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Focke-Wulf Ta 152 High-Altitude Interceptor (1945)

Authored By Captain Jack | Last Updated: 7/18/2014

The Focke-Wulf Ta 152 was intended as a high-level interceptor based on the successful Fw 190D-9 fighter airframe.

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The Focke-Wulf Ta 152 was a short-lived, high-level interceptor fielded by the German Luftwaffe in the latter part of World War 2. She was developed from the existing Fw 190 fighter series family and incorporated a new wing, lengthened fuselage, high-altitude/high-performance capabilities utilizing a nitrous oxide power boosting system (one of the first known uses of such a system) and powerful cannon armament to contend with the ever-growing presence of Allied bombers wreaking havoc against German interests across Europe. Unfortunately for the Luftwaffe, the Ta 152 was rushed into service in January of 1945 before all of her developmental issues had been ironed out. That action, coupled with the deteriorating situation for Germany as a whole, ensured that only about 43 production examples (sources vary on the exact number) were ever delivered for the war for the Reich was over by June of 1945.

Stopping the Blood Loss
By 1944, German infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities were being ravaged on a daily basis by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of American bombers in the day and British bombers at night. Additionally, word of the new high-altitude, long-range Boeing B-29 Superfortress had soon spread throughout the German authority and a pressing matter for defense of its war industry soon became critical. As such, the Air Ministry (RLM) looked to fulfill a new requirement for a high-altitude interceptor and tapped both the proven Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf firms for a viable solution. To this point, Messerschmitt had proven their mastery of the skies with their Bf 109 single-seat fighter - one of the most produced military aircraft of her time - and, later, the Me 262 Schwalbe jet-powered fighter. Likewise, the Focke-Wulf bureau delivered a potential war-winner with their development and subsequent production of the excellent Fw 190 single-seat fighter.

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190D-9
Taking the Fw 190D-9 as its starting point, Focke-Wulf and fabled German aircraft engineer Kurt Tank set to work. The Fw 190D ("Dora") was a long-nose production fighter of the base Fw 190 with improvements throughout and clearly identified from earlier Fw 190 forms by her streamlined design and annular cowling. The Fw 190D-9 became the definitive Fw 190 production fighter version for the German Luftwaffe in the fall of 1944 and was highly-regarded by both sides in the post-war years as Germany's best piston engine entry, reaching speeds of 426 miles per hour and armed with a pair of cannons and further backed by a pair of machine guns. Water-methanol was used to boost engine performance out of the Junkers Jumo 213A to an impressive 2,240 horsepower, allowing for high-altitude, high-performance work.

The Focke-Wulf Ta 152
The Fw 190D-9 was reconstituted by Focke-Wulf for the new RLM requirement in three distinct prototypes - a fighter, high-altitude fighter and a ground-attack platform. Only the high-altitude prototype survived further evaluation and evolved into the Ta 152C prototype. The fighter and ground attack versions were cancelled outright and the Messerschmitt submission - the Bf 109H (based on the Bf 109G with a pressurized cockpit and lengthened wings) - was not accepted by the RLM and dropped from consideration on July 18th, 1944, the Ta 152 and upcoming Me 262 proving the better high-altitude alternatives.

The Ta 152 received its "Ta" designation from the first two letters of designer Kurt Tank's last name to honor his earlier contributions to the Focke-Wulf company (the "152" portion of the designation was rather generically assigned by the RLM). From the outset, the Ta 152 family would, itself, have encompassed three distinct production variants - the Ta 152C lower-altitude fighter, the Ta 152E fighter-reconnaissance platform and the Ta 152H high-altitude fighter.

At its core, the Ta 152 was nothing more than a heavily modified Fw 190. The fuselage was kept largely intact though noticeably lengthened to adapt the revised airframe to its new center of gravity. The wings were also noticeably altered and lengthened beyond the original Fw 190's 35 feet, 5 inches (H-model was 48 feet, 6 inches while the C-model was 36 feet, 1 inch). All tail surfaces were increased in area and the flaps and undercarriage were now hydraulically-controlled (as opposed to electrically). Additional features included a pressurized cockpit (H-model) upgraded radio equipment, navigation systems, an autopilot and heated forward armored windscreen (the latter to combat the freezing temperatures to be encountered at higher altitudes). Within the wings resided tanks to hold fuel, the MW 50 methanol-water solution (for lower-altitude work - this rated under 32,800 feet) and GM-1 nitrous oxide (required for high-performance, high-altitude flight).

Ta 152 Power
Kurt Tank had initially wanted the Ta 152 to be powered by the Daimler-Benz DB 603 series engine but a previous mating of said engine with the Fw 190C proved too temperamental in the eyes of the German Air Ministry, forcing Tank to put his design efforts into using the Junkers Jumo 213E series liquid-cooled, inverted V12 engine that could deliver up to 1,750 horsepower. The Junkers Jumo 213E series was a high-altitude version of the Jumo 213A/C series already being utilized by the Fw 190D models. This powerplant worked off of a two-stage, three-speed supercharger that relied on an MW 50 methanol-water mixture to boost overall engine performance, particularly at high-altitudes where air ran thinner. Top speed of the Ta 152 was a reported 472 miles per hour, a grand increase from the 426 as exhibit by the similar Fw 190D-9 - putting her on par with, or beyond, anything the Allies could field by this time. Range was equally impressive at 1,240 miles and the Ta 152's service ceiling could top 48,550 feet when using the integrated GM-1 boost. Rate-of-climb was approximately 3,445 feet per minute allowing the aircraft to speed up to height quickly to counter incoming bombers and fighters. In the end, the Ta 152 design proved to be one of the fastest piston-powered aircraft of the entire war.

Focke-Wulf Ta 152 Armament
As the Ta 152 was intended to kill enemy bombers, she would require a heavy "punch" in the armament department. As such, armament centered around a 30mm Mk 108 series cannon mounted in the propeller hub and set up to fire through the center of the spinning propeller. This was further backed by a pair of 20mm MG 151/20 cannons, one mounted at each wing leading edge and located at the wing roots. This complement of armament ensured that the Ta 152 pilot need only a quick burst of all cannon against a critical component of an enemy bomber (the cockpit or engines for example) and the target would be knocked out of the fight or outright destroyed.

Focke-Wulf Ta 152 Operational Service
With the deteriorating war effort across the German realm, the Ta 152 was pressed into production and operational service as quickly as humanly possible. Of course this lent itself poorly to the Ta 152 project as a whole for numerous vital issues in her design soon arose - the complicated engine setup and cooling system proved generally unreliable and the pressurized cockpit was not always pressurized due to leaks in the seal. Nevertheless, a desperate Luftwaffe took delivery of at least 20 pre-production models in November of 1944 with Erprobungskommando for operational evaluation. III./Jagdgeschwader 301 was changed over to Ta 152s in January of 1945 (the only Luftwaffe squadron to field the Ta 152) but only operated them in limited quantities and with limited success, generally charged with protection of air bases for the developing jet fighters. JG 301 proved to be one of the last top-flight Luftwaffe squadrons to be fielded and was comprised of the advanced Ta 152 along with a collection of aces to include Walter Loos, Joseph "Jupp" Keil and Willi Reschke.

Many factors ultimately worked against Ta 152 and her pilots, with combat proving elusive for a time. In one such instance, a Ta 152 flown by Reschke was forced to abandon pursuit of a twin-engine Royal Air Force de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito when engine trouble took the Ta 152 out of the fight. Further action did net at least one speedy New Zealand Hawker Tempest fighter for Reschke at a later date, however, and Ta 152s were used in a support role during the critical Battle for Berlin against invading Soviet forces, where Reschke downed a pair of Soviet Yak-9 fighters in the process. Keil is credited with the downing of a North American P-51 Mustang and a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and at least three other kills while flying a Ta 152 - though some sources limit Keil's tally to just four aircraft while flying the Ta 152.

It is believed that, in all, Ta 152 airmen amassed a fairly meager amount of total aerial victories (sources vary but range between 7 and 10 enemy aircraft) to the loss of four of their own. By the time of Germany's formal surrender, just two Ta 152 examples were known to be operational. Spare parts, trained pilots and fuel/oil supplies proved a hard commodity to come by as Allied forces gained ground, conquered airfields, covered key bridges and owned vital supply routes. It is said that Ta 152 airmen barely received 20 minutes of flight time in a Ta 152 before being pressed into active service with their new mounts - hardly a recipe for success but such was the situation for the Luftwaffe.

Focke-Wulf Ta 152 Variants
The Ta 152 was produced in a few versions of note - prototypes included. This began with the Ta 152 C-0 pre-production model of which only a single example was built. This model was fitted with a Daimler-Benz DB503LA engine of 2,100 horsepower. The Ta 152 C-1 followed and sported a 30mm engine-mounted cannon with 4 x 20mm cannons - one pair in the engine cowling and the other in the wing roots. The Ta 152 C-2 was given improved radio equipment. The Ta 152 C-3 was similar to the C-1. The Ta 152 E-1 was a dedicated photographic reconnaissance platform based on the Ta 152C production fighter model. The Ta 152 E-2 was a high-altitude variant fitted with a Junkers Jumo 213E series engine and longer wingspan for high-level work. In the end, only a single product was completed. The Ta 152 H-0 model appeared in twenty pre-production forms featuring the high-altitude long wing. The Ta 152 H-1 remained the only official production model of the Ta 152 family. Again, this model was given the high-altitude long wings and armament consisted of the centralized 30mm cannon with only 2 x 20mm cannons.

The Japanese Ta 152
Like other German creations throughout the war, ally Japan was keen on obtaining the latest and greatest military arms that the Germans had to offer to better their own deteriorating situation in the Pacific. In April of 1945, the Empire purchased a production license to undertake the new Kurt Tank fighter on Japanese soil. However, no known production of a Japanese Ta 152 is thought to have occurred for the war was over for Germany in May of 1945 and Japan soon followed in August. As such, Germany remained the only real active operator of the Ta 152 during the whole of the aircraft's tenure.

The Focke-Wulf Ta 152 Today
Amazingly, a single Ta 152 survived the military purge in post-war Germany and currently resides in the backrooms of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. awaiting restoration. It is believed that this particular catch is a Ta 152 H-0 model.

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Specifications for the
Focke-Wulf Ta 152
High-Altitude Interceptor


Focus Model: Focke-Wulf Ta 152H-1
Country of Origin: Nazi Germany
Manufacturer: Focke-Wulf
Initial Year of Service: 1945
Production: 43


Crew: 1


Length: 35.50 ft (10.82 m)
Width: 47.38 ft (14.44 m)
Height: 11.02ft (3.36 m)
Weight (Empty): 8,887 lb (4,031 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 11,502 lb (5,217 kg)


Powerplant: 1 x Junkers Jumo 213E-3 12-cylinder liquid cooled V-type engine generating 1,750hp.


Maximum Speed: 472 mph (759kmh; 410 kts)
Maximum Range: 1,243 miles (2,000km)
Service Ceiling: 48,556 ft (14,800 m; 9.2 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 3,445 feet per minute (1,050 m/min)


Hardpoints: 0
Armament Suite:
1 x 30mm MK108 cannon fitted in the engine and firing through the propeller hub.
2 x 20mm MG151/20 cannons fitted to the wing root leading edges.


Variants:
Ta 152C-0 - Pre-Production Example; single prototype produced; fitted with Daimler-Benz DB603LA engine of 2,100 horsepower; lengthened fuselage and enlarged tail surfaces; increased wingspan.


Ta 152C-1 - Fitted with 1 x 30mm cannon in nose, 2 x 20mm cannons in engine cowling and 2 x 20mm cannons in wings; small wing version.

Ta 152C-2 - Improved radio equipment; small wing version.

Ta 152C-3 - Fitted with 1 x 30mm cannon in nose, 2 x 20mm cannons in engine cowling and 2 x 20mm cannons in wings; small wing version.

Ta 152E-1 - Dedicated Photographic Reconnaissance Variant based on the Ta 152C production fighter model.

Ta 152E-2 - High-Altitude Interceptor; fitted with Junkers Jumo 213E engine; long wing version; single prototype example completed.

Ta 152H-0 - Pre-Production Variant; long-wing version; 20 examples produced.

Ta 152H-1 - Main Production Model; 1 x 30mm cannon in nose and 2 x 20mm cannons in wings; long wing variant.


Operators:
Nazi Germany