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Kurt Waldemar Tank
Prof. Dr. Dipl.-Ing. Kurt Tank, March 1941
Born (1898-02-24)February 24, 1898
Bromberg (Bydgoszcz), Province of Posen
Died June 5, 1983(1983-06-05) (aged 85)
Nationality German
Education Technical University of Berlin

Kurt Waldemar Tank (February 24, 1898 – June 5, 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

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 Imperial German Army 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 on to 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, launched in 1934. This led to burgeoning growth for the company as Hitler began to prepare the country for war.

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.

World War II

Major Günther Specht (left) and Prof. 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 widely 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 services to the development of flight.

Kurt Tank and his wife often had dinner with Dr Ludwig Roselius and Barbara Goette. Roselius was the majority shareholder of Focke-Wulf through Café HAG. ITT was the second largest shareholder. Barbara witnessed Tank excitedly talking about the latest design developments for Focke-Wulf 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. 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 and when the negotiations proved unsuccessful, accepted an offer from Argentina to work at its aerotechnical institute, the Instituto Aerotécnico in Córdoba under the name of (Prof. Dr.) Pedro Matthies. It is recorded that the British government decided not to offer him a contract on the grounds that he was too important, and they could not see how he could be integrated into an existing research project or design group.[6]

He moved to Córdoba, with many of his Focke-Wulf co-workers, in 1947. One of these was Ronald Richter who intended to power airplanes with nuclear fission power, to be developed in the Huemul Project which was later proven to be a fraud.

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 axed in 1953 due to Argentina's financial crisis. When President Juan Perón fell from power in 1955 the ex-Focke-Wulf team dispersed, many to the United States.

Tank instead moved to India. First he worked as Director of the Madras Institute of Technology, where one of his students was Abdul Kalam (later Kalam became President of India and designed indigenous satellite launch vehicles and missiles). Kurt 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; the Marut 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.[7] He died in Munich in 1983.


  1. "Old Hands, New Directions". TIME. October 23, 1950.,9171,813605,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  2. Duffy, James P. (2004). Target: America: Hitler's Plan to Attack the United States. Guilford, CT, USA: The Lyons Press. pp. 58. ISBN 1-59228-934-7. ""Tank would become one of the world's leading aircraft designers and engineers."" 
  3. Zukowsky, John. "Kurt Tank". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  4. Conradis, Heinz (1960). Design for Flight. Macdonald. pp. 216. 
  5. Leidig, Ludwig. Bombshell. sbpra, 2013, ISBN 978-1-62516-346-2
  6. Rathkolb, Oliver (2004). Revisiting the National Socialist Legacy. Aldine Transaction. pp. 216. ISBN 0-7658-0596-0. 

External links

  • Kurt Tank in the German National Library catalogue

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