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German Focke-Wulf 190

The world's only flying German Focke-Wulf 190 sits outside the Flying Heritage Collection hangar on Thursday, April 21, 2011 in Everett, Wash. The airplane is being reassembled at the museum after being trucked in pieces up from Arizona, where it was restored. (Photo by Joshua Trujillo,


The German Focke-Wulf 190 fighter plane shocked its adversaries when it debuted in World War II.

Just getting the one that Everett’s Flying Heritage Collection owns flying again took more than a decade of restoration work. And then they took it apart.

The airplane rotted in a marsh outside of Leningrad from 1943, when pilot Paul Ratz crashed there, until someone found it in 1989. After a Soviet helicopter pulled it out of the muck, the plane traveled to England and then Arizona, where the Flying Heritage Collection had it restored.

If flew late last year, making it the only flying Fw 190 A-5 in existence. On Thursday, it arrived by truck, in pieces, from Arizona, and workers set to reassembling the aircraft.

So, what made the airplane special?

“The Focke-Wulf 190 was kind of one of the big two airplanes used by the German Luftwaffe during World War II,” along with the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Cory Graff, the Flying Heritage Collection’s military aviation curator, said Thursday.

“At the time it appeared in 1941 (it) was probably the most advanced radial-engined airplane in the world, and it was quite a shock for those who were fighting against it,” he added. “The allies weren’t aware that the new German fighter plane was going to have the performance that it did, and it was quite better in many aspects than contemporary Spitfires of the time.”

Collection docent Norm Gordon noted one big advantage for pilots.

“On our airplanes, when the pilot pushed the throttle he also had to adjust the RPM of the engine, the manifold pressure and the pitch of the propeller,” he explained. “This had a black box inside that did all that for the pilot, so he just used the throttle and the airplane did the rest for him.”

The Fw 190 was a powerful, rugged, versatile airplane but had one big flaw, Graff said. “When it got above about 20,000 feet the performance lagged behind other airplanes.”

So Focke-Wulf built a longer Fw 190 with a bigger, inverted-V engine — the 190 D-13. The Flying Heritage Collection already had one of those.

So, if the Fw 190A-5 was such a good fighter, how did it end up crashed in a Russian forest?

The plane was built in April 1943 and sent to the Russian front, where Ratz took it up on a mission to bomb a train, Graff recounted. “His engine quit and he bellied his airplane into a stand of really young saplings and walked away from the aircraft and became a prisoner of war.”

There’s a rumor that the engine was found with pieces of fabric in the oil lines — signs of sabotage by slave laborers — but Graff hasn’t been able to confirm that.

In any case, the saplings grew up around the airplane over the ensuing decades and its green and brown paint helped it stay hidden until 1989, when a Russian relic hunter found it, Graff said. (See video below.)

After the helicopter pulled it out and the initial owner did some restoration, Flying Heritage Collection owner Paul Allen bought the plane in 1999.

“And we’ve been working on it ever since,” Graff said. “It’s quite a long time, and this is sort of a pioneering restoration effort just because it is very unique, and there’s not many in the world to refer to.”

The airplane flew for the first time late last year and several more times into 2011. (See video below.)

So why not just fly it up here from Arizona?

“It’s such a rare plane and a bit cantankerous, and we don’t know a lot about it,” so trucking seemed safer, Graff explained.

The collection plans to taxi the plane in the next couple of days, bring up a test pilot to fly it in late May and show it off to the public in flight for the first time during its June 18 Free Fly Day.

In the meantime, here are videos of the airplane in the swampy forest, taking off in Arizona and landing in Arizona.

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