Heralded by the Germans as the first asymmetrical plane built for production, the BV 141, designed in 1937, was meant to be Third Reich’s scout plane of choice. Despite its promising initial performance, the design was scrapped due to the rising popularity of the Focke-Wulf Fw 189, a tactical reconnaissance aircraft which was already in use, and seemed to fulfill its role adequately. In the end, the curious looking plane saw only an evaluation batch being built, before being cancelled.
Search for Funding
During the late 1930s political climate on the global scale was unsteady, to say the least. Rising military might of Germany in these years led the Nazis to call for a dedicated reconnaissance plane that would have great visibility, in order to spot and call out targets. The German Air ministry issued a request to several of the German aircraft manufacturers, Arado and Focke-Wulf, for a three seat short range scout plane, which could also fulfill a support bomber and fog layer role in a pinch. One of the main features requested is that the crew of the plane can have an unobstructed and clear view in all directions.
While the proposal made by Arado was at first favored, their end result was a complete failure and their design, Ar 198, was discarded due to its low performance. In the meantime Richard Vogt, an engineer and a director of another manufacturing company, Hamburger Flugzeugbau, had a quite different approach in mind. While his company was not invited to the German Air Ministry tender, Vogt held a firm belief that his revolutionary design could fulfill the needed specifications, which led him to submit an independent, privately funded proposal.
Vogt proposal differed from all the others, as he believed that the only way to achieve the necessary vision requirement for the new aircraft was to design a single-engine asymmetrical plane, which would have a glazed nacelle offset to the starboard. This way, the 3 man crew would have an unobstructed view, unlike the more conventional aircraft where the fuselage gets in the way. In addition, this design could also cancel out the propeller torque, a characteristic issue of the single engine aircraft of the time.
Even though the proposal itself was solid, Reichsluftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry) was already committed to its contract with Arado, and for that reason showed little interest in this curious design. The political climate changed slightly when a new director responsible for this program development was appointed, Ernst Udet. He saw the potential of the Vogt’s yet unnamed aircraft, and gave unofficial support, which was enough to convince the Hamburger Flugzeugbau management to fund the project.
The first prototype was designated Ha 141-0, and it was finished in just three months, in June 1937. It made its first test flight on February 25, 1938, which proved to be a complete success. The aircraft had great aerodynamic properties, with a solid, durable construction. Because of this success, Udet managed to convince the RLM to include another German manufacturer Blohm & Voss to co-fund and produce the initial test batch of 3 aircraft.
Blohm & Voss started as pre-war ship manufacturers, but decided to branch out and design and manufacture sea-planes, as they followed a then-popular belief that the trans-Atlantic flights would replace the luxury liners. Another belief of the time was that these new planes would mostly seaplanes, as they could use the already established seaport infrastructure and capacity for the increased passenger traffic. For fear of this happening, Blohm & Voss decided to get in the aircraft building game, and built the new dedicated factory for aircraft production, which proved fortunate for Vogt and his team.
The Unorthodox Approach
Since the development effort was now a joint venture, with the manufacturing itself done by the Blohm & Voss, new aircraft was designated BV 141 V-series. This latest prototype, BV 141 V-1, took to the skies on 11 October 1938 for the first time. Besides having a full sight 360 degree cockpit, a number of weapons were planned for the future. The BV 141 was to have two fixed forward firing 7.9 cm MG 17 guns, and two, lower and upper, moveable rear MG 15s. These turret guns were to be mounted on the new Focke-Wulf gun carriage and allow the plane to defend itself from all directions. In addition to the machineguns, the BV sported four 50kg bomb racks, for its ground support role.
Although the plane showed great performance from the start, one of the recurring issues that troubled the development were problems with the hydraulics in the retractable landing gear, which even lead to an emergency landing after one of the test flights. For this reason the rear wheel never retracted completely into the fuselage in case of another emergency landing.
BV 141 was powered by an air cooled 9-cylinder BMW 132 N radial engine. The engine’s 1,147 kW (1,538 hp) of power meant that the aircraft had a top speed of 368 km/h (229 mph) at sea level and 438 km/h (272 mph) at 5,000 m (16,404 ft), and it could fly at a maximum altitude of 10,000 m (32,808 ft). It had a length of 13.95 m (45 ft 9 in) and a wingspan of 17.45 m (57 ft 3 in).
The most characteristic feature of the plane was its 3 man glazed cockpit. The pilot was stationed in the forward left section, closest to the fuselage, from where he could operate the controls and the front mounted machine guns. The second crew member was the observer that was sitting next to the pilot in a slide-able chair, which allowed him to operate the radio, serial cameras and the upper MG turret in the rearward position, and man the bomb aiming station in front.
The third member was stationed in the rear of the cabin, where he could operate the cameras and the lower MG turret, which had a 360 degree swivel.
Another Retired Model
While the aircraft showed great performance in all the tests, the program officially ended in January of 1940. Even though it was superior to the Focke Wulf FW 189 in both speed and range, the BV 141 design didn’t impress the Nazi military leadership. They deemed that this singular design didn’t bring anything new to the table that the FW 189 couldn’t achieve, and promptly cancelled the production order of 500 aircraft that was previously made. An additional reason for such a decision was the desire to use the Blohm und Voss manufacturing capacity to aid in production of the newly designed Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor.
The 20 odd BV 141s that were built during its short life were donated to the Luftwaffe reconnaissance school in Großenhain, where they were used as training aircraft. None of the machines have survived to this day, and we only have photos, drawings and a German production record as proof that these odd looking planes really existed.