The BMW-003 Turbojet

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Pablo Edronkin

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The BMW-003, originally known as prototype 109-003 in Germany, was one of the first turbojets ever built and became the basis of several different engine designs that evolved from it, like the Soviet-made RD-20, the Japanese Ishikawajima Ne-20 and the SNECMA Atar 9.

The BMW turbojet design had a long and complicated history starting before the beginning of WWII; initially known as the P.3302 engine[183.1], the axial-flow turbine ran into many different problems and while the first jet fighter plane, the Me-262 had been originally designed to be fitted with the 003 engines and some prototypes in fact had[183.2], those delays meant that the new airplane was eventually provided with the Jumo 004 engine, produced by Junkers[180][181].

The first prototype of the 003 was fired in 1940; by 1941 trials in conventional aircraft that carried also the turbojet had begun, but the engine showed some of the design shortcomings that were common for almost all the jet engine prototypes of the era, namely, thrust lower than expected and a very short life span due to the lack of adequate materials. The problems with thrust were derived, in part, from the need to act conservatively due to the problems with the life expectancy of the components because the metal alloys of the time were simply not enough advanced to survive the temperatures, pressures and conditions found during even normal working conditions.

The Jumo-004 engine was ready for production earlier than the BMW-003 and so, designs such as the Me-262 were redrawn in order to become compatible with the Junkers product which, by the end of the war, had been produced in larger numbers than the BMW engine.

Nevertheless, the BMW engine was considered better[183.3] and a more scalable design, meaning that it offered more room for further development, partly because in the final stages of its design, some of the lessons learned from the 004 could be applied to the BMW development.

On the other hand, since airframe development and construction at the time advanced more rapidly than jet engine technology, coupled to the fact that these early turbojets had a life expectancy of about 25 hours of use, there was a constant need for them, in any type or version, so a later variant of the Me-262 was designed to be used with the BMW-003 as well, and the engine was also used in other designs like the He-162, known as Salamander, Spatz or Volksjaeger, and some variants of the Ar-234 jet bomber/recon plane.

In the end, the BMW engine wasn't used as widely as the Jumo, but suffice to say that the He-172 became the fastest airplane of WWII to understand what the engine was capable of.

As the war ended, German technology was passed unto the hands of different countries; the U.S. And the Soviet Union obtained arguably the most, but other participants during the war, like France and the United Kingdom also got a portion of it and, more importantly, some German scientists and engineers. Argentina was also one of the countries that benefited considerably from an influx of German scientists.

Those developers were not necessarily Nazis but nevertheless, great care was put into cleansing their records because Germany by 1945 was indeed not quite popular and some scientists were accused of various degrees of participation in war crimes like running slave-labor factories where the "Wunderwaffen" of the Third Reich were built. In some cases, their names could never be cleaned because the crimes committed were too barbaric, like in the case of the infamous Dr. Mengele; others were more or less guilty, but they were all smart and should have known what they were doing. If they could or could not have done anything else is something, however, very difficult to judge.

But, as I sad, most scientists and engineers were just people caught in the middle of a tragedy and it is difficult to judge from the convenience of personal safety and elapsed time what they should have done; in essence, they were serving their country in the best way they could. True scientists do not have the inclination to deal in politics neither they get convinced so easily by ideologies.

The BMW-003 was developed under such conditions, and one of those scientists that took part in its development and construction from 1943 to 1945 was my grandfather, Prof. Dr. Dmitri J. Edronkin, who was a materials specialist who had experience running steel mills and power stations, had two degrees and had been teaching for years. After 1943 BMW began solving some of the problems of the 003 engine and by his own admission, my grandfather was very well acquainted with the turbojet engine when he wrote in a CV he presented in Buenos Aires (see The Engineer), in 1948:

"Me animo hacer los proyectos y relialización de nuevos tipos de motores de propulsión a chorro de potencias grandes y chicas o perfeccionar los motores existentes" (sic)

And was evidently so familiar with its design that he was capable of designing and constructing a brand new one, since he had also been working in a research capability, as he says in:

"Tengo además un trabajo científico escrito por mi sobre el tema de utilización del método de compresión de aire y gas en los motores de propulsón a chorro" (sic)

This doesn't come really as a surprise since many members of the Focke Wulf design team, leaded by Kurt Tank, migrated to Argentina after the war. Other people related to the development of jet engine technology went also, like General Adolf Galland and members of the BMW R & D department, and in Argentina new weapons systems were developed taking the lates German designs as starting point, such as the Pulqui II, based on the Ta-138 designed by Focke Wulf, an airplane that was designed to fly with the BMW-003.

The Pulqui II flew using the Rolls Royce Nene engine, since it was the standard for the 100 or so Argentine Gloster Meteors, but as grandfather wrote, he was knowledgeable in jet technology in general, ad not only just one particular design, and the adaptation of the original Focke Fulf prototype of WWII to the English engine most certainly implied some work for turbojet specialists knowledgeable in German and British technologies. But the phrase that most called my attention after reviewing those old papers is:

"Tengo también conocimientos en la energía atómica y nuclear" (sic)

Written in very good yet evidently foreign Spanish. He never mentioned what kind of knowledge he had about nuclear energy, neither I could find where did he learned about it. Atomic energy at the time was almost exclusively used for weaponry, but Argentina was interested in develpoing a nuclear industry in the long term. Anyway, he got a very good job in Buenos Aires, but acording to Dmitri Jr., his father never spoke about it; a few years later he retired and died of a hearth attack.

Pictures of aircraft and engines

LuftArchiv.de is a very interesting source (presented in German and English) that contains pictures and descriptions of German aircraft of WWII and some related technologies. The following links will take you to galleries containig photos and information about various aircraft that used the BMW-003 engine as their main propulsion system or, as in the case of the Ar-234 and Me-262, in at least some variants, and also, to BMW engines of the time.

Me-262 - Prototypes and some variants used the BMW-003.

Ar-234 - The four-engine variants of this bomber used the BMW-003.

He-162 - All aircraft of this type used the BMW-003 engine.

Hs-132 - Henschel only built a number of prototypes of this aircraft before the end of the war; they were designed to use the BW-003 in all cases. The maiden flight of the first prototype was scheduled for June 1945.

BMW - A description and pictures of BMW engines, including some variants of the 109-003 and prototypes, like the 003-R, which was rocket-assisted.

The website also contains a lot of information regarding the aerospace industry of Germany during WWII, instrumentation, production elements and techniques, weapons systems attached to aircraft, nomenclature, etc. and a good overview of the history of the companies involved.

Luft46.com is another interesting website that presents information on various projects and prototypes of Germa aircraft of the era, including many that were intended for the BMW-003 engine:

BMW - Aircraft projects of the BMW company, intended for the 109-003 engine.

Arado - Aircraft projects fo the Arado design bureau, mostly medium to heavy aircraft like bombers, using several BMW engines.

Focke Wulf - Several designs, including the Ta-183, which derived eventually into the Pulqui II built in Argentina.

Blohm & Voss - This company designed most of its jets to use a Heinkel engine, but some were conceived thinking in the BMW-003 as well.

Gotha - Some interesting flying wing designs to be used with the 003.

Heinkel - Several designs that used the BMW-003 as well as the He S 011 and Jumo-004 engines.

Henschel - Some designs, including the Hs 132 that used the BMW engine.

Horten - Flying wings; one of the Horten brothers migrated to Argentina and was involved in the construction of the Pulqui II and some winning sailplanes using the flying wing concept. The B2 bomber is based on the work of the Hortens during WWII.

Junkers - Some designs for the BMW engine.

Messerschmitt - Many designs, several involving the BMW-003 engine.

The site provides also interesting information on model kits of these aircraft, as well as art material for collectors. There are other sites that offer supplementary information and might be of interest in this regard:

Futuristic Flying: Brilliant Prototype & Concept Airplanes - This page contains very interesting pictures and artist impressions of actual prototypes and concept planes plus projects that never saw the light, including some of the most advanced German designs of WWII era. Some of these were intended for the 109-003.

German Jet Power - Interesting information about the origins and development of German jet engines.

Scientists & Friends - Offers interesting information on the fate of various German scientists and their ideas after WWII.

And there are restoration and reconstruction efforts that attempt to bring back to life these prototypes and even their engines.

Hortenwings - An initiative to rebuild a flyable Ho-229 flying wing.

Conclusion

As it becomes evident from the information provided in the linked sites above, the Germans were well on their way to produce weaponry that was vastly superior to anything the Allies could then deploy; some of the solutions that they conceived were proven valid many years after the end of the war.

They were seeking to obtain a strategic advantage particularly in missile and aircraft technology. It is difficult to say what would have happened if the war had continued after May 1945. Quite likely, the United States would have launched an atomic bomb over a German city or a couple of them in the same manner as they did in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war would then have come to an end. However, had the Germans been able to continue producing advanced weapons, even a few months of continued combat would have cause enormous additional damage and costs. On the other hand, had they started producing such weapons one or two years before, the whole conflict might have ended very differently. We should be grateful that they were unable to do so.

Someone might wonder how on Earth a Jewish family would mix again with people from Germany after WWII. Well, there are three ways to put it: First of all, Argentina - where my relatives came after the conflict - is a country that despite all its shortcomings has a "healing" attitude towards people. All the problems of immigrants were left behind as they came; people arrived into the country and still do, leaving their demons on the other side of the border, so there are really no problems in Argentina between Germans and Jews, Arabs and Jews, Indians and Europeans and so on. It is wrong to assume that Argentina was sympathetic to the Nazi regime; certainly there were individuals who were on their side, but it is worth considering that, for example, more than 600 people from Argentina fought as volunteers in the RAF, and that the country's Jewish community is a large one.

On the other hand and despite the things that happened, my family has no problems with the German nation; the problem were the Nazis, not the Germans and actually, we are all partly German plus our family had been the victim of Stalinism as well so, since left and right are the opposite in political terms and we suffered the consequences of both opposed ideologies, we don't see the thing from a right-left persective but rather an imbecility-intelligence spectrum. If you are smart, you are welcomed among us because you will not believe in ideologies.

And then, marriages with families of people of demonstrated abilities are always beneficial and it has been our policy for quite a long time. All along history kings and queens of countries that were at war before married to each other to seal peace, make treatises and increase their own power. As I said elsewhere (see Dom Iago de Sampayo y Belmonte), marriages only for love are seen with skepticism among us.

We do not ignore what the Nazis and the Soviets did to our family; we keep records of every murdered person and the stories of survivors. My other grandfather, H.A. Braun, was a Lieutenant in the Polish Army and fought the Nazis all the way to Monte Cassino, spending the whole 1939 to 1945 period in arms, while more members of my grandmother's family died exterminated in concentration camps, and in combat during the 1943 Ghetto uprising and the 1944 Warsaw uprising as well.

But on the other hand during WWII, my mother's mother, who was a Jew, was actually saved by a German army officer who literally advised her to flee because someone had denounced her at the local Gestapo central, and that someone was a Polish woman who was envious of my grandmother Danusia, so in this regard, a victim became a victimary, and an enemy a friend; life is often not as simple as simple minds might like it to be. If that officer had not done what he did, or grandfather Dmitri had not played the Borgia game with the Soviets, Nazis and Allies, I would surely not exist and the unbroken chain of my family's history would surely have been broken because our branch was almost the sole survivor, so who am I to judge? The issue becomes abstract to me.

Without forgetting the price that my family paid during the war, it is also true that with his work on the BMW-003 turbojet and the kind of technology that Germany developed in those years, grandfather Dmitri was one of those scientists and engineers that brought the world into the space age. I think that such an accomplishment is also something worth remembering.


BMW 109-003
A sample of the BMW-003 engine at the BMW Museum. Picture by Bergfalke2, Wikipedia, public domain[182].



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