Collection Item Long Description:
In 1944, the Reichluftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry or RLM) decreed that all new fighter aircraft designations must include the chief designer's name. Thus was born the Ta 152, named for Kurt Tank, chief of design at the Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau G. m. b. H. Except for designation, the Ta 152 series is directly related to, and a natural development of, the Fw 190. It was probably the fastest and most capable production, propeller-driven, fighter fielded by Germany during World War II.
In May, 1942, the RLM convened a meeting with representatives of Focke-Wulf and Messerschmitt to discuss the requirements for a Spezial Höhenjäger, a special, high-altitude fighter. Later, the RLM identified an offshoot concept known as the Extremer Höhenjäger, or extreme high-altitude fighter. To meet this need, the Messerschmitt designed the Me 155B and after a clumsy, protracted development period, this project evolved into the Blohm & Voss BV 155 (also in the NASM collection). Meanwhile, Tank hewed to the earlier Spezial Höhenjäger requirement a design called the Ta 152 began taking shape in 1943.
There were many technical challenges to overcome to field an airplane that could fight effectively at altitudes about one-third higher than either the Bf 109 or Fw 190 types already in production. By summer, the need for the new airplane was becoming acute. American heavy bomber raids were increasing and the bomber's fighter escort was operating at higher altitudes. The RLM pressed Focke-Wulf to modify existing designs to operate comfortably at about 12,500 m (40,000 ft). Relatively simple structural modifications were made to existing wings and fuselages to produce the Ta 152. Getting reliable performance from the various subsystems including the engine and supercharger, pressurization equipment, and even the landing flaps, proved much more difficult.
Kurt Tank chose the same workhorse Jumo 213 powerplant used in the Fw 190D. For the Ta 152H, he selected an uprated version, the Jumo 213E, equipped with a 2-stage, 3-speed mechanical supercharger and MW 50 engine boost. The MW 50 system used methanol-water mixture to boost engine output from 1,312 kw (1,750 hp) to 1,537 kw (2,050 hp) for short periods. Because of aluminum shortages, Focke-Wulf made the wing spars from steel and built the rear fuselage and empennage. The wing contained two steel spars. The front spar extended slightly beyond the landing gear attachment points but the rear spar spanned the entire wing. The wing twisted 3° from the root to the flap-aileron junction. This 'washout' prevented the ailerons from stalling before the center section. This allowed the pilot to maintain roll control during a stall. Armament consisted of one 30mm MK 108 cannon firing 90 rounds through the propeller hub and one 20mm MG 151 cannon firing 150-175 rounds from each wing root.
During the fall of 1944, Tank converted an existing Fw 190 prototype airframe (Werk-Nummer or serial number 0040) into the Ta 152H prototype. This aircraft and several other Ta 152 prototypes crashed early in the test program, due largely to intense pressure from the RLM to field production airplanes. Critical components suffered quality-control problems. Superchargers failed, pressurized cockpits leaked, the engine cooling system gave trouble, the landing gear failed to properly retract, and oil temperature gauges gave false readings. These problems, combined with Allied bombing attacks, which disrupted transportation and caused severe fuel shortages, slowed the whole program. Test pilots conducted just 31 hours of flight tests before full production started in November. By the end of January 1945 this figure had not climbed above 50 hours. This was not nearly enough time to refine subsystems and debug major components but production forged ahead.
Premature though it was, the Ta 152 had tremendous potential. Unlike the BV 155, a highly experimental, flying test-bed, Tank's design simply joined a powerful engine, already proven in the Fw 190D, to an existing airframe tweaked to perform at higher altitudes. The result was an airplane faster and more maneuverable than the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt. Chief designer Kurt Tank was flight-testing a Ta 152H when he encountered a flight of roving Mustangs. He simply turned toward home, applied the MW 50 system to boost his engine, and gave his pursuers the slip.
Between October 1944 and February 1945 when production ended, Focke-Wulf managed to roll 67 completed Ta 152 aircraft (H-0, H-1, and C-1 models) off the line but these fighters put on a disappointing show. Some aircraft were lost to engine fires while a variety of other engine problems and spares shortages grounded most of the fleet. By April 30, 1945, only two Ta 152C-1s remained operational. The Luftwaffe had grounded all H-models--an ignominious end for combat aircraft with great potential.
The NASM's Ta 152 is the only extant example of this fighter in the world today. NASM is also the only museum in the world that has preserved examples of the three major Fw 190 variants: the Fw 190F-8, the Fw 190D-9, and the Ta 152H-0. Each aircraft was built by the same manufacturer, but at different stages of the war and for different missions. Together, this unique trio offers rare insight into German fighter development during World War II. Definitive information about the NASM Ta 152 has always been lacking but research conducted late in 1998 may have revealed the airplane's true identity as Werk-Nummer (serial number) 150020, not 150003 or '010 as widely reported. This places the airframe toward the end of the range of pre-production H-0 models, a variant marking the transition from the Ta 152 prototypes to full production Ta 152H-1 airplanes. It was probably built at Focke-Wulf's production facility at Cottbus, Germany, in December 1944, and delivered to Erprobungskommando Ta 152 at Rechlin, Germany, for service testing. As with most Ta 152s produced, '020 was apparently transferred to Jagdgeswader (fighter squadron) JG 301 in early 1945. A green '4' was painted on the fuselage and this may have been the squadron identification and radio call sign "Green 4" but much remains unknown about this aircraft.
As the Soviets rolled over eastern Germany, many Luftwaffe pilots took off and steered their mounts west. They preferred to be captured by the West. The British recovered "Green 4" in Aalborg, Denmark, at the end of hostilities. They turned the airplane over to "Watson's Whizzer's, the U. S. unit charged with collecting German aircraft for further study. Lt Harold McIntosh flew '020 to Melun, France, where it was loaded aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Reaper and shipped Newark Army Airfield, New Jersey. From Newark, McIntosh flew this Ta 152 to Freeman Field, Indiana. The airplane was later transferred to Wright Field, Ohio, to undergo extensive flight testing as Foreign Equipment number FE-112 (later changed to T2-112). After testing, the Army stored the aircraft and then turned it over to the National Air Museum in 1960.
In 1998 Museum restoration staff were treating deteriorated sections of the wooden aft fuselage, fin, rudder, and right elevator when they discovered several interesting items that offered tantalizing glimpses into the airplane's shadowy past.
Extensive wood rot was found in where the horizontal stabilizer joins the vertical fin. The restoration staff speculated that during testing at Wright Field, pilots and engineers became concerned that the wooden tail may have been weakened by defective glues or sabotage. They strengthened the entire area with steel plate. However, this work may have compromised flight safety because it required moving the horizontal stabilizer forward several inches, exacerbating a tail-heavy condition already known to the Germans. The restoration specialist removed the steel plate and rebuilt the tail to the original German configuration.
After comparing photographs with the aircraft, the staff determined the British painted over some of the original German markings. The U. S. Army Air Force then stripped and repainted part of the airplane but NASM technicians carefully sanded through the layers of Allied paint to reveal previous markings and much of the original German paint. They found the old Foreign Equipment number, RAF markings, the Reich Defense tail bands of JG 301 (fighter wing 301), and the original Nazi swastika.
The staff also found 20mm MG 151 gun mounts and fittings in the upper cowling. However, these were not normally found in H-0 models, suggesting this airframe may have been destined to become a C-1 variant.