The Focke-Wulf Ta 800 is a large, four-engine turboprop-powered strategic bomber, and multi-purpose aircraft. First flown in 1952, it entered service with the Luftwaffe in 1956. It has served in the following roles: strategic bomber, cruise missile platform, maritime bomber, anti-submarine aircraft, airliner, airborne early warning aircraft, strategic transport, tanker, reconnaissance aircraft, electronic-intelligence aircraft, and VIP transport.
The Ta 800 came from a 1947 Reich Air Ministry requirement for an intercontinental bomber capable of carrying a thermonuclear weapon to the United States. The tender called for an un-refueled range of 8000 km with a ten tonne payload. There were four responses. The first from Horten (in association with Gotha) proposed a large flying wing powered by four very large turbojets. The concept was highly efficient, but the RLM had concerns about controllability and it did not leave the drawing board. The second response was from Sänger's experimental works. He proposed a sub-orbital space plane. His Silbervogel (German for silver bird) would carry an eight ton payload over a 24000 km round journey, skipping off Earth's lower atmosphere. In development, the Silbervogel's weight grew in line with increased knowledge of reentry heat stresses. Since the Silbervogel's payload was already below the RLM specification, and the improved heat shield had further reduced it, the RLM ordered Sänger to stop development.
Junkers provided the third response. Its EF 232 design was an eight engined swept-wing bomber, which looked like an enlarged EF 132. The Junkers response was shortlistd by the RLM and flown. Its range fell short of the RLM specification, but it was ordered into production in small numbers as the Ju 490. It was retired from the strategic bombing role in the mid-1960s. The remaining aircraft were used as tankers in Vietnam until 1973.
The Focke-Wulf team led by Kurt Tank made two proposals. Both were similar in concept, but differed in size. The Ta 600 met the specifications fully, but being a turboprop was significantly slower than the Junkers jet. Given the importance of speed in the late 1940s, this was no small flaw. The Ta 600 could fly at 900 km/h, while the EF 232 could reach 1100 km/h. It was a four-engine turboprop powered bomber, with swept wings and pusher propellers. It could lift a twelve tonne payload to a range of 10000 km.
The second proposal from Tank's team was the Ta 800. The Ta 800 was like the Ta 600 in concept. Due to propeller problems with the pusher setup, the Ta 800 used puller propellers. Unlike the Ta 600, these propellers were anything but conventional, being eight blade counter rotating propellers (2 four blades screws). Its maximum payload was fifteen tonnes, and its maximum range was 15000 km. The RLM thought the Ta 800 too large, and preferred the Ta 600. Tank and his designers persisted with the Ta 800, designing a long-range airline version for Lufthansa. At the "Aviation Day" of the 1949 Reichsparteitag, Kurt Tank showed Hitler and Goebbels models of the Ta 800 in both bomber and airliner versions. Both men saw the potential for the aircraft, and Hitler told Tank to develop the aircraft for the Luftwaffe and for Lufthansa.
The first Ta 800 flew in March 1952. It entered service four years later with the Luftwaffe. Lufthansa received their first Ta 800 airliners in 1961.
The Ta 800 is a very large aircraft, with wings swept at 35 degrees (highly unusual for a propeller driven aircraft). Its wings run straight through the middle of the tubular fuselage. The four massive engines are spread along the wings, and drive eight-blade counter-rotating tractor propellers.
The Ta 800's wings and tail are swept at 35 degrees. The use of high lift devices on the wing reduces the take off and landing run.
The fuselage comes in two versions. The first version (known as the "Military Fuselage") is relatively narrow, and is divided into several compartments. The nose compartment is pressurised and carries most of the crew (and in the latest version, all of the crew). Behind it is a fuel tank and an avionics bay. The third compartment is the forward weapons bay. The fourth compartment houses the wing, and some fuel storage. The fifth compartment is the aft weapons bay. The sixth compartment is pressurised, and houses gunners or observers. The seventh compartment is largely empty in bomber versions. In ASW versions, it carries sonobuoys. The final compartment is the tail turret. It is also pressurised. The Military Fuselage is used by the bomber, reconnaissance, and missile launcher versions.
The "Civil Fuselage" is wider, and higher off the ground. This changes the aircraft into a low-wing configuration. The extra width allows for the carriage of greater volumes of cargoes and numbers of passengers. The aircraft has one pressurised compartment. It can be configured to carry passengers, cargo, fuel, VIP facilities, and electronic equipment with operator consoles. The civil fuselage is used by the airliner, freighter, tanker, VIP, electronic intelligence, and airborne early warning versions.
The first series bombers were designed to take two thermonuclear weapons. Later they were modified for larger numbers of smaller nuclear weapons and cruise missiles. The Ta 800 saw extensive service during the Vietnam War, especially in the south.
The second series prototype first flew in 1976. It had numerous improvements in avionics, more powerful engines, and a weapons bay designed to take any type of store that could physically fit. In addition to the weapon bay modifications, it was given four underwing hardpoints for over 15000 kg of ordnance. All gun turrets except the tail turret were removed. The space occupied by the gunners was taken by a fuel tank. An inflight refueling probe extended the range of the second series. The Kriegsmarine was the principal user of this type. There was no civil version of this type, the Ta 800 having been superseded by long range jets like the Airbus Ab 300. The second series was principally a missile carrier. While bomb carriage was possible, both the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine wanted cruise missile carriage first.
While the strategic bomber version has never been exported, the maritime versions have been exported. Strategic bombers are generally based in Germany, however the Kriegsmarine often places Ta 800s outside Germany. Common locations include British Guiana, Burma, Chile, North Korea, Pakistan, and Italian Somaliland. Therefore, Ta 800s can potentially appear anywhere in the world, and on certain shipping lanes, the colossal roar of the JG-12 turboprops is a common sound.
- Ta 800 A: Initial bomber version. Served until the mid 1960s.
- Ta 800 B: Revised Ta 800 A. Introduced in 1962. Used extensively in Vietnam.
- Ta 800 C: Ta 800 A converted to staff transport. Twenty converted. One briefly used by Hitler as a personal aircraft. Later, all to Lufthansa as pilot trainers
- Ta 800 D: Conventional bomber. Used extensively in Vietnam.
- Ta 800 E: Initial airliner version.
- Ta 800 F: Naval cruise missile carrier. No longer in service
- Ta 800 G: Naval surveillance/targeting aircraft.
- Ta 800 H: Tanker version of the Ta 800 E
- Ta 800 I: VIP transport, based on Ta 800 E
- Ta 800 J: Airborne early warning aircraft, based on Ta 800 E
- Ta 800 K: Experimental nuclear-powered aircraft (unconfirmed)
- Ta 800 L: Initial anti-submarine aircraft
- Ta 800 M: Naval bomber and missile carrier. First of the second series aircraft.
- Ta 800 N: Anti-submarine aircraft
- Ta 800 P: Naval reconnaissance aircraft
- Ta 800 R: Luftwaffe strategic bomber and missile carrier
- Ta 800 S: ELINT aircraft
- Crew: 6–7
- Length: 46.2 m (151 ft 6 in)
- Wingspan: 50.10 m (164 ft 5 in)
- Height: 12.12 m (39 ft 9 in)
- Wing area: 310 m² (3,330 ft²)
- Empty weight: 90,000 kg (198,000 lb)
- Loaded weight: 171,000 kg (376,200 lb)
- Max. takeoff weight: 188,000 kg (414,500 lb)
- Powerplant: 4 × Junkers Jumo JG-12M turboprops, 11,000 kW (14,800 shp) each
- Maximum speed: 920 km/h (510 knots, 575 mph)
- Range: 15,000 km (8,100 nmi, 9,400 mi) unrefueled
- Service ceiling: 13,716 m (45,000 ft)
- Rate of climb: 10 m/s (2,000 ft/min)
- Wing loading: 606 kg/m² (124 lb/ft²)
- Power/mass: 235 W/kg (0.143 hp/lb)
- Radar-controlled Guns: 1 x 27 mm BK-27 autocannon or 1x 30 mm MG 213C in tail turret.
- Bombs and Missiles: Up to 15,000 kg (33,000 lb).