If you ever find yourself in the German city of Koblenz I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Wehrtechnische Studiensammlung (WTS – this literally translates to Defence Technology Study Collection). This is an armaments collection of the Bundeswehr (Federal Defence, the armed forces of Germany) with a focus on technical aspects to be used as an aid in the training of members of the Bundeswehr, especially future armaments engineers.
Whilst the Wehrtechnische Studiensammlung (WTS) is technically not a museum, the public are allowed to visit but as it is on a military base you need to bring your passport to be allowed to enter the buildings (over the years there has apparently been discussion for relocation of the collection but during my visit in December 2015 it didn’t look like it was going anywhere soon!). The WTS is a great place to explore for a few hours. Please be aware that generally all the information presented on the signs and information boards around the exhibits are in German (it is first and foremost a functional place for the German military). A basic knowledge of the language helps a lot but regardless you can still enjoy all that the WTS has to offer.
Now although the museum is packed to the gills, this is not just rows of weapons and technical information stored behind glass cases. The WTS has a great collection of aircraft, tanks, armoured vehicles, motorbikes, engines, missiles, guns, cannons, uniforms and so on from World War One to today within two large buildings. You will see tanks cut in half to show the inner workings, equipment from the former East German military that was used for testing purposes following the 1990 reunification of Germany, experimental aircraft and so much more. To be honest it is amazing what they have packed in there!
The aircraft on display include experimental aircraft and prototypes, along with numerous helicopters and combat aircraft that were used for flight and weapons testing in the former West Germany and later reunified Germany (from October 1990). Aircraft on display include French, German, Italian, Soviet and US designs with some of them sporting various modifications for flight, avionics and equipment testing by the Bundeswehr Technical and Airworthiness Center for Aircraft (WTD 61) at Manching Air Base. Lets first take a look at the NATO collection at WTS.
VFW VAK 191B
One of the rare treats that I really was looking forward to seeing was the Cold War era VFW VAK 191B experimental Vertical/Short Take-off and Landing (V/STOL) nuclear strike fighter developed in the 1960’s by German aviation company Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke (VFW – formed by the 1964 merger of Focke-Wulf and Weser Flugzeugbau GmbH). VAK was the abbreviation for Vertikalstartendes Aufklärungs und Kampfflugzeug or V/STOL Reconnaissance and Strike Aircraft.
The VAK 191B was intended to replace the Fiat G.91 light strike fighter in use by Italy and West Germany and compete with the Hawker Siddeley Harrier V/STOL “Jump Jet”. It was fitted with a Rolls-Royce/MAN Turbo RB.193-12 vectored thrust turbofan engine for lift and horizontal flight along with 2 Rolls-Royce RB.162-81 F 08 lift turbofans for VTOL – the engine system is also on display below the aircraft at WTS. This was a time of true cutting edge aviation technology in West Germany and something had not really been seen since the German technological advances in jet aircraft during World War Two.
Three prototypes were constructed and 91 VAK 191B test flights were conducted between 1970 to 1975 (the first hovering flight was successfully completed on September 20th, 1971 in Bremen). Although it was similar in ways to the Harrier, a key difference was that the VAK 191B was designed to be faster in its ability to perform a supersonic dash (highly important in a nuclear strike role!). The reality though was the VAK 191B had a much poorer thrust to weight ratio (plus the weight of 2 extra engines that were only used for vertical lift) and smaller wings which were not as effective for rolling short take-off, nor capable of carrying much of a weapons payload. In testing the VAK 191B only reached a speed of Mach 0.92 but the planned version was intended to be capable of speeds up to Mach 1.4.
The Harrier was generally superior in all round capability and with development of the Panavia Tornado strike aircraft by Italy, West Germany and the UK, the VAK 191B project was cancelled as a combat aircraft (Tornado planning began in 1968 and Italy left the VAK 191B program that same year) and the prototypes were instead used as a technology demonstrator and to test avionics for the Panavia Tornado. All 3 VAK 191B prototypes are in German museums today, so it is great to see this interesting footnote in Cold War aviation history so well-preserved.
Fiat G.91 & Dornier Alpha Jet
The aircraft the VFW VAK 191B was intended to replace, the Fiat G.91 ended up being operated by the Luftwaffe for over 20 years, from 1961 to 1982 when they were replaced by the Dornier Alpha Jet A. By 1970 310 G.91 R/3 seat ground-attack/reconnaissance variants and 40 G.91T two-seat trainers were in service with the Luftwaffe. A Fiat G.91 R/3 and Dornier Alpha Jet A are on display at WTS.
Lockheed F-104G Starfighter
The West German Luftwaffe operated a massive amount of Lockheed F-104 Starfighter multi-role fighters from 1960 to 1987 in operational squadrons and a number flew on in a flight testing capacity until May 1991 (all up Germany received 916 F-104’s – made up of 749 F/RF-104G’s, 137 TF-104G two-seaters and 30 F-104F’s that were operated by the Luftwaffe and Marineflieger naval air fleet). At its operational peak in the mid 1970’s the Luftwaffe operated the F-104 across five fighter-bomber wings, two interceptor wings and two tactical reconnaissance wings; and the Marineflieger operate two F-104 maritime strike and reconnaissance wings. Despite its long operational career the F-104 was at times a problematic aircraft for the Luftwaffe with the loss of 292 aircraft in various accidents and the sad loss of 115 pilots.
As you can quickly see the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter at the WTS has been heavily modified for flight testing of various aviation technology innovations and avionics. It is fitted out for experimental computer-aided flight control including an unusual small wing type addition above the fuselage that resembles the tailplane.
Other West German & NATO Aircraft
In my next post I will show the former East German (GDR) aircraft at WTS along with an overview of the various vehicles, weapons and equipment that fill the halls of the collection. This place really is a treasure trove of military technology operated in Germany!