Aviation Industry in Nazi Germany
Many of the technological innovations taken for granted today were first developed in the factories and design laboratories of Messerschmitt, Heinkel, Arado, Focke-Wulf, Henschel, and Junkers. These companies - and the designers for whom they are named - were at the forefront of technical innovation during not only their time but also current times. Many of their innovations - such as canards, boundary layer control, swept wings, variable wings, jet engines, and more - are widely used today and accepted as industry standards.
One of the most enduring innovations of the Luftwaffe was its pioneering work with wind tunnels. These devices allow an aircraft, or representative model, to be tested under conditions closely simulating those encountered during flight. By using inexpensive scale models of the aircraft, the engineers were able to determine if their design could withstand the rigors of flight across the spectrum of the flight regime. By varying wind velocity, the German engineers were able to simulate high- and low-speed flight regimens. Similarly, by varying wind velocity, they could examine high and low angle-of-attack regimes. By combining the results of these two areas of study, they could determine the robustness and feasibility of the design in relative combat situations.
The essential information that arose during these tests was the feasibility of the design, answering several fundamental questions: would the wings remain attached at high speed and high angle of attack; would the aircraft stall at low speed andhigh angle of attack; what are the impacts of adding externally mounted items to the aircraft; what would happen to the aircraft once an externally mounted device was dropped (would it become unstable, thus unflyable); and what are the impacts on the aircraft center of gravity? These are fundamental questions concerning the flight worthiness of the aircraft that could be ascertained without having to risk the loss of a prototype or pilot. Additionally, wind tunnels allowed for the testing of new technologies to smooth the flow of air across the wing.
The Germans tested boundary area fences, leading-edge flaps, and boundary layer control, all in an effort to affect the flow of air across the wing surface. With the straight, perpendicular wing style of the day, these aerodynamic controls would ensure the flow of air across the top of the wing was as smooth as possible, thus making the airflow faster and generating more lift. This increase in lift would generate more maneuverability in fighters and more load capability in bombers and more range in both types of aircraft. They tested each of these on many of their experimental designs, but the results of this work only were beginning implementation at the end of the war.
To increase range and speed, one of the most enduring German technological innovations was the sweeping of wings. During the war, the Germans experimented with a variety of wing sweeps and designs, many of which are prevalent today. Indeed, the most enduring innovation of the Luftwaffe engineers was the rear sweep to a wing, which was found on many of the experimental aircraft designed during the war period.7 Again, with an eyetoward speed and range, the rear swept wing offers a unique way of increasing lift without increasing weight. By canting the wing aft, the actual lifting area of the wing increased because of the distance the air must flow over the wing. This is done without increasing the surface area of the wing and incurring the corresponding weight penalty, resulting in an aircraft that has greater speed, payload capacity, and range (although all three must be balanced).
The second technique available to the Germans for increasing the lift, speed, payload, and range of their aircraft was to couplethe rear swept wings with jet engines. These engines were able to generate much more power than their propeller counterparts and could run on alternate fuels. Although Messerschmitt was the first company to produce a jet aircraft, the first to design and test-fly one was Heinkel. Heinkel actually began his research withthe experimental He 178 by coupling jet engines with a perpendicular wing as a planned proposal for a two-engine fighter.
Messerschmittwas able to couple the jets with a rear sweptwing design that became the Me 262, the world's first jet fighter. The Me 262 never entered full production, primarily because of an argument between Hitler and General Adolf Galland over its specific role. Galland argued for the Me 262 to be a pure fighter aircraft, but Hitler was interested in making it a fighter/bomber. This led to are design of the Me 262 from fighter to fighter/bomber and back to fighter toward the end of the war. The Me 262 did see some action against Allied bombers, but this was very late in the war, and it did not have much impact on the outcome of the war.
Another engine modification fielded by the Germans in limited numbers was a relocation of the engine and propeller. Some ofthe German aircraft that flew as prototypes had pusher-typepropellers. Located at the rear of the fuselage, these pusher propellers were more efficient in terms of fuel usage than traditional puller propellers. The Germans were never able to capitalize much on pusher-propeller aircraft during the war because of their management practices, but the pusher propeller is in use today on long-duration aircraft such as the Predator.
Although these were significant technological innovations, ones that have endured and are still in use today, the Germans were unable to capitalize on them because of their failure to properly implement modernization and upgrade their aircraft fleet. The German industrial capability was stressed to maintain production of existing aircraft to counter the Allied mass of aircraft. This left nothing for development of new technology.
The Luftwaffe found itself with a complicated and convoluted approval process for the technological advances forwarded, one that was wasteful of not only resources but also time. It had little strategic direction and no boundaries on the effort to advance technology. It also had the wrong people in charge of the various agencies that headed up, collectively, the overall effort. The result was a host of revolutionary innovations that would have all but guaranteed they remained technologically superior but were doomed to be merely paper tigers by the bulging management process and poor leadership.
Early German industrial organizational structure was an attempt to maintain centralized control over industry as it attempted to shift to a wartime footing. In each of the industries of the Third Reich was one person at the head. Directly beneath the head was a main committee, made up of the industry leaders. Ostensibly, the function of this main committee was to evaluatethe way each of the companies in the industry did business, select the best from each, and have all factories implement these best practices. Furthermore, in 1940, a system of rings was introduced into the industry. These rings were essentially committees but not limited to one industry. These rings were concerned with items and issues that transcended all industry. For example, the ring concerned with the making of steel would have an impact on all committees who used steel (which was all of them).
At the core of the management of Luftwaffe technology was Hermann Goering. As Hitler's duly appointed head of the Luftwaffe, he was responsible for ensuring the Luftwaffe had the necessary tools to prosecute the war. The Luftwaffe was responsible for determining its own requirements to ensure it could fight. Similarly, the navy and army each had that responsibility. While this is to be expected, what was lacking in Germany overall (and the Luftwaffe, in particular) was centralized control.
The Luftwaffe would award a production contract for an aircraft based solely on its design. This essentially skips the research-and-development portion of modern-day acquisitions, with the Luftwaffe assuming the risk that the design will not work. In many cases, the prototypes developed did not meet expectations (or requirements). Thus, large quantities of resources were spent and expended for something that did not work.
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