During World War 2 in 1944, amidst a backdrop of ever-evolving turbojet technology and desperation on the part of the Germans, engineers continued their push in the relatively infant field resulting in some forward-thinking - and some forgettable - warplane designs of the period. One such product was the "Triebflugel" - the "Thrust-Wing Hunter" - a unique Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) interceptor concept. With the relative increase in efficiency and reliability, the turbojet finally allowed aviation dreamers the chance to realized "tail-sitting" aircraft - an interceptor solution that could be brought into action in the shortest amount of time possible.
Indeed, the intriguing Triebflugel was drawn up to intercept the legions of Allied bombers making their presence felt throughout the war both in the day and throughout the night. Their damage was such that much infrastructure and war-making capabilities were being lost to the onslaught on a regular basis, requiring a decided response by the German Luftwaffe in terms of defense.
The Focke-Wulf approach utilized a single-seat cockpit with the crewman positioned towards the nose of the design under a lightly-framed, tear-drop-style canopy. The fuselage was tubular in its general shape and tapered at both nose and tail.
One of the more interesting qualities of the concept was the lack of conventional wing mainplanes - what appeared to be three wings set about the fuselage (near midships) were in fact oversized propeller blades with ramjets attached to their tips. The blades - capable of being angled - spun around a central axis buried within the fuselage and provide the aircraft its initial vertical lift and subsequent forward flight. In this arrangement, the spinning blades elevated the aircraft to an acceptable, safe transition altitude and could then operate as a traditional propeller for forward flight once momentum had been gained (the same concept is utilized by the modern-day McDonnell Douglas AV-8B "Harrier II", though in strictly turbofan-powered form with positional exhaust ducts/thrusters).
The propeller blades were to be aided by the tip-mounted ramjets but because the general function of ramjet engines required a minimum operating speed, expendable rocket motors would be initially used to bring the propellers to such speeds at which point the ramjets would take over and drive the blades around the fuselage. The planned aircraft was to carry a mix of propulsion systems: 3 x Pabst ramjets capable of 2,000lb of thrust each, 3 x Walther rocket motor units, and 2 x Walther 109-501 units of 3,306lb thrust each.
The tail section incorporated a cruciform tailplane arrangement with each plane given small, caster-equipped landing legs to allow for the tail-sitting functionality. These planes doubled as elevators and rudders during flight while a single, large wheel was added to the fuselage proper to serve as the primary undercarriage leg and take on most of the aircraft's weight when at rest. All of the legs were intended to be retractable for streamlining and air flow efficiency.
Landing would become a nerve-wracking matter requiring specialized training - particularly since the pilot's seated position did not rotate relative to the airframe's axis; it remained fixed, forward-facing as found in traditional aircraft. Speed control was of the essence for lost of lift due to flying too slow would cause immediate issues for the pilot. Conversely, landing too quickly and control could be just as easily lost resulting in damage to the airframe and injury to the pilot.
The pilot was expected to manage his aircraft into a vertical stance (the cockpit facing upwards) and slowly reduce lift power until a complete, controlled descent was had - all through visual and physical queues provided by the aircraft and its immediate surroundings. During the entire process, the massive spinning blades would be seen between the pilot, who would be looking over his shoulder, and the ground - adding further challenge to the action.
For its intended interceptor duties, the Triebflugel was planned with a battery of 2 x 30mm MK 103 automatic cannons (afforded 100 rounds each) and 2 x 20mm MG 151 automatic cannons (afforded 250 rounds each). This gave the aircraft considerable firepower against heavy strategic bombers of the day. The cannons were each also angled downwards for more effective strafing of slow-moving bomber formations.
As designed, the Triebflugel was to have a running length of 30 feet and a wingspan of 38 feet. Weight was rated at 5,200lb. Performance from the multi-engine arrangement included an estimated maximum speed of 620 miles-per-hour, a service ceiling of 50,000 feet, and a rate-of-climb of about 160 feet-per-minute.
This overly-complex, futuristic design never came to fruition for the desperate Luftwaffe for the war in Europe was over in May of 1945. It is said that only some wind-tunnel testing was ever completed of the Focke-Wulf concept before its facility was overrun by the Allies - leaving to the imagination what a fleet of Triebflugel interceptors would have looked like parked at Luftwaffe air bases across Germany should the war had progressed beyond 1945.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
Ability to intercept inbound aerial threats by way of high-performance, typically speed and rate-of-climb.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
37.7 ft (11.50 m)
30.0 ft (9.15 m)
5,512 lb (2,500 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Focke-Wulf Triebflugel production variant)
3 x Pabst ramjet engines developing 2,000lb of thrust each; 3 x Walther liquid-fueled rocket motors; 2 x Walther 109-501 Rocket-Assisted Take-Off (RATO) systems developing 3,305lb of thrust each.
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