The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 was a fighter aircraft used by the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Designed by the engineer Kurt Tank, it was a reply to a request from the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM or Reich Air Ministry) for a second generation piston fighter with enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear, to eventually substitute the then-new Messerschmitt Bf 109.
Some design characteristics of the Fw 190 were uncommon for the time: it used a inline water-cooled engine instead of an inline water-cooled engine. The water-cooled inline had become the choice in recent years, with some of the more advanced designs (like the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Supermarine Spitfire, and the Hawker Hurricane) using it, due to the aerodynamical advantage (low drag) of a better profiling of the nose. An aircooled radial, however, had a greater potential for power, and the design team felt it was possible to overcome the drag disadvantage by a careful work on the spinner. Other differences included wide landing gear, which made take-off, landing, and taxiing easier, and a canopy with very little frames, unlike the Bf 109, therefore helping pilot visibility.
First flown, with a VO engine, on June 1, 1939, it went through a somewhat troubled development process, mainly due to heating problems in the aircooled, radial BMW engines. By 1941, the new fighter was ready, and production and operation started. It operated mainly in the Western Front at first, so it had a very good chance of measuring itself against the best of Royal Air Force's (RAF) Fighter Command aircraft. Reports by the British pilots indicate the Fw 190 was a superior machine to anything the RAF fielded, even their best overall fighter of the moment, the Spitfire Mk. V.
Development of the basic Fw 190 A (radial engine) went from A-0 of 1941 to the A-8 of 1944. By then, the aircraft had spawned larger wings, more powerful engines, and an array of armament that kept it as on of the best and most feared fighters. There were also dedicated attack versions, F and G, developed from the basic A model, with better protection for the pilot. These versions eventually came to replace almost all Junkers Ju 87 Stukas in the ground attack role.
One area where the Fw 190 kept on lagging behind was high altitude flight. The design team came to realize this, and identified the cause in the engine, which was not suited for high altitude work. Therefore, after several years of protacted development, a watercooled, inline engine was eventually approved for a new version of the fighter, which kept most of the structure, except for a slight elongation in front of the rudder to offset the elongation on the nose required by the new engine. This was known as the Fw 190 D-9, also called "Dora-9," and came into production in 1944.
By then, it was too late to change the course of war. The Luftwaffe struggled against fuel and pilot shortages, a heavily crippled war industry, due to constant bombings, and no real possibilities of breakthrough. Kept on the defensive, the Fw 190 D-9 proved a formidable opponent, its pilots frequently battling against overwhelming odds and still amassing a significant tally of kills.