Junkers Ju 290

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Junkers Ju290
Junkers Ju 290
- in flight
Junkers Ju290
Junkers Ju 290
- taking on passengers
Junkers Ju290
Junkers Ju 290B-1
- showing forward turret Junkers Ju290 Junkers Ju 290A-5 - in flight
Junkers Ju390
Junkers Ju 390
- in flight
Junkers Ju390
Junkers Ju 390
- in flight
Unlike in the RAF and USAAF, the concept of the heavy bomber found few advocates within the Luftwaffe, and those companies that did succeed in having their case heard often encountered problems during the execution of such programmes, an example being the Heinkel He177. The lack of a strategic bomber force was potentially a major contributor to why Germany lost the Second World War as had they been able to effectively hit the Atlantic convoys bring much-need supplies to Britain and the Soviet production centres to the east of the Ural Mountains, the conflict may have turned out differently. The Junkers Ju290 was another example of such a programme and the aircraft only came about via a very roundabout design and development programme tied up with the Ju89 bomber of 1936 and the subsequent Ju90 transport. A strategic bomber force had in fact been proposed for the Luftwaffe back in 1935, mainly by Generals Wever and Milch. Contracts were placed with Dornier and Junkers for the construction of a four-engined strategic bomber, resulting in the Do19 and Junkers 89.

The former possessed none of the agility usually associated with Dornier aircraft and was seriously underpowered. The Ju89 was a much better design and had a maximum speed of 242mph (390kph) compared to the 199mph (320kph) of the Dornier. Three prototypes of the four-engine Ju89 were under construction during 1936, however the programme was cancelled in 1937 after the first prototype had flown. This was due to firstly, General Wever being killed in an air crash on 3 June 1936 and secondly, a growing distrust between Göring and Milch, finally resulting in the latter loosing many of his responsibilities, including that of the directorship of RLM's technical department. In the hope of saving something from the work done so far, Junkers obtained permission from the RLM to use the major components from the third prototype for a transport aircraft to be designed for Lufthansa, so long as the company found alternative engines to the 960hp Daimler-Benz DB 600. Therefore the wings, tail assembly and engines were married to a completely new fuselage, the new aircraft being designated the Ju90 V1 and attempts were made to interest Lufthansa in the project. The airline began to take an interest after the prototype had flown on 28 August 1937 – although it crashed during flutter tests on 6 February 1938. The V2 prototype was built, with four 830hp BMW 132H air-cooled radial engines and consideration was given to a larger, heavier aircraft powered by 1,550hp BMW 139 radials. Two more prototypes were built (V3 and V4), which were followed by ten Ju90B-1 aircraft (which also received the V5 to V14 designations), fitted out as 38 / 40-seat airliners despite the first two prototypes crashing, the second prototype crashing during tropical trials at Bathurst during November 1938. Lufthansa were originally to receive eight with 880hp BMW 132H radial engines with the remaining two were to go to South African Airways, equipped with Pratt & Whitney SC3-G Twin Wasp engines, designated the Ju90Z-2 transport, but were never delivered.

Early in 1939, the fifth prototype, Ju90 V5 was withdrawn from service and rebuilt for the Ju90S programme. The aircraft was fitted with a new wing with parallel centre section, a reinforced undercarriage and enlarged oval fins and rudders. On top of this, the new Trapoklappe hydraulically-powered loading ramp was installed so that army vehicles could be driven directly into the cargo hold. When the large aircraft was found to be underpowered, redesign work took place in order to fit the new BMW 139 radial engines on the assumption that these would soon be ready. On the outbreak of war, the Luftwaffe took over Lufthansa's Ju90 aircraft for transport work with the fourth prototype having the BMW 801MA engine installed as the BMW 139 had been abandoned, soon followed by the fifth prototype. The original Ju90 designation was therefore changed to Ju290, especially as a whole host of minor modifications were incorporated to the wing, fuselage and tail, changes developed on the seventh prototype and which cured the instability suffered from the first two BMW-engined prototypes. The eighth prototype was fitted with an under-fuselage gondola containing a forward-firing MG151/20 cannon and a rearward-firing MG131 machinegun, along with two other MG151/20 cannon, one in a hydraulically-powered dorsal turret, the other in the tail with provision for MG131 machineguns in the beam positions.

It was from this point that the Luftwaffe began considering the aircraft for maritime reconnaissance. The final development machine for the Ju290 programme was the eleventh prototype, which was re-designated the Ju290 V1. It was originally intended to be a transport aircraft for the Luftwaffe and had an increased span, new angular fins and rudders and square fuselage windows. It was followed by two preproduction Ju290A-0 aircraft equipped with 1,600hp BMW801L engines that were themselves followed by five Ju290A-1 armed transports in 1942. Two were used in the attempted relief of Stalingrad but one crashed on takeoff. The Ju290A-2 was an armed maritime reconnaissance aircraft that carried additional radio equipment, an extra dorsal turret and FuG200 search radar. It was to replace the increasingly vulnerable Focke-Wulf Fw200C Condor, with three aircraft being delivered in the summer of 1943 and was followed by five Ju290A-3 aircraft having the new low-drag Focke-Wulf dorsal turrets and 1,700hp BMW 801D engines. Five Ju290A-4 aircraft were built, but they different only in armament while the eleven Ju290A-5 aircraft had heavier armament (two MG151/20 in place of the beam-mounted MG131 machineguns), better cockpit armour, improved protection for the fuel tanks and lateral gun positions. One Ju-290A-6 was built and used as a fifty-seat transport in the Führer-Kurrierstaffel, Hitler's private transport unit commanded by Flugkapitän Heinz Baur. It was finally scrapped in Spain in the mid-1950s due to lack of spares.

The Ju290A-7 was designated a reconnaissance bomber as it was relatively heavily armed (having an extra MG151/20 cannon in a new bulbous glazed nose) and could carry three Henschel HS293 or Fritz X missiles under the wings and fuselage but of the twenty-five that were ordered, only thirteen were completed. Only minor changes were made in the Ju290A-8 variant which was to be built at the same time, the aircraft having no less than ten MG151/20 cannon but of the ten that were ordered only one was built, which survived the war and was eventually scrapped in Czechoslovakia in 1956. Three Ju290A-9 aircraft were built as ultra-long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft with increased fuel capacity and a reduced armament to facilitate their long-range duties. The Ju290B-1 was the last version to be constructed, with only a single prototype flying in 1944. This was designed as a high-altitude, fully pressurised bomber with work starting in 1943. This aircraft dispensed with the loading ramp and had nose and tail turrets each fitted with four 13mm (0.51in) MG131 machineguns, two dorsal turrets each housing two MG151/20 cannon and a ventral barbette with an additional pair of MG151/20 cannon. The Ju290B-2 would have had 20mm cannons as beam weapons, a twin MG151/20 tail turret but no pressurisation. A number of additional variants were proposed (C, D and E) but construction finally petered out in the autumn of 1944 due to a shortage of suitable materials, with a total of fifty aircraft being built.

The ultimate development of this aircraft was the Ju390, equipped with six 1,700hp BMW 801D (and later, 1,970hp BMW 801E) engines. It was essentially a scaled-up Ju290 with a wing span of 181ft 7.25in (55.35m), length of 110ft 2.75in (33.6m) and wing area of 2,841sq.ft (264m.sq). With the German declaration of war on the United States in December 1941, the RLM was forced to consider a number of existing proposals for a bomber capable of reaching New York, if not the entire Eastern Seaboard, from bases in Europe (the Amerika Bomber project). The resultant specification called for a six-engine design which brought forward designs from Focke-Wulf (Ta400), Messerschmitt (Me264B) and Junkers (Ju390). Of the three, the Ju290 was the easiest to produce as it made use of a large number of Ju290 components. Sources conflict as to how many aircraft were built and what their operational record was. Most state that a total of three aircraft were built, with the first two prototypes being the ones that flew. These two were built in 1943, the first prototype flying in August from Dessau and the second in October from Bernburg, while a third prototype was started in 1944 and converted into the Ju390A-1, a bomber / reconnaissance aircraft. This was intended for the Japanese Army Air Force and carried an armament of eight MG151/20 cannon, two each in three turrets and one in each beam position along with four MG131 machineguns in both nose and tail turrets, and 3,960lbs (1,800kg) of bombs.

Another source states that a total of eleven aircraft were built as Ju390 aircraft were conducting missions across Europe that would have been extremely difficult for just two aircraft to cover. This source states that an aircraft (presumably the first prototype), flying in a round trip between the 27th and 29th August 1944, flew from Norway across the Atlantic and part of Canada to take pictures of American industrial plants in Michigan. After finally being discovered by the USAAF as it flew over New York, it disappeared back across the Atlantic, to be landed at an airfield near Paris by the co-pilot, Anna Kreisling. Other sources state that the second prototype had an even longer fuselage and carried a FuG200 Hohentwiel search radar, five 20mm MG151/20 cannon and three 13mm (0.51in) MG151 machineguns. This aircraft was delivered to Fernaufklärungsgruppe 5 based at Mont de Marsan in January 1944 for operational evaluation, with a test flight being conducted in that same month, flying from Bordeaux to within about 12 miles (19km) of New York before retuning. This proved that the specification for a bomber capable of attacking New York from European bases was entirely feasible but the scheme did not proceed any further.

Specification (A-7)

Type: long-range maritime reconnaissance bomber;
Powerplant: 4 x 1,700hp BMW 801D 14-cyclinder radial piston engines;
Performance: 273mph / 440kph at 19,030ft / 5,800m (maximum speed), 220mph / 355kph (cruising speed), 19,685 ft / 6,000m (service ceiling), 3,784 miles / 6,090 km (maximum range),
Weight: 72,764lbs / 33,005kg (empty), 101,413lbs / 46,000kg (maximum take-off);
Dimensions: 137ft 9.5in / 42m (wing span), 95ft 7.75in / 29.15m (length), 22ft 4.75in / 6.83m (height), 2,191.6sq.ft / 203.6m.sq (wing area);
Armament: 1 x 20mm MG151/20 cannon in each of the two dorsal turrets, tail position, the glazed nose and the ventral gondola, 2 x 20mm MG151/20 cannon in lateral positions and a 13mm (0.51in) MG131 machinegun in the rear of the vertical gondola, as well as a bombload of up to 6,614lbs (3,000kg) or three Henschel HS293, HS294 or FX1400 Fritz-X missiles;
Used: Germany.

Bibliography

Gunston, Bill. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Combat Aircraft of World War II, Salamander Books, London, 1978.
Kay, A L & Smith, J R. German Aircraft of the Second World War, Putnam Aeronautical Books, London, 2002.
Mondey, David. The Hamlyn Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II, Bounty Books, London, 2006.

Photos and additional information courtesy of:
http://www.warbirdsresourcegroup.org/LRG/ju290.html
http://www.warbirdphotos.net/aviapix/Country/Germany/
http://uboat.net/technical/ju290.htm
http://www.kheichhorn.de/html/body_junkers_ju_390.html

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How to cite this article: Antill, P. (26 August 2007), Junkers Ju290, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_ju290.html

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