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Focke-Wulf Ta 154 Moskito
The Focke-Wulf Ta 154 Moskito was a twin-engined night fighter of wooden construction that was cancelled soon after entering production, partly because of problems with the glue holding it together.
The development of the Ta 154 began in the summer of 1942, as the Ta 211. It was originally designed as a high speed wooden bomber using surplus Jumo 211 engines released by the decline in production of the Heinkel He 111. Two designs were submitted on 22 September 1942, one for the unarmed bomber and one for a night fighter.
At first the bomber had the higher priority, but by the end of October work had switched to the fighter. The increasing scale of the British bomber offensive, and the apparent immunity of the de Havilland Mosquito to interception meant that a new, more capable, night fighter was urgently needed.
In the same month Focke-Wulf received permission to build the first prototypes, and on 13 November the Air Ministry gave its official approval to the aircraft, now as the Ta 154 (the designation was changed to avoid confusion between the aircraft's original ID of 8-211 and the engine's ID of 9-211).
The Ta 154 was a neat looking shoulder-winged monoplane. It was originally designed with conventional tail wheel landing gearing, but that was soon changed to a tricycle system, believed to be easier to use on night landings. The two Jumo engines were carried in nacelles carried below the wings, with the main wheels retracting into the nacelles. In the fighter versions the heavy armament of cannons was mounted on the sides of the fuselage. The location of the cockpit was something of a weakness, limiting the pilots view, and later versions would have featured a new raised cockpit.
The A-series aircraft were to be built from a mix of wood and steel, using as little light metal as possible. Even the main wing spars were to be made of wood, to save on steel tubes. Work on the design proceeded at an impressive pace, and the first prototype made its maiden flight on 1 July 1943, with Focke-Wulf's experienced test pilot Hans Sander at the controls. This first flight was a success, although rather ominously the hydraulics system failed and the landing gear had to be lowered manually. The same happened when Kurt Tank made his own first flight in the aircraft, on 7 July 1943.
The V1 was used for an extensive series of tests, despite being damaged when on 31 July 1943 Sander attempted to show off its short landing abilities, rather overdoing things and breaking the undercarriage. The most significant problem with the V1 was that it was not as fast as expected, with a top speed of only 389mph, achieved in September 1943. At the end of the year-long testing programme the V1 was at Langenhagen, Hanover, when on 5 August 1944 the airfield was hit by US Eighth Air Force. Seven Ta 154s, including V1 were destroyed in the raid.
Elaborate plans were drawn up for construction of the Ta 154. By 18 June 1943 plans were already in place for production to take place in a large number of factories in three widely separated areas, with A-1, A-2, B-1, B-2, C-1 and C-4 variants already planned.
None of these production plans ever came to anything. Development of the Ta 154 progressed slowly during 1943 and the first part of 1944, and suffered from several main problems. The first was the slow development of the Jumo 213 engine, which was required if the aircraft was to have the performance to catch the British Mosquito. Second was a shortage of qualified wood-workers. Third was a series of problems with the hydraulic systems, and in particular with the landing gear, a problem that caused a number of damaging crashing.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, were problems with the glue used to bind the wooden elements of the aircraft together. 'Tegofilm', produced by the Goldschmitt Company at Posen, is often said to have been a viable solution to the problem, until British bombers destroyed the factory on 29 May 1944. However Kurt Tank had been forced to admit that problems with the glue had yet to be solved on 24 May 1944 at a conference on the Obersalzberg.
This conference also saw Galland raise a series of objections to the Ta 154, including suggesting that its handling left something to be desired, its single-engined performance wasn't satisfactory for front line use, and that the wooden construction of the crew cockpit was too dangerous, making even a controlled belly landing very risky. This had been demonstrated on 8 May 1944 when V8 was lost in a crash. The fuselage had disintegrated, and both crewmen had been killed, in an accident that probably wouldn't have been fatal with a metal aircraft. The proposed solution to most of the problems was to move production onto the C-series, with its metal fuselage, but this would have eliminated one of the aircraft's main advantages - its limited use of scarce metals.
By the summer of 1944 it was clear that the Ta 154 was about to be cancelled. The announcement came on 6 July, when Milch stated that both the Ta 154 and Ta 254 had been struck from the development and production programmes. Official confirmation came on 2 August 1944, when Milch ordered all work on the Ta 154 to be stopped, issuing a warning that any use of fuel in the remaining aircraft would be seen as sabotage! Some testing work did resume in the Autumn of 1944, and continued until April 1945, but the type was never restored to production.
There is no consensus on the handling of the Ta 154. After a test flight on 29 October 1943 one German pilot, Hauptmann Thierfelder, wrote a generally positive report but felt that the aircraft had excessively high control forces. In 1944 Oberst Diesing, head of planning at the German Air Ministry, complained about the handling to Tank, claiming that normal pilots would struggle to master the new machine (he was also worried that bits fell off the aircraft when the guns were fired!). Adolph Galland was also unimpressed. During a conference on 25 May 1944 he reported that the handling still left something to be desired and that the aircraft didn't perform well on one engine.
Galland flew the aircraft again on 2 June 1944 at Tank's request. Once again he was not impressed, and his conclusion was that the fully equipped night-fighter version of the Ta 154 didn't have the performance required to intercept the intruding Mosquitos.
In contrast Focke-Wulf's highly experienced test pilot Hans Sander believed that the Ta 154 was a pleasant aircraft to fly, with light control forces, and a fast rate of roll, and a number of night fighter pilots who flew the aircraft during its development were also impressed. The overall impression is of an aircraft that handled well when flown by experienced pilots, but that was potentially rather tricky for newer pilots. Given the limited training given to new aircrew in Germany towards the end of the war this was potentially a serious problem.
A small number of Ta 154s entered service with the night fighter squadrons. The first went to NJGr 10 for service evaluation, while I./NJG 3 received some aircraft late in 1944. The first operational sortie came on 19 November 1944. At least three aircraft were late spotted by the British at Stade, near Hamburg. One of these aircraft must have been operational, for it crashed late in the war and was examined by a British team. It isn’t possible to say if the Ta 154 actually achieved any combat victories.
No firm conclusions can be drawn on the actual number of Ta 154s that were completed. Around thirty aircraft were definitely built, and the total may have been nearer to fifty. Some estimates go as high as 100, basing this on an assumption that aircraft with the work numbers between 320011 and 320058 were built. In fact the fates of aircraft 320002 to 320011 are known then nothing is known until we reach 320017 and 320059, and very little is known about the second of these aircraft.
The Ta 154 would probably have been on a par with the Mosquito. By the middle of 1944, when it might have entered service, the Ta 154A-4 would have been a contemporary of the Mosquito NF Mk.30, with a top speed of 407mph, a service ceiling of 38,000ft, a 1,000lb bomb load and four 20mm cannon. The Ta 154A-4 was slightly slower, with a top speed of 395mph, but slightly better armed, with two 30mm and two 20mm cannon. The Ta 154A-4's main weakness would have been its service ceiling, at 32,808ft more than 5,000ft lower than the Mosquito NG Mk.30s.
Variants and Planned Variants
The A-1 was a two-seat day fighter.
The A-2 was a single-seat day fighter.
The A-3 was a two-seat trainer based on the A-1.
The A-4 was a two-seat night fighter and would have been the main initial production version. It was to be armed with two 30mm MK 108 and two 20mm MG 151 cannon firing forwards, and possibly an obliquely mounted MK 108.
The B-series was to be powered by the Jumo 211N engine, and have metal nose sections in an attempt to improve the strength of the main fuselage. The B-1 was to have been a two-seat night fighter similar to the A-4. Work on the B-series was cancelled on 3 December 1943.
The B-2 was to have been a single-seat day fighter similar to the A-2, but with a sliding canopy.
The C series were to be powered by the Jumo 213A engine and have a metal nose. The seating was raised to improve visibility, and the fuselage was extended by 3ft 7 ¼ to provide extra fuel space and balance out the heavier nose. It was to be produced in three versions. The C-1 was to be a two-seat night fighter.
Although no C-series aircraft were completed, a number of prototypes were built with the Jumo 213 engines, including work numbers 100008 (V8), 100009 (V10), 120001 (V22) and 120003 (V23), while V20 and V21 were also prototypes for the series.
The C-2 was to be a single seat day fighter and fighter-bomber. It was abandoned in May 1944.
The C-3 was originally designed as a two-seat reconnaissance aircraft, but in the spring of 1944 it was finalised as a two-seat day fighter.
The C-4 was a proposal for a two-seat fighter bomber, abandoned by the end of 1943.
D-1 and D-2
The D-1 and D-2 were to have been high-altitude fighters. They were redesignated as the Ta 254, but none were completed.
Engine: Two Junkers Jumo 211N
Power: 1,500hp each
Wing span: 52ft 5 ¼ in
Length: 40ft 10 ¼ in
Height: 11ft 4in
Empty Weight: 13,933lb
Gross Weight: 18,188lb
Max Speed: 395mph at 20,013ft
Service Ceiling: 32,808ft
Range: 848 miles
Armament: Two 30mm MK 108 cannon and two 20mm MG 151 cannon