Saturday, 14 November 2009

Junkers Ju 287 - Germany's Forward Swept Wing Bomber

Stephen Ransom & Peter Korrell, with Peter D. Evans, Classic Publications/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., Hersham, Surrey, England, 2008, ISBN 978-1-90322-392-5. Illustrated, hardcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Classic Publications/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., 2008.

As in the case of Classic Publications' book on the Horten Ho 229, those with a somewhat less visionary disposition will undoubtedly dismiss this book, too, as a waste of paper on a Luft '46 delusion. So be it. In reality, however, the significance of the emergence of the Ju 287 cannot be overstated, and the publication of a book such as this one is thus both important and overdue.

Due to its status as a late-war fringe design, the Ju 287 has so far been largely neglected as far as mainstream Luftwaffe publications are concerned. There has been a photo of the Ju 287 here and there during the past decades, mostly in books dealing with German jet design or German aviation projects of World War II (such as in Smith & Creek's Jet Planes Of The Third Reich or Griehl's Jet Planes Of The Third Reich - The Secret Projects, Volume Two, both by Monogram Aviation Publications, and in a variety others). Gathering solid data on the Ju 287 was difficult for the common reader, as was obtaining a comprehensive and reliable history of this aircraft type. The sole exception was of course Thomas H. Hitchcock's very first Close-Up booklet, Junkers 287 (Monogram Aviation Publications, USA, 1974), which dealt exclusively with this elusive aircraft but, by now, no longer matches the state of research. But market forces and the relative scarcity of available period material usually meant that the existence of the Ju 287 was utterly eclipsed by works on the various Bf 109s, Fw 190s, Me 262s, et al.

For anybody seriously interested in cutting edge aircraft design or technological advances during World War II, however, the Ju 287 is of course immeasurably more intriguing than most of the conventional aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Accordingly, it was with quite some anticipation that the first dedicated hardback monograph on the Ju 287, Horst Lommel's Junkers Ju 287 (Aviatic Verlag, Germany, 2003) was awaited. Purchased on the day of its publication, it left me strangely dissatisfied, if not outright disappointed. Lommel, apparently well on his way to become the German David Myhra, had wasted the exhilarating chance to literally write history with his book. Instead, he provided the reader with an unstructured concoction of information and images, often prompting the question of the extent of historical accuracy. Moreover, about half of the book was dedicated to other aircraft only superficially related to the main topic, as has become the unfortunate norm for his publications.

We are thus incredibly fortunate that, only a few years later, a trio of very distinguished protagonists from the Luftwaffe research community embarked on the unenviable task to finally set the record straight. Stephen Ransom is of course the author of the fantastic study on Brandis airfield, Zwischen Leipzig und der Mulde (Stedinger Verlag, Germany, 1996). This book is itself a treasure and, upon its publication, caused quite a stir among enthusiasts due to the inclusion of sensational, rare photos of the second prototype of the Ju 287.

Dr. Peter Korrell is also a familiar name to serious Luftwaffe researchers; he has been publishing restored reprints of rare vintage aviation documents for years (some of which are reviewed elsewhere in this blog). A number of Dr. Korrell's publications deal with the Ju 287 and related designs. Peter D. Evans, last but not least, is the eminent creator of the Luftwaffe Experten Message Board, the internet's foremost meeting point for those seriously interested in the former German Luftwaffe. Evans, too, had long been studying the Ju 287.

The Ju 287 photos that were once part of Ransom's book on Brandis airfield have now been included in what is and probably will remain the standard work on the type, Junkers Ju 287 - Germany's Forward Swept Wing Bomber. As can be expected when such a trio of authors teams with Classic Publications, the book is a beauty. It is thoroughly researched, complete, professionally designed, and sumptuously illustrated.

The book commences with a look at the development of forward sweep until 1935. It then delves into Junkers' interest for the concept, followed by the actual development of hardware in the form of the first two prototypes of the Ju 287. Further chapters deal with the flight trials and disposal of the prototypes, with the mysterious and still unidentified "Rechlin 66" aircraft whose shape suggests a close affiliation with the Ju 287, and with the further development of the Ju 287 in the Soviet Union. All chapters are crammed with photos and drawings, and every conceivable aspect of the aircraft is investigated. A postscript looks at swept wing designs after World War II. There are detailed endnotes to every chapter as well as a comprehensive appendix which contains biographies and further interesting insights into the research conducted for the book.

Junkers Ju 287 - Germany's Forward Swept Wing Bomber is a stunning and very satisfying book. Even if one were to disregard the exhaustive text, the book's photo content alone is well worth the purchase price. It is astonishing how many pictures exist of an aircraft that has so far been regarded as completely obscure. Moreover, some of the photos reveal amazing detail (e.g. on pages 82 and 83). Only a few very minor questions remain. The authors speculate, for example, whether the two photos on page 64 show the mock-up or the actual front section of the Ju 287 V1. In my humble opinion, the aircraft section in question is not a mock up (except for the dummy engines) but definitely part of the actual prototype.

One can still hope that additional photos of the EF 131 (originally designated Ju 287 V3) will emerge from Russia one day, as it happened a few years ago in the case of the equally shrouded Junkers EF 126.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Kurt Tank's Photo Album 1940-1943

Compiled by Roy Powell & Barry Ketley, Flight Recorder Publications, Ottringham, England, 2004, ISBN 0-9545605-3-1. Illustrated, softcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Flight Recorder Publications, 2004.

This relatively unknown - I am tempted to say "obscure" - book is quite an intriguing publication. The plentiful photos contained therein were originally part of an anonymous Word War II vintage photo album that came into the possession of one of the authors, Roy Powell. As related in the introduction of the book, some detective work eventually revealed that the photo album had possibly once belonged to Kurt Tank, Focke-Wulf's illustrious chief designer.

To any serious student of the former German Luftwaffe, the book is simply spectacular. It contains a remarkable mixture of candid shots of aircraft and people, always bolstered with extensive and well researched text. Even if these photos are taken from what is purported to be Tank's album, not all illustrations are directly connected to him in subject. The enormous bandwidth of topics covered is surprising and thrilling.

There are images of Fw 190s, Fw 189s (including in-flight shots of the rear gunner's station), Fh 104, Fi 156, Fw 200, Ta 154 V1, and, most interestingly, five pictures of the Fw 191 (one of these is a shot of a wartime scale model). In addition, there is a chapter of pictures of the little known but highly interesting Berlin B 9, some of them showing unprecedented details. These photos are complemented by a translated German technical and flight test report on the B 9. To me personally, this chapter is the highpoint of the book.

Moreover, there are, for example, numerous photos from newly captured France which range from airfields to towns and tanks. A small chapter in the beginning of the book provides a glimpse at the famed 1937 Dubendorf, Switzerland, aviation meeting. People featured throughout Kurt Tank's Photo Album include Tank himself, Friedrich Christiansen, Ritter von Greim, Erhard Milch etc. Of interest to many might also be a series of shots of Adolf Galland that, in the background, also show Bf 108s and Bf 109s.

Astonishing, to me, is the inclusion of 15 pages (!) worth of period cartoons only superficially related to aviation. These are of course of a certain historical significance but still seem like an immense and incomprehensible waste of printed pages to any aircraft enthusiast. Moreover, the meaning of the German language captions to these cartoons is often simply untranslatable, in spite of the authors' admirable efforts.

The book is completed by color profiles of the B 9 and Fw 191. These are printed in very dark colors, however, which drastically limits their usefulness.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Notes On Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-0,
Werknummer 14003, V-Tail Trials Aircraft

One of three known photos of Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-0, VJ+WC, Werknummer 14003, as featured as part of report no. 109 08 E 43, issued by Messerschmitt AG's flight test department, dated May 5, 1943.

This early Bf 109 G-0, Werknummer 14003, VJ+WC, was used for Messerschmitt trials of a V-tail empennage on January 21, 25, 26, and 27, 1943. The extensive technical description and flight test reports, issued by Messerschmitt AG in Augsburg and dated from early 1943, survive and have been reproduced in their entirety in Luftfahrt - Band 5 (Germany, 1978, ISBN 3 87547 182 2). Only three pictures of this aircraft are know to exist (all originally included in the aforementioned technical description), but none of them show the entire Bf 109.

There are a number of features which distinguish this Bf 109. Based on its Werkummer, it was part of the first three Bf 109 G-0s produced at Messerschmitt's Regensburg plant in October of 1941. According to the technical description, the aircraft was powered by a Daimler-Benz DB 605 A (Werknummer 76172), driving a VDM airscrew. The aircraft's wings incorporated early (i.e., small) G-type wing bulges, implicating that the corresponding wider wheels had possibly been fitted. One of the photos of this Bf 109 shows that this aircraft had a Bf 109 F-4 type canopy, but it seems to have lacked any head armour. Also visible in the photos is a Bf 109 F type tail wheel. Werknummer 14003 had no antenna mast, but an antenna wire ran from each butterfly fin towards the canopy (the exact location where the wires entered the fuselage cannot be discerned from the existing photos).

An F-style external fuselage strengthening strip ran from the fuselage to the converted tail cone. This strip seems to have been riveted to the fuselage. There was also an apparent actuating rod on the bottom of the new tail fins, near the hinge point. The new fins were faired into the fuselage by means of (aluminium) slip-over gloves. On the outside of the fins, very noticeable external strips apparently signify the mounts of the hinges for the rudders. These strips are not present on the upper side of the fins.

The camouflage of Werknummer 14003 appears to have been standard for the time, i.e., 76/74/75. The converted tail cone had been left natural metal, and the two butterfly fins were painted in a dark color, possibly 66 or 70, or even 22. The aircraft Werknummer was hand-painted in white above the last letter of the call sign on both sides of the fuselage, right before the demarcation line from the camouflaged fuselage to the natural metal tail cone. The small number "8" denoting the fuselage frame was uniquely applied over the bottom part of the call sign letter "C" on the port side, on a small patch of what appears to be 76.

(Amended version of a text I originally posted on the discussion forum of on July 22, 2002, and which was subsequently appropriated and used without permission or credit in kit instructions by U.M.I. Resin, USA.)