So was it a brilliant mistake or was it just a mistake?
The Blohm und Voss P.170 fighter-bomber of 1942 is evidence that, even when caught up in the urgency of war, industry in the Third Reich enjoyed the luxury of being able to experiment – even when a practical outcome was uncertain.
If the strange-looking P.170, with its three engines, broad wing, and cockpit astride the tail was a brilliant aircraft design, credit belongs to Dr.-Ing. Richard Vogt of Hamburger Flugzeugbau, the aircraft company owned by the shipyard founded by Hermann Blohm and Ernst Voss in 1877.
The company produced many unusual aircraft, including the BV 141, an asymmetrical reconnaissance aircraft, and the BV 222, a giant flying boat. The BV 141 carried a three-man crew in a gondola mounted atop the wing to the right of an unmanned fuselage that was off-center to the left.
In a design that was either daring or foolish, the P.170 employed a forward-mounted, very broad rectangular, constant-chord wing spanning 52 feet 6 inches, with one engine mounted in the nose and two more in engine nacelles that were actually gondolas at the wingtips. The gondolas mounted rudder fins, giving the rear fuselage a clean, tailless look. Each gondola, including the center fuselage, contained a 528 U.S. gallon fuel tank feeding the engine ahead of it. The fuselage was 46 feet 11 inches in length and wing area was 473.60 square feet.
It was intended that three 1,600-horsepower BMW 801D radial engines, each with a three-bladed propeller fully 11 feet 5 inches in diameter, would power the P.170. The two outer engines turned in opposing directions, all but eliminating torque on the aircraft. The aircraft had a traditional “tail dragger” configuration, except that its main landing gear consisted of three undercarriage legs. The P.170 was designed to carry 4,400 pounds of bombs on four ordnance stations beneath its expansive wing.
This warplane was designed for speed, which is why it lacked defensive armament. According to Hamburger Flugzeugbau documents, the P.170 was expected to reach the extraordinary speed of 510 miles per hour at 26,000 feet. This aircraft was larger than surviving illustrations suggest, and would have weighed almost 30,000 pounds when fully loaded for combat.
Not many company documents survived the allied bombing of the Hamburg aircraft manufacturer. It appears Vogt’s design team explored several variations on the design, including two- and three-crew versions for the schnellbomber (fast bomber) and schlachtflugzeug (ground attack aircraft).
Today, historians can only speculate as to why the Third Reich continued designing and developing a wide range of variations on aviation technology. Work on the P.170 may have continued long after men in Berlin knew they were losing the war. We can only imagine whether the war might have lasted longer or even had a different outcome had the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Air Ministry, the RLM) accepted a recommendation from air ace Generalleutnant (Maj. Gen.) Adolf “Dolfo” Galland that Germany concentrate its manufacturing capacity on just two aircraft types – the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and Messerschmitt Me 262 fighters.
The main thing about the P.170 that leaps out at us is that this airplane would have been very, very difficult to taxi. The real question about this brilliant mistake is not why Blohm und Voss didn’t build it, but why it survived so long as a viable proposal before being canceled. In a different universe, perhaps swarms of P.170s might have been available to confront the 176,000 allied troops who landed on five Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944 – for all practical purposes, totally unopposed by German air power – but in our real world the P.170 was merely an innovative idea that never came to fruition. None were ever built or flown.
Blohm und Voss P.170 Specifications
- Crew: 2
- Length: 14.3 meters (46.91 ft)
- Span: 16 m (52.49 ft)
- Height: 3.65 m (11.97 ft)
- Wing area: 44 sq m (473.6 sq ft)
- Empty weight: 9,100 kg (20,062 lbs)
- Loaded weight: 13,300 kg (29,321 lbs)
- Power plant: 3 x 1,677 hp BMW 801D radial engines.
- Maximum speed (estimated): 820 kph (510 mph; 443 knots) at 8,000 m
- Range (estimated): 2,000 km (1,080 nmi; 1,243 mi)
- Service ceiling (estimated): 11,650 m (38,222 ft)
- Rate of climb (estimated): 18.9 meters per second (3,720 ft/min) at 2,000 m
- Armament: 4 x underwing hardpoints (two per wing) each with a capacity of 1,000 kilograms