First designed in 1935 by Kurt Tank with absolutely no official
requirement, the single seat design was conceived at around the same
time as the Westland P.9 (later Whirlwind) and Lockheed 22 (later
The initial design performance calculations showed a potential speed
of 348 mph (560 kmh) using 860 hp Daimler-Benz DB 600 engines. The
design and specifications were unveiled in 1936 at an exhibition of
new weapons, prototypes and projects held at Berlin-Schonefeld. The
appraisal of high ranking party members, government officials and
service personnel was such that why waste two engines on a fighter
when one engine was more than sufficient for a single seat fighter...
The common "wisdom" of the day was that a long range escort
fighter was just not needed as the bombers had sufficient speed and
defences to not need an escort in order to achieve their tactical duties.
Kurt Tank after this exhibition took his design directly to Oberst
Wolram von Richtofen, chief of the development section of the
Techischem Amt. He had the foresight to know that air warfare was a
technological battle, and fighters would soon be designed and built
faster and better armed. He authorized a development contract for
three prototype Fw 187 fighters (V1-V3). Interestingly von
Richtofen's tenure at this post was destined to be brief... one can
only speculate on how the war would have turned out if some of the
designs for strategic bombers, jet fighters and rocket interceptors
had not been ignored in the late 1930's.
The first prototype Fw 187 V1 (D-AANA) was ready to fly in spring
1937, and was powered by two 680 hp Jumo 210Da engines. Even with
these low powered engines the aircraft attained 326 mph (525 kmh) at
13,123 ft (4,000 m), a full 50 mph (80 kmh) faster than the latest
Bf-109B-2 production single-seat fighters.
The aircraft was lost on May 14, 1938 during a low level high speed
pass at the test facility in Bremen. The pilot was believed to have
pulled up to sharply at the end of the pass, the aircraft stalled,
and spun into the ground.
The second prototype Fw 187 V2 was flying by summer of 1937 and it
was destined to be the last single seat version. Earnst Udet had
replaced von Richtofen by this point in time, and while Udet was a
visionary in some respects, he was a total conventionalist when it
came to fighter planes. Two engined fighter planes were less
maneuverable than single seat fighters so all further development of
the Fw 187 was to be as a "Zerstorer" (destroyer) having
two or three seats and heavy armaments for attack and defence.
History later showed that this category, (Bf-110 day fighters) to be
totally out classed by modern monoplane single seat fighters in
The third prototype Fw 187 was radically altered, but to save weight
and dimensional changes the extra position was as a radio operator
with no defensive guns. This third Fw 187 V3 (D-ORHP) flew in spring
1938 and had a short troubled career. It suffered a starboard engine
fire during one of the initial test flights culminating in a landing
that damaged both main landing gear.
The next two prototypes Fw 187 V4 (D-OSNP) & V5 (D-OTGN),
completed summer and autumn 1938 respectively, were built as two
seaters. Both airframes were powered by Jumo 210Da engines and while
both received sufficiently favorable flight test results, the top
speed achieved was less than expected.
The next prototype Fw 187 V6 (CI-NY) was able to utilize two 1000 hp
Daimler-Benz DB 600A liquid cooled engines and was outfitted with
surface evaporation cooling to reduce the drag of coolant radiators.
While Kurt Tank had a very fast airplane, clocked at 394.4 mph (635
kmh) in level flight, this cooling system was found to be problematic
and the aircraft skin was prone to buckling and distortion.
The initial batch of three pre-production Fw 187 A-0 fighters were
completed in the summer of 1939 with a rear facing radio/gunner
position, and had 700 hp Jumo 210Ga engines. The armament consisted
of two 0.787 in (20 mm) MG FF cannons and four 0.312 in (7.92 mm) MG
17 machine guns. The Luftwaffe had by this point decided that the
rear defensive gun position of the aircraft was inadequate and
unsuited for combat purposes. All three aircraft were returned to Focke-Wulf.
During the early months of 1940, several aircraft manufacturers
formed a "Industrie-Schutzstaffel", in effect a private
airforce to use as a point defence of their manufacturing plants to
counter allied air attacks. Focke-Wulf used the three pre-production
Fw 187 A-0 fighters at their plants and Heinkel used their nine
pre-production He-100D-1 single seat fighters. Later the three Fw
187 A-0 aircraft were used as testbeds for the Ta 154 program.