Saturday, 14 November 2009
Junkers Ju 287 - Germany's Forward Swept Wing Bomber
Stephen Ransom & Peter Korrell, with Peter D. Evans, Classic Publications/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., Hersham, Surrey, England, 2008, ISBN 978-1-90322-392-5. Illustrated, hardcover, published in English.
Cover image © by Classic Publications/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., 2008.
As in the case of Classic Publications' book on the Horten Ho 229, those with a somewhat less visionary disposition will undoubtedly dismiss this book, too, as a waste of paper on a Luft '46 delusion. So be it. In reality, however, the significance of the emergence of the Ju 287 cannot be overstated, and the publication of a book such as this one is thus both important and overdue.
Due to its status as a late-war fringe design, the Ju 287 has so far been largely neglected as far as mainstream Luftwaffe publications are concerned. There has been a photo of the Ju 287 here and there during the past decades, mostly in books dealing with German jet design or German aviation projects of World War II (such as in Smith & Creek's Jet Planes Of The Third Reich or Griehl's Jet Planes Of The Third Reich - The Secret Projects, Volume Two, both by Monogram Aviation Publications, and in a variety others). Gathering solid data on the Ju 287 was difficult for the common reader, as was obtaining a comprehensive and reliable history of this aircraft type. The sole exception was of course Thomas H. Hitchcock's very first Close-Up booklet, Junkers 287 (Monogram Aviation Publications, USA, 1974), which dealt exclusively with this elusive aircraft but, by now, no longer matches the state of research. But market forces and the relative scarcity of available period material usually meant that the existence of the Ju 287 was utterly eclipsed by works on the various Bf 109s, Fw 190s, Me 262s, et al.
For anybody seriously interested in cutting edge aircraft design or technological advances during World War II, however, the Ju 287 is of course immeasurably more intriguing than most of the conventional aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Accordingly, it was with quite some anticipation that the first dedicated hardback monograph on the Ju 287, Horst Lommel's Junkers Ju 287 (Aviatic Verlag, Germany, 2003) was awaited. Purchased on the day of its publication, it left me strangely dissatisfied, if not outright disappointed. Lommel, apparently well on his way to become the German David Myhra, had wasted the exhilarating chance to literally write history with his book. Instead, he provided the reader with an unstructured concoction of information and images, often prompting the question of the extent of historical accuracy. Moreover, about half of the book was dedicated to other aircraft only superficially related to the main topic, as has become the unfortunate norm for his publications.
We are thus incredibly fortunate that, only a few years later, a trio of very distinguished protagonists from the Luftwaffe research community embarked on the unenviable task to finally set the record straight. Stephen Ransom is of course the author of the fantastic study on Brandis airfield, Zwischen Leipzig und der Mulde (Stedinger Verlag, Germany, 1996). This book is itself a treasure and, upon its publication, caused quite a stir among enthusiasts due to the inclusion of sensational, rare photos of the second prototype of the Ju 287.
Dr. Peter Korrell is also a familiar name to serious Luftwaffe researchers; he has been publishing restored reprints of rare vintage aviation documents for years (some of which are reviewed elsewhere in this blog). A number of Dr. Korrell's publications deal with the Ju 287 and related designs. Peter D. Evans, last but not least, is the eminent creator of the Luftwaffe Experten Message Board, the internet's foremost meeting point for those seriously interested in the former German Luftwaffe. Evans, too, had long been studying the Ju 287.
The Ju 287 photos that were once part of Ransom's book on Brandis airfield have now been included in what is and probably will remain the standard work on the type, Junkers Ju 287 - Germany's Forward Swept Wing Bomber. As can be expected when such a trio of authors teams with Classic Publications, the book is a beauty. It is thoroughly researched, complete, professionally designed, and sumptuously illustrated.
The book commences with a look at the development of forward sweep until 1935. It then delves into Junkers' interest for the concept, followed by the actual development of hardware in the form of the first two prototypes of the Ju 287. Further chapters deal with the flight trials and disposal of the prototypes, with the mysterious and still unidentified "Rechlin 66" aircraft whose shape suggests a close affiliation with the Ju 287, and with the further development of the Ju 287 in the Soviet Union. All chapters are crammed with photos and drawings, and every conceivable aspect of the aircraft is investigated. A postscript looks at swept wing designs after World War II. There are detailed endnotes to every chapter as well as a comprehensive appendix which contains biographies and further interesting insights into the research conducted for the book.
Junkers Ju 287 - Germany's Forward Swept Wing Bomber is a stunning and very satisfying book. Even if one were to disregard the exhaustive text, the book's photo content alone is well worth the purchase price. It is astonishing how many pictures exist of an aircraft that has so far been regarded as completely obscure. Moreover, some of the photos reveal amazing detail (e.g. on pages 82 and 83). Only a few very minor questions remain. The authors speculate, for example, whether the two photos on page 64 show the mock-up or the actual front section of the Ju 287 V1. In my humble opinion, the aircraft section in question is not a mock up (except for the dummy engines) but definitely part of the actual prototype.
One can still hope that additional photos of the EF 131 (originally designated Ju 287 V3) will emerge from Russia one day, as it happened a few years ago in the case of the equally shrouded Junkers EF 126.