Nicknamed the Würger (Butcher Bird), the Fw 190 entered service in 1941 and flew throughout World War II on all fronts. It was the only German single-seat fighter powered by a radial engine and the only fighter of the war with electrically operated landing gear and flaps. Some served as fighter-bombers with ground attack units, but the Fw 190 is best known for defending against Allied daylight bombing attacks.
This Fw 190 F-8 was originally manufactured as an Fw 190 A-7 fighter. During 1944 it was remanufactured as a fighter-bomber and issued to ground attack unit SG 2. After Germany's surrender it was shipped to Freeman Field, Indiana, then transferred to the Smithsonian in 1949. Its 1980-83 restoration revealed a succession of color schemes. It now appears as it did while serving with SG 2 in 1944.
Transferred from the U.S. Air Force
Single engine, single seat, ground support fighter, ca. 1944
In 1937 the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reichs Air Ministry) issued a contract to the Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau (Focke-Wulf Airplane Company) for a single-engined fighter to supplement the Messerschmitt Bf 109 then entering service as the standard Luftwaffe day fighter. A team led by Professor Kurt Tank tendered two proposals for the new fighter: one powered by the same Daimler-Benz DB 601 liquid-cooled engine used in the Bf 109 and the other by a BMW 139 fourteen-cylinder, air-cooled, radial engine. With all available DB 601 production allocated to the Bf 109 and the twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110, the Air Ministry selected the radial engine proposal for development, despite a distinct preference for liquid-cooled powerplants. Designated Fw 190 officially but called Würger (Butcher Bird) in the field, the new design was the only German fighter of World War II that flew behind a radial engine. It claimed another notable first as the only fighter aircraft of the war equipped with electrically-operated landing gear and flaps.
When the first prototype, designated Fw 190 V1, took to the air on its maiden flight on June 1, 1939, experienced test pilot Flugkapitän Hans Sander was at the controls. Sander reported excellent performance and handling but high engine and cockpit temperatures. The problem stemmed from a very tight cowling design that choked airflow around the BMW 139 engine. A cooling fan geared to the propeller to force air between the engine cylinders did not help and the switch to the more powerful BMW 801 engine only compounded the problem. The configuration did succeed in reducing drag but the overheating problems almost cancelled the entire Fw 190 program. Additional cooling vents aft of the cowling partially solved the problem.
Even as Tank struggled to control engine heat, the first Fw 190 A-1 aircraft entered service with JG 26 (Jagdgeschwader or Fighter Wing) in France during August 1941. In September pilots flying the new Focke-Wulf tangled with Spitfires and the Allied fighter proved inferior to the Würger by almost any measure except turning radius. Until Supermarine introduced the improved Spitfire Mk. IX late in 1942, the Allies had no fighter to equal the Focke-Wulf. The Fw 190 A-2 and A-3 entered service shortly thereafter and production grew rapidly at five different Focke-Wulf plants. Ago, Arado, and Fieseler also built the airplane under license.
A BMW 801 D-2 engine, capable of producing 2,100 hp for brief periods by using a methanol-water injection system called MW-50, powered the next production variant, the Fw 190 A-4. Tank moved the engine forward 15 cm (6 inches) on the next subtype, the A-5. This finally solved the cooling problems that had plagued the earlier variants. Luftwaffe fighter units flying the Fw 190A-5 played a principal role in inflicting heavy losses on unescorted U.S. heavy bombers during 1943. The A-7 and the A-8 (the fighter version produced in the greatest numbers), incorporated heavier armament which proved devastating against Allied bombers but it also added weight. The Fw 190 became more vulnerable to U.S. escort fighters such as the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang.
As newer Allied fighters entered service, the Luftwaffe struggled to keep pace by developing improved fighters based on the Fw 190. The Fw 190 B and 'C never progressed beyond the prototype stage but the Fw 190 D began reaching Luftwaffe units in some numbers beginning in October 1944. It carried a powerful, liquid-cooled, Junkers Jumo 213 engine and it proved an excellent fighter aircraft but arrived too late to compensate for fuel shortages and losses of experienced pilots. The basic Fw 190 design also led to the advanced Ta 152 H high-altitude interceptor that entered limited service during the spring of 1945. NASM has preserved the world's last known surviving Ta 152 H.
On the Eastern Front, the Fw 190's reliable air-cooled engine and wide-track landing gear were ideally suited to operations in the harsh conditions of that theater. Eastern Front operations led to several new variants including the Fw 190 F fighter-bomber which Tank designed with special emphasis on ground-attack operations. The airplane carried 360 kg (794 lb) of armor including sections of steel plate behind the pilot's head, on the lower engine cowling and the wheel-well doors. The F-8 model became the most important variant of the entire 'F series. Using kits supplied by the factory, front-line units could adapt these airplanes to carry various combinations of heavy cannons, bombs, rockets, and even torpedoes.
The Fw 190 excelled as both a fighter and ground attack aircraft but the German aircraft industry could not build enough of both types simultaneously. By the fall of 1944, Luftwaffe Schlachtgeschwadern (ground attack wings) operating Fw 190s could muster little more than ineffective pinprick attacks against Allied ground forces closing in from the East and West.
The NASM Fw 190 left the production line in late 1943 as a Fw 190A-7 fighter. After suffering damage during operations it was repaired and remanufactured into an Fw 190 F-8 fighter bomber. The conversion involved fitting a new wing and bomb racks to the original fuselage and adding armor plate around and beneath the cockpit. Reissued to the Luftwaffe, the aircraft flew on the Eastern Front during late 1944, probably on strength with SG 2 (Schlachtgeschwader or Ground Attack Wing 2), based in Hungary. The exact circumstances of its capture remain obscure but it was probably flown, during the war's final days, to an airfield in western Germany and handed over to Allied forces.
After Germany's surrender on May 8, 1945, "Watson's Whizzer's" commanded by U. S. Army Air Forces (AAF) Col. Harold Watson, prepared this Focke-Wulf and a number of other German aircraft for shipment to the United States. In June, the NASM aircraft was loaded aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Reaper in Cherbourg, France. The carrier sailed for Newark, New Jersey, where eager hands offloaded her war prizes and shipped them to Freeman Field, Indiana, a collection point for captured enemy aircraft. NASM's Fw 190 F-8 received the foreign equipment code FE-117 and by September 1945, eleven other Fw 190s had joined it at Freeman Field.
The end of war in Europe rendered further testing unnecessary and technicians at Freeman Field remanufactured FE-117 during 1946 and immediately put the airplane in storage. Unlike many captured German jet aircraft, FE-117 never flew in the United States. By 1949, the Air Force had transferred it to the Smithsonian Institution, joining the collection of other military aircraft in storage at Park Ridge, Illinois. NASM's Fw 190 fortunately escaped the scrap pile when war in Korea forced the Park Ridge facility to close. The airplane arrived at Suitland, Maryland, sometime during the 1950s and Smithsonian personnel placed it in outdoor storage.
Restoration began in 1980 when specialists began sanding through layers of postwar paint applied in the U. S. to uncover the original German Luftwaffe paint and markings. The sanding process exposed something of the rich history of this artifact. It flew first as a Fw 190 A-7 fighter but Focke-Wulf later rebuilt it as a F-8 ground-attack fighter-bomber. The aircraft wore at least three different camouflage schemes and a manufacturer's data plate found inside the fuselage indicated that its first Werk-Nummer (serial number) was 640069. Infrared photographs of the aircraft's vertical stabilizer revealed that after rebuild, Focke-Wulf assigned the airframe a new Werk-Nummer 931884. Restoration concluded in 1983. The final paint and markings applied were historically accurate for this specific airframe: SG 2 (Schlagtgeschwader or Ground-Attack Squadron 2) during October 1944.