Kurt Tank

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Kurt Waldemar Tank
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L18396, Kurt Tank.jpg
Prof. Dr. Dipl.-Ing. Kurt Tank, March 1941
Born(1898-02-24)24 February 1898
Died5 June 1983(1983-06-05) (aged 85)
EducationTechnical University of Berlin
Engineering career
AwardsHonorary Professor with chair at Technical University of Braunschweig

Kurt Waldemar Tank (24 February 1898 – 5 June 1983) was a German aeronautical engineer and test pilot who led the design department at Focke-Wulf from 1931 to 1945. He was responsible for the creation of several important Luftwaffe aircraft of World War II, including the Fw 190 fighter aircraft, the Ta 152 fighter-interceptor and the Fw 200 Condor airliner.[1][2] After the war, Tank spent two decades designing aircraft abroad, working first in Argentina and then in India, before returning to Germany in the late 1960s to work as a consultant for Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB).[3]

Early life[edit]

Tank was born in Bromberg (Bydgoszcz), Province of Posen. His grandfather was a cavalry sergeant in the Uhlans and his father, Willi Tank, was a grenadier sergeant in the 3rd Division.[4] When World War I broke out Tank wished to join the Deutsches Heer's then-named Fliegertruppe air service, but his father insisted he instead follow the family tradition and enlist in the cavalry. He ended the war as a captain, with many decorations for bravery.


After the war, Tank graduated from the Technical University of Berlin in 1923. A mentor from the university secured him his first job, in the design department of Rohrbach Metallflugzeug GmbH, where he worked on flying boats and assisted in the design of the passenger aircraft, the Ro VIII Roland.

Tank moved to the firm Albatros Flugzeugwerke, where he worked as a test pilot. The Albatros company went bankrupt in 1929 and in 1931, under government pressure, was merged with Focke-Wulf.

Tank then started work on the design of the Fw 44 Stieglitz (Goldfinch), a two-seat civilian biplane. It was Focke-Wulf's first commercially successful design,[5] launched in 1932.[6] In 1934 Tank's Fw 56 advanced trainer began production.[7] This led to burgeoning growth for the company as Hitler began to prepare the country for war.

Ludwig Roselius, chairman and 46% majority shareholder of Focke-Wulf via Kaffee HAG, and Barbara Goette - his closest confidante, met with Kurt Tank in the Marcus-Allee, Bremen on many occasions. Barbara declared Focke-Wulf to be a "war-determining" enterprise.[8]

In 1936 Tank designed the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor to a Deutsche Luft Hansa specification. The first flight was in July 1937 after just under one year of development with Tank at the controls. The Condor made a famous non-stop flight from Berlin to New York City in 1938, proving the concept of transatlantic air travel.[2] The Condor would later be used as a maritime patrol bomber aircraft of some repute during the war.

World War II[edit]

Major Günther Specht (left) and Kurt Tank (right)

The Fw 190 Würger (Shrike), first flying in 1939 and produced from 1941 to 1945, was a mainstay Luftwaffe single-seat fighter during World War II, and Tank's most-produced (over 20,000) and famous design. In January 1943, he was named honorary professor with a chair at the Technical University of Braunschweig, in recognition of his work developing aircraft.[5]

In 1944, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry) decided that new fighter aircraft designations must include the chief designer's name. Kurt Tank's new designs were therefore given the prefix Ta.[5] His most notable late-war design was the Ta 152, a continuation of the Fw 190 design.


After the war, Tank negotiated with the United Kingdom, the Nationalist government of China, and representatives of the Soviet Union; when the negotiations proved unsuccessful, he accepted an offer from Argentina to work at its aerotechnical institute, the Instituto Aerotécnico in Córdoba under the name of Pedro Matthies. The British government decided not to offer him a contract on the grounds that they could not see how he could be integrated into a research project or design group.[9]

He moved to Córdoba in late 1946, with many of his Focke-Wulf co-workers.[10] One of these was Ronald Richter, who intended to power airplanes with nuclear energy, to be developed in the Huemul Project, which was later proven to be a fraud according to some.[11]

The Instituto Aerotécnico later became Argentina's military aeroplane factory, the Fábrica Militar de Aviones. There, he designed the IAe Pulqui II based on the Focke-Wulf Ta 183 design that had reached mock-up stage by the end of the war. It was a state-of-the-art design for its day, but the project was cancelled after the fall of Peron in 1955. When President Juan Perón fell from power, the ex-Focke-Wulf team dispersed, with many, including Tank, moving to India.[10] First he worked as Director of the Madras Institute of Technology, where one of his students was Abdul Kalam (later President of India). Kalam would go on to design indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) and lead the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. Tank later joined Hindustan Aeronautics, where he designed the Hindustan Marut fighter-bomber, the first military aircraft constructed in India. The first prototype flew in 1961, and the Marurt was retired from active service in 1985. Tank left Hindustan Aeronautics in 1967 and by the 1970s had returned to live in Berlin, basing himself in Germany for the rest of his life. He worked as a consultant for MBB.[12] He died in Munich in 1983.


  1. ^ "Old Hands, New Directions". TIME. October 23, 1950. Retrieved 2008-02-24.
  2. ^ a b Duffy, James P. (2004). Target: America: Hitler's Plan to Attack the United States. Guilford, CT, USA: The Lyons Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-59228-934-9. Tank would become one of the world's leading aircraft designers and engineers.
  3. ^ Zukowsky, John. "Kurt Tank". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  4. ^ Conradis, Heinz (1960). Design for Flight. Macdonald. p. 216.
  5. ^ a b c "Kurt Tank Anniversary". War Thunder. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  6. ^ Munson, K. Fighters Between the Wars 1919-39 1977 p.129 ISBN 071370750X
  7. ^ Munson, K. Fighters Between the Wars 1919-39 1977 p.144 ISBN 071370750X
  8. ^ Leidig, Ludwig. Bombshell. sbpra, 2013; p21,22. ISBN 978-1-62516-346-2
  9. ^ Rathkolb, Oliver (2004). Revisiting the National Socialist Legacy. Aldine Transaction. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-7658-0596-6.
  10. ^ a b "Kurt Tank (1898–1983)". Aviation of World War II. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  11. ^ Khatchadourian, Raffi (March 3, 2014). "A Star in a Bottle". The New Yorker (March 2014). Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  12. ^ "Kurt Tank", History.

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