Junkers Ju 86 high-altitude reconnaissance/bomber

The Junkers Ju 86 was a twin-engine medium bomber. Six military variants were produced by Junkers Flugzeug und Motorenwerke AG: the Ju 86 D, E, G, and K bomber series and the Ju 86 P-2 and Ju 86 R-1 reconnaissance variants.

The aircraft was originally designed as a high-speed, ten-passenger civilian plane and medium bomber with a four-man crew based on Luftwaffe specifications. It was in competition for Luftwaffe contracts with the Dornier Do 17 and Heinkel He 111; all three received contracts, but Heinkel dominated the industry with He 111 production ultimately reaching 6,556 aircraft while Junkers built 910 Ju 86s.

DESIGN

Engineers for Junkers Flugzeugwerke AG designed a bomber similar in construction to those built by the company’s competitors and characterized by all-metal construction; a broad, rounded fuselage tapering toward the rear and ending at a twin-stabilizer-and-rudder system; and a low-wing design featuring double flap and aileron configuration. The series went through several cockpit configurations in size, shape, and glazing. The early Ju 86 A and D variants were powered by Junkers Jumo 205C diesel engines; later variants were fitted with BMW 132N radial engines.

Two Ju 86 D airframes were converted in 1939 as prototypes for the Ju 86 P-2 Höhenbomber (high-altitude bomber) and the Ju 86 P-1 Aufklärer (reconnaissance) aircraft. Structural modifications to the Ju 86 P-2 included a smaller two-man pressurized cockpit that reduced overall length by three feet. Three vertical cameras were installed in the bomb bay. Defense armament consisted of a single fixed, rear-firing MG 17 machine gun. The P-2 was powered by two 1,000-horsepower turbocharged Junkers Jumo 207A-1 diesel engines providing a maximum speed of 224 miles per hour (420 kilometers per hour). Approximately 40 P-1s and P-2s were built.

The unarmed Ju 86 R-1 followed with four-bladed propellers powered by 1,100-horsepower 207B-3/V diesel engines with nitrous oxide injection boosters for the superchargers. Wingspan was nearly 21 feet (6.4 meters) longer than that of the P-2. Conflicting information confuses the record on specific performance data of the reconnaissance variants, especially the R-1’s maximum service ceiling; some sources cite the aircraft as capable of reaching more than 49,000 feet (14,935 meters), some 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) higher than the P-2’s rated ceiling.

Combat in the Stratosphere

OPERATIONS

The Ju 86’s service life as a frontline bomber was rather brief, as it was outperformed by the He 111B, which was approximately 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour) faster. In addition, the diesel engines of the A and D were difficult to maintain in the field. Most Ju 86 bomber variants were taken out of frontline service during 1939. However, demand for high-altitude bombers and recon aircraft remained strong, and the Luftwaffe requested that between 37 and 40 Ju 86 Ds be converted to the Ju 86 P bomber and Ju 86 P-1 photo intelligence platform. The Ju 86 P-2 prototype (W.Nr. 0421) first flew in February 1940. Luftwaffe units equipped with the aircraft began reconnaissance operations that summer. The P-2’s rated service ceiling was 39,300 feet (11,980 meters), but there were instances in which 42,000 feet (12,800 meters) was obtained, an altitude that was beyond the capacity of conventional enemy fighters for some two years. Approximately 16 Ju 86 Ps were upgraded to the Ju 86 R-1 recon variant, with W.Nr. 5132 becoming the first of that type delivered to the Luftwaffe in early 1942.

Aufklärungsgruppe (Aufkl. Gruppe; reconnaissance group) (F)/Ob.d.L. was equipped with the Ju 86 P-2. Some of these aircraft bore Lufthansa markings and began unmolested flights over Britain in the summer of 1940, followed by missions over Soviet territory during the winter of 1940 and 1941 from bases in Poland and Hungary. On 15 April 1941, a Ju 86 P2 suffered engine failure and was intercepted by a Soviet fighter near Rovno, Poland. The Russian plane opened fire, damaging the port engine and forcing the German pilot to make a crash landing. The pilot and observer were caught by Soviet authorities but later escaped and joined advancing German forces at the opening of Operation Barbarossa. Between 1942 and 1943, 1./Versuchsverband Ob.d.L. (Experimental Unit) conducted recon flights over Soviet territory with the Ju 86 P-2; Aufkl. Gruppe (F)/Ob.d.L overflew the Middle East with the Ju 86 R-1.

When Aufkl. Gruppe Ob.d.L. was disbanded, four R-2s were transferred to Crete in June 1942, followed by one more in August, for operations with 2(F)/123. To counter the German reconnaissance plane, the British and Soviets modified Spitfire V fighters by removing most nonessential equipment, including all but one wing gun. According to British records, the first successful interception took place north of Cairo on 24 August 1942, when a Spitfire of No. 103 Maintenance Unit (MU) brought down a Ju 86 from Aufkl. Gruppe 2(F)/123. However, German records show the Ju 86 R-1 returned to base safely, though damaged. One more reconnaissance variant was lost to the RAF on 6 September and one Ju 86 R-1 was recorded by 2(F)/123 as lost due to engine failure on 29 August. Encounters with the high-altitude RAF Spitfires led to the field installation of one rear-firing M 17 machine gun in recon Ju 86s. Still, two more aircraft became operational losses during November and December 1942. The group was down to one Ju 86 R-1 by October 1943 when it completed conversion to the Ju 88 recon variant.

STATUS

Retired. The Ju 86 P-2 was withdrawn from frontline service by mid-1943; the Ju 86 R-1 was withdrawn in July 1944, as within months of acceptance by Luftwaffe units, it, too, could be intercepted by aircraft such as the Spitfire IX. Junkers exported the Ju 86 K bomber to several countries but none of the reconnaissance variants were sent abroad. The only known survivor is a Ju 86K in the Swedish Air Force Museum.

Specifications (Ju 86 R-2)

General characteristics

    Crew: 2 (pilot and radio operator)

    Length: 16.46 m (54 ft)

    Wingspan: 32 m (105 ft)

    Height: 4.7 m (15 ft 5 in)

    Wing area: 97.5 m² (1,049 ft²)

    Empty weight: 6,758 kg (14,900 lb)

    Max. takeoff weight: 11,530 kg (25,420 lb)

    Powerplant: 2 × Junkers Jumo 207B-3 diesel engines, 746 kW (1,000 hp) each

Performance

    Maximum speed: 420 km/h (261 mph) above 9,000 m (29,527 ft)

    Range: 1,580 km (980 mi)

    Service ceiling: 14,400 m (47,244 ft)

    Rate of climb: 4.67 m/s (920 ft/min)

Armament

    Guns:

        1 x 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 17 machine gun remotely controlled in rear fuselage, firing aft

    Bombs: Up to 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) of ordnance in four internal ESAC 250 bays rated at 250 kg (550 lb) each

        4 × 250 kg (551 lb) (1,000 kg/2,204 lb total)

        16 × 50 kg (110 lb) (800 kg/1,764 lb total)

        64 × 10 kg (22 lb) (640 kg/1,410 lb total)

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