Dornier Do 335A-1 Pfeil

Before World War II the concept of the “heavy fighter” was popular with many air forces.  But wartime experience mostly discredited the idea.  Yet the German Dornier Company felt they could still do something with the type.

IMG_8570

After the jump, a look at a very promising and high risk design.

Wartime experience showed that twin engine aircraft could not generally perform like a single.  Lockheed’s P-38 Lightning may the only twin that could fight with the singles.  So why did Dornier feel they could buck this trend and produce a highly effective twin engine fighter?  It starts with the company’s long experience with tandem mounted engines.  Mounted front to back, two engines have the same frontal area, and therefore drag, as a single.

The Dornier Do 18 flying boat also used a tandem arrangement on its engines.

And if two engines, in a fuselage tandem mount are all the aircraft has, then a lot of issues related to balance, torque and asymmetric thrust become much simpler problems than on a more conventional twin.

IMG_8572

When the Luftwaffe started looking for an aircraft that was faster than existing fighters, yet was long range, had heavy fire power and true multi-role capability with a heavy bomb load; Dornier felt sure they could meet the requirement with a tandem twin.  They started with the outstanding DB 603 engine which could deliver 1700 horse power.  Just by way of comparison, that’s about 10% more power than a P-38 Lightning, with much less frontal area.

IMG_8573

They designed a large aircraft, with heavy firepower of a 30 mm cannon in the propeller hub and two 20 mm cannon in the cowl above it.  They also added an internal bomb bay, and designed both single and two seat versions with and without radar.  The idea was a fighter that was good for conventional interceptor work, that could run away from any fight it couldn’t win, had an all weather and night fighting capability, and was a good high speed fighter-bomber.

That's a big bird!

That’s a big bird!

Given that the type never really entered broad production we can only guess, but it seems likely Dornier completely succeeded.  Somewhat over 30 aircraft were produced as prototypes and production aircraft.  Apart from the normal delays associated with any complex new design, production was slowed when the US 8th Air Force destroyed the factory and tooling in March of 1944.  The factory was moved and rebuilt, but mass production never happened.

Two late war designs.

Two late war designs.

Perhaps the best analysis of the type comes from well known British test pilot Eric Brown.  In his book, Wings of the Luftwaffe, he talks at length about the type.  Once he got past first impressions (“big!”) he found the type easy to fly and blazing fast.

My personal opinion on this type, I think the Germans would have done better to put more attention on getting this built instead of the Me 262.  The jet had far more engineering and manufacturing problems than the D0 335 ever would have had, largely related to getting jet engines into production and due to Germany’s lack of certain metals needed to produce a jet of any durability.  The Do 335 used more proven technologies that were within German limitations.  And gee, the Do 335 was still 40 knots faster than a Mustang instead of the 80 for the Me 262.  Some within the Luftwaffe wanted to do exactly that.  The 8th Air Force may have forced the issue and guaranteed the 335 wouldn’t be available until sometime after the fall of Nazi Germany.  But its not hard for me to imagine many German groups being equipped with this type.

The red and yellow stripes identify this aircraft as belonging to Reich Defense group JG 301.

The red and yellow stripes identify this aircraft as belonging to Reich Defense group JG 301.

Which leads us to this build.  This is the Tamiya kit of the Do 335A-1.  The type is real and had entered very limited production.  But these markings are from a Third Group decal sheet for the Fw 190D.  I’m imagining here that the Do 335 had entered service with JG 301 as a bomber interceptor.  As German hypotheticals go, this one isn’t much of a reach.

The last remaining Do 335. This is an A-0 model belonging to the Air and Space Museum, currently on display at Udvar-Hazey.

~ Up Next: Douglass SBD-3 Dauntless 

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About atcDave

I'm 54 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 31 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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16 Responses to Dornier Do 335A-1 Pfeil

  1. Such an odd looking plane. Great job!

  2. Theresa says:

    Everything you know about aircraft design was placed on its counter rotating head with this plane.

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    I do remember this odd type vaguely having some issue that made it less attractive as an interceptor. I looked it up on Wikipedia, so it must be true, it had a service ceiling of around 11,000 feet. Now I can’t recall the typical altitude of bombing runs, but most bombers could operate well above that as I recall.

    • atcDave says:

      There was a specific high altitude interceptor version among the many variants (B-2 maybe?). The DB 603 engine was certainly capable enough, it’s all a matter of super-charging arrangements.
      And I suspect Wikipedia meant 11000 meters not feet. Which would be right up in the bomber stream, normally around 30000 feet.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      That makes sense. Such a low ceiling would be a fatal flaw.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Curse my non-metric brain, you are correct, it was 11,400 Meters.

    • atcDave says:

      I would add, I think the main knock against the type was just its size and expense. Obviously such a big twin is far more expensive than a single like the Bf109.

      But then they went with the Me262 program, which ultimately was even more expensive yet, for less tangible benefit

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I would just note that in the early stages of the war Germany relied on their own version of Shock and Awe. They were going against many less well equipped armies and their tactics and weapons often overwhelmed the enemy forces, crushing their will to try and resist. The Stuka for instance was more of a terror weapon that an effective dive bomber.

        One aspect of the new weapons such as the V-1 and V-2, the King Tiger and the ME-262 was to similarly convince allied leaders and populations that Germany could not be defeated by similarly terrorizing them with advanced weapons they could not match. Unfortunately by the time these weapons came about they were dealing with battle-hardened veterans and civilian populations who had endured the Blitz once. A big part of their impact was lost because of that.

      • atcDave says:

        Although I think the interesting thing is that their starting equipment wasn’t all that remarkably good. The Bf109 maybe the only type that was clearly ahead of most of the competition. I believe their most numerous tank was either the Panzer II or the 38t; the French and British had plenty better. Otherwise, it was mostly tactical and operational superiority that lead to significant early victories.
        But I think they suffered from a top leadership that was mostly amateur. They were overly impressed with the “gee wiz” factor of having the best, and didn’t look realistically manufacturing, engineering and supply issues.
        I think it was a huge advantage of the US and Britain, and in a slightly different way the Soviet Union; that there was more experience with mass industrial and supply issues.

        Hitler scoffed that the US knew how to build refrigerators not tanks. To quote Webster from “Band of Brothers” again; “you guys ever hear of Ford or GM?!”

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I’d agree that at the very start it was mostly tactics that gave Germany an advantage, but their equipment was well suited to their tactics. Both France and Britain had “better” tanks at the beginning of the war, but they were both slow and easily outflanked by fast-moving German forces. Oddly the same tactic the allies, especially Patton adopted so effectively after Normandy.

        There was almost certainly some aspect of the Nazi party believing in the innate superiority of the German race influencing decisions that we, minus the brainwashing, find perplexing.

      • atcDave says:

        Adapting tactics to available equipment and personnel is always a sound idea!

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Agreed, Germany had many tactical geniuses, but made fatal strategic decisions. Thank god.

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