 and 1945, Rall flew the Bf 109 (his personal favorite), the FW 190, the "long nose" FW 190D, and the Me 262 jet. He also had the opportunity to fly captured Allied fighters, including several versions of the Spitfire, the P-38, P-47, and P-51. His favorite allied fighter was the Spitfire, by the way.

The FW 190 was known as a "pilots airplane," meaning she was a sweet ship to fly, light and easy on the controls (unlike the Bf 109, which was a handful). Its speed, climb, dive, and roll rate were superior to the Spitfire Mk V. The Focke-Wulf pilot benefited from a canopy with an fine all-around view. There was also excellent armor protection for the pilot. The FW 190 had a wide track landing gear, which made it much less prone to ground loops than the Bf 109, and it could absorb more battle damage.

The FW 190 was also more heavily armed than the Spitfire (or the ME 109). Typical armament was two 7.9mm machine guns in the upper engine cowling, two Mauser 20mm cannon in the wing roots (each of which could fire 700 rounds per minute, much faster than the equivalent British cannon), plus two more slower firing (450 rounds per minute) Oerlikon 20mm cannon farther out in the wings.

Mass production began with the FW 190A-1 and A-2 models, of which about 528 were built. These used the 1,600 hp BMW 801C-1 and C-2 radial engines. Armament was two cowl mounted 8mm machine guns, two wing root mounted 8mm MG, and two wing mounted 20mm cannon.

The early 1942 FW 190 model was the A-3. This used the BMW 801D-2 radial engine used by all subsequent FW 190 A-series fighters. The wing root MG was replaced by 20mm cannon in the A-3, and this change was also carried over in subsequent 190's. The following specifications are for the FW 190A-3.


34 ft. 5 in.


29 ft. 1 in.


12 ft.

Wing area:

197 sq. ft.


BMW 801D 14 cylinder radial, 1,760 hp. at 3,000 r.p.m. at 18,000 ft.

Max speed:

395 m.p.h. at 17,000 ft.; 390 m.p.h. at 20,000 ft.

Best climb:

3,280 ft./min. at 17,500 ft.

Climb to:

16,500 ft., 4.75 min.; 18,000 ft., 6.25 min.

Service ceiling:

37,000 ft.


820 miles max. economy cruise

Max weight:

9,200 lb.. (8,580 normal)


2-7.9mm MG, 4-20mm cannon

Later in 1942, the FW 190A-4 model fighter came along, which had a methanol-water injection system for the engine which boosted power to 2,100 HP for a 10 minute period on demand, and substantially improved performance at the lower altitudes. This model also introduced an improved radio. Top speed was 416 MPH at 21,000 feet. Other A-4 models included tropical, night fighter, and fighter-bomber versions that had fuselage racks for 550 lb. or 1100 lb. bombs. There was also an extended range version with racks under the wings and fuselage for drop tanks or munitions.

The FW 190F models were fighter-bombers, beginning service early in 1943. The F-1 was based on the A-4 with additional armor to protect the pilot and engine and a bomb rack beneath the fuselage for a 1,100 lb. bomb.

The 1943 fighter version was the FW 190A-5. The main change was to move the engine 6 inches foreword in order to allow more flexibility for under wing stores. The principal duties of the A-5 included bomber destroyer (fitted with two 20mm and two 30mm cannon), ground attack (with an increasingly wide variety of external stores), reconnaissance, and night fighter roles. Horsepower was up to 2,050 in the 801D engine. This was one of the principle fighters intercepting the American daylight bombing raids, which began in 1943. The Luftwaffe fighters took a fearful toll until the appearance of American long range escort fighters.

The FW 190F-2 was a fighter bomber development of the A-5 that introduced the bubble canopy that then became standard for subsequent FW 190 models. It was otherwise similar to the F-1. F-3, F-8 and F-9 models followed. The F-8/U2 and F8/U3 were interesting in that they were fitted with a TSA bomb sight for anti-shipping strikes.

The FW 190F and FW 190G series were parallel fighter-bomber developments. All were based on FW 190 A series airframes modified in various ways.

The FW 190G-1 was a long range fighter-bomber variant based on the A-4 airframe and used the BMW 801D-2 engine. Internal armament was reduced to the cowl mounted MG and the 2-20mm cannon in the wing roots. The landing gear was strengthened to accommodate a heavier bomb load (up to 3,968 lbs.!) and the wings had provision for 66 gallon drop tanks. The JU 87 Stuka dive-bomber was rapidly becoming obsolete and the FW 190 was required to fill the gap. The G-2 and G-3 were similar to the G-1 with different rack configurations for underwing stores.

The FW 190G-3 also included a PKS-11 autopilot and wing leading-edge barrage balloon cable cutters. Top speed of this model was 340 mph at sea level and 388 mph at 16,405 feet. The normal range was 497 miles.

The A-6 version introduced an improved wing structure and replaced the slower firing outer wing cannons with faster firing Mauser MG 151 20mm cannon. Performance remained about the same as the A-5. The F-3 fighter-bombers were developed from the A-6 airframe.

The A-7 again upped firepower by replacing the nose machine guns with more powerful 13mm (.51 cal) machine guns. This model also introduced a new gunsight.

The FW 190A-8 of 1944 became the most numerous of the A-series 109's. It incorporated various improvements, including a new radio, increased fuel capacity (25 gallons) for longer range, a repositioned bomb rack, and an improved power boost system to improve high altitude performance (which had never been outstanding). Various factory conversion and field conversion sets were produced to modify A-8's for specific purposes. Speed was 405 mph at best altitude. Best climb was down to 2,756 ft./min. at 16,100 ft. A-8 variants included high altitude, ground attack, all weather, and even two seat trainer versions. Some had armored cockpits. The F-8 fighter-bombers were based on the A-8 airframe.

The equivalent "G" series to the FW 190A-8 was the FW 190G-8, the last of the FW 190G series. The G-8 was what we would call a multi-role fighter, for while designed primarily for close air support of ground troops it served in both the close support and general purpose fighter roles. Power came from a BMW 801-D2 radial that produced 1,800 horsepower. Internal armament remained two cowl mounted 13mm machine guns and two 20mm cannon mounted in the wing roots.

The basic BMW radial engine had clearly reached its maximum performance limits. What was needed was a new power plant to keep the FW 190 competitive with the latest Allied fighters.

Experiments mating the FW 190 airframe with liquid-cooled Daimler Benz and Junkers inverted Vee engines had started back in 1941 as a means to improve high altitude performance. By early 1944 the need for more performance was acute, and the FW 190D (or "Dora") was the result.

This much altered fighter used the standard Focke-Wulf 190 wings and tail plane with an extended rear fuselage and a longer and heavier Junkers Jumo 213A-1 inverted V12 engine. An annular radiator was designed that made the Dora resemble a radial engine fighter, but the long nose and the row of six exhaust stacks on each side of the lower cowl gave away the type's V-12 powerplant.

The new engine developed 2,240 war emergency HP with water-methanol injection. The first production version, the FW 190D-9, joined the Luftwaffe in August 1944. The D-9's top speed was 357 mph at sea level and 426 mph at 21,650 feet. Climb to 19,685 feet took 7.1 minutes. The range on internal fuel was 520 miles. Underwing racks allowed carrying two 66 gallon drop tanks or two 550 pound bombs. Internal armament remained two wing mounted 20mm cannon and two cowl mounted 13mm MG.

In February 1945 the D-12 went into production, using a Jumo 213F-1 engine. Best climb rate was up to 3,642 ft./min.), and speed up to 458.5 mph (at 38,080 ft!). The D-12 was armed with a 30mm Mk. 108 cannon firing through the propeller boss and two wing mounted 20mm cannons. Altogether just short of 700 FW 190D models were produced before the end of the war.

These "long nose" models were reportedly more of a handful to fly than the radial engine 190's, but they still handled fairly well. And they kept the Focke-Wulf right up there in performance with the best allied fighters until the end of the war. In the hands of a good pilot the long nose FW 190D interceptor was serious and deadly competition for the P-51D Mustang, the Allies premier escort fighter.

In all, nearly 20,000 FW 190 aircraft of all types were completed by the end of the war, and the type was used by the air forces of Turkey, France (as the NC 900), and various of Germany's allies as well as the Luftwaffe.

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Copyright 2003, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.