Aircraft of the Luftwaffe

Dornier 17Z and Dornier 217E
Messerschmitt Bf109E       Junkers Ju87
Junkers Ju88       Messerschmitt Bf110-G       Heinkel 111H

Dornier constructed a number of aircraft that were later to be dubbed the "Flying Pencils" due mainly to the long thin outline of the fuselage. probably the most famous, and the one that was to take part in the Battle of Britain period was the Dornier 17. Because of the fuselage shape, it was highly improbable that the aircraft was originally designed as a passenger aircraft for the Lufthansa Airline. More than likely the designers hoped that it would be accepted as a transport although many believe that the aircraft was destined to become a mailplane that could also carry four to six passengers.

The first flight of the Dornier was on November 23rd 1934, and was rejected by Lufthansa and the prototypes were left in a hangar, only to be discovered a few years later by Robert Untucht who was the air ministry liaison officer, and a test pilot with Lufthansa. he tested the Dornier, and believed that with modifications, the aircraft would more than handle the role of a bomber in the military arena.

The original Do17 had a pair of 750 hp BMW engines that propelled the aircraft at 225 mph, but after Robert Untucht made the first modifications and by the time the Do17 had reached version 4, the BMW engines were retained, but the tailplane section had been redesigned doing away with the single tailfin, and replacing it with double tailfins and rudders. In an effort to increase speed even further, the version 5, designated Do17Z V5 was equipped with Hispano engines, and although heavier it managed to give the Dornier a top speed of 245 mph, which at the time, was far greater than any fighter, and this was proven in 1937 when the Do17 saw service in Spain, and outpaced all of the Republican fighter aircraft.

Modifications continued, the Do17Z V8 was tied with the Daimler Benz DB 600A engines that were producing 1,000 horsepower. , the Do17E was the first production bomber to see service with the Luftwaffe and the designers reverted back to the 750 hp BMW V1 engines at the sacrifice of a lower top speed. The Do17M was equipped with 1,000 hp Bramo 323A engines, but otherwise stayed the same as the Do17E. With more powerful engines coming out of a number of factories in Germany, the Do17K of which a number were bought by Yugoslovia were powered by Gnome-Rhône 14N engines and were amongst the fastest of the Dorniers by attaining a top speed of 259 mph.

The Spanish Civil War was to be the toughest test yet on the Do17 bomber. It proved to be fast, in fact was fast enough to outpace any enemy fighter, although it could not match Germany's own Bf109, but one important lesson was learnt. It was vulnerable to enemy gunfire, especially in the forward section. The nose had been shortened on the Do17E and the Do17F variants, but the firing arc of the forward gunner was restricted somewhat and the narrow diameter of the fuselage of the Do17 which was how it became known as the "Flying Pencil" meant cramped conditions for the cockpit area of the aircraft.

These lessons learnt, were applied to the Do17U. The nose was severely cut down and the forward machine gun positioned so that it had a complete arc of fire. An enlarged forward fuselage not only gave existing crew more room, but allowed for an additional crew member if required. All these modifications were to prove successful, and they were put into the Do17Z in 1939. It was this variant that was to see service throughout the battle of Britain and in operations during 1940 and 1941. One of the Do17 variants, was modified as a night fighter and had a nose section of a Ju88C fitted complete with cannon and machine guns. Additional to that was the installation of a FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) detector, said to be the worlds first. The first success of the use of the FLIR detector was the shooting down of a Wellington bomber of RAF Bomber Command on the night of October 16th/17th 1940 over the French-German border.

Dornier 17Z Specifications
Type Medium Range Medium Bomber/Night Bomber/Reconnaissence
Crew Five (sometimes four, depending on variant)
Power Plant 2 x Bramo 323A 1,000 hp radial engines
Fuel Capacity 1,550 litres (2,445 litres with additional fuel tank)
Unladen weight 11,484 lbs 
Laden weight 18,931 lbs
Max Speed (16,500 ft) 265 mph 
Cruising Speed (14,500 ft) 236 mph
Max range (Normal Load) 745 miles 
Max range (with tanks) 1,860 miles (with normal load)
Service Ceiling 26,740 ft 
Armament  1 x 20mm MG FF Cannon (on some versions)
1 x 13mm MG 131 Machine Gun (on some versions)
6 x 7.9mm MG 15 and/or MG 81Machine Guns
2,200 lb bombload (carried internally) or
1,100lb bombload plus max fuel (all carried internally)
Wingspan 59 feet
Length 53ft 5½in 
Height 15ft 9in 
Wing Area 592 sq ft 

Dornier 17-V1

The photograph above shows the Dornier 17 in its original form when it was designated thew V1. As a twin engined aircraft, it had clean and sleek lines that gave it the appearance of a fast aircraft, which was asked it it as a fast six passenger mailplane, and rejected by Lufthansa who's test pilots agreed that it was not suitable for carrying passengers.

Take a look at three notable areas of this aircraft. The tailplane. It is conventional with large tailfin and rudder. If you take a look at the Dornier 17Z below, modified for use as a bomber with this variant entering service in 1939. one of the first modifications was the redesigned tailplane section with twin tailfins. Now look at the engine nascelles. The original had very smooth lines, again when the emphasis was on speed, but the nascelles on the Do17Z below are larger and certainly not designed with aerodynamics in mind. Finally, look at the nose of the aircraft. The original was long and sleek and almost coming to a smooth rounded point, but look what happened to the Do17Z below. Experience in the Spanish Civil War had shown how vulnerable the Do17 was, and the resdeigned forward section gave a greater arc of fire for the front gunners plus additional room.

There were a number of variants of the Dornier Do17, but late in 1937 a variant was called for by the RLM (German Air Ministry) for a heavier variant that could carry a greater bombload, greater fuel capacity and be able to accomodate any range of power plants. The RLM also laid down guidelines that it could be used as a dive bomber although its primary role in warfare would be as a long range heavy bomber.

Dornier had produced the Do215 that was the export version of the Do17. Sweden was the only country to purchase the 215 and the Luftwaffe had to take over the remaining aircraft. The 215 saw very little daytime service although a number of them flew with Dornier 17Z in the early stages of WWII but it was used extensively on night time operations with its improved IR sensors.

The new 217 was first flown in August 1938 with 1,075hp Daimler Benz 601A engines and although in appearance it was very similar to the Dornier 17 it was a totally new design. But it was not really accepted by those that flew it. It was a less pleasant aircraft to fly, the controls being stiffer and the aircraft in general was much less responsive. Many of them crashed in the developmental stages and it was clear that changes had to be made.

By January 1940 the 217 had gone through a series of engine changes and development on the control system had to be made. By the 9th prototype the 217 ended up with the powerful BMW 801 engine and although these improvements were positive, those that flew it stated that it was acceptable to fly but modifications still needed to be made to make it an airworthy long range bomber in military situations. It now had the leading edges of the fins slotted and a unique dive braking system, but this never reached the expectaions required and it was later withdrawn as a top range dive bomber and further development was concentrated on its long range and heavy bomber capabilities.

The first 217 to enter service was the Do 217E-1 in mid to late 1940. It could carry an 8,818lb (4,000kg) bombload, a handheld 20mm MG-FF gun in the nose, and seven MG-15 guns. As a bomber it produced a powerful punch but according to its fliers it was still a handfull of aeroplane to fly. Later versions had a electrically operated EDL-131 dorsal turret that accomodated a turret mounted MG-131 machine gun. Another version has barrage cable cutters, and in 1943, Do 217E-5 from II/KG 100 caused devastating results against the British shipping from August 1943.

The Battle of Britain - 1940 website © Battle of Britain Historical Society 2007