The Messerschmitt Me 262, nicknamed Schwalbe (German: "Swallow") in fighter versions, or Sturmvogel (German: "Storm Bird") in fighter-bomber versions, was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began, but problems with engines, metallurgy and top-level interference kept the aircraft from operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944. The Me 262 was faster and more heavily armed than any Allied fighter, including the British jet-powered Gloster Meteor. One of the most advanced aviation designs in operational use during World War II, the Me 262's roles included light bomber, reconnaissance and experimental night fighter versions.
Me 262 pilots claimed a total of 542 Allied aircraft shot down, although higher claims are sometimes made.[Note 1] The Allies countered its effectiveness in the air by attacking the aircraft on the ground and during takeoff and landing. Strategic materials shortages and design compromises on the Junkers Jumo 004 axial-flow turbojet engines led to reliability problems. Attacks by Allied forces on fuel supplies during the deteriorating late-war situation also reduced the effectiveness of the aircraft as a fighting force. Armament production within Germany was focused on more easily manufactured aircraft. In the end, the Me 262 had a negligible impact on the course of the war as a result of its late introduction and the consequently small numbers put in operational service.
While German use of the aircraft ended with the close of World War II, a small number were operated by the Czechoslovak Air Force until 1951. It also heavily influenced several designs, such as Sukhoi Su-9 (1946) and Nakajima Kikka. Captured Me 262s were studied and flight tested by the major powers, and ultimately influenced the designs of post-war aircraft such as the North American F-86 Sabre, MiG-15 and Boeing B-47 Stratojet. Several aircraft survive on static display in museums, and there are several privately built flying reproductions that use modern General Electric J85 engines.
|Me 262 Schwalbe|
|Messerschmitt Me 262 A-1a late production model|
|Role||Fighter aircraft and fighter-bomber|
|First flight||18 April 1941 with piston engine (Junkers Jumo 210)|
18 July 1942 with jet engines
Czechoslovak Air Force (S-92)
Several years before World War II, the Germans foresaw the great potential for aircraft that used the jet engine constructed by Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain in 1936. After the successful test flights of the world's first jet aircraft—the Heinkel He 178—within a week of the Invasion of Poland to start the war, they adopted the jet engine for an advanced fighter aircraft. As a result, the Me 262 was already under development as Projekt 1065 (P.1065) before the start of World War II. The project originated with a request by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM, Ministry of Aviation) for a jet aircraft capable of one hour's endurance and a speed of at least 850 km/h (530 mph; 460 kn). Dr Waldemar Voigt headed the design team, with Messerschmitt's chief of development, Robert Lusser, overseeing.
Plans were first drawn up in April 1939, and the original design was very different from the aircraft that eventually entered service, with wing root-mounted engines, rather than podded ones, when submitted in June 1939. The progression of the original design was delayed greatly by technical issues involving the new jet engine. Because the engines were slow to arrive, Messerschmitt moved the engines from the wing roots to underwing pods, allowing them to be changed more readily if needed; this would turn out to be important, both for availability and maintenance. Since the BMW 003 jets proved heavier than anticipated, the wing was swept slightly, by 18.5°, to accommodate a change in the center of gravity. Funding for the jet engine program was also initially lacking as many high-ranking officials thought the war could easily be won with conventional aircraft. Among those were Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, who cut the engine development program to just 35 engineers in February 1940 (the month before the first wooden mock-up was completed); Willy Messerschmitt, who desired to maintain mass production of the piston-powered, 1935-origin Bf 109 and the projected Me 209; and Major General Adolf Galland, who had initially supported Messerschmitt through the early development years, flying the Me 262 himself on 22 April 1943. By that time, problems with engine development had slowed production of the aircraft considerably. One particularly acute problem arose with the lack of an alloy with a melting point high enough to endure the high temperatures involved, a problem that by the end of the war had not been adequately resolved. The aircraft made its first successful flight entirely on jet power on 18 July 1942, powered by a pair of Jumo 004 engines, after a November 1941 flight (with BMW 003s) ended in a double flameout.
The project aerodynamicist on the design of the Me 262 was Ludwig Bölkow. He initially designed the wing using NACA airfoils modified with an elliptical nose section. Later in the design process, these were changed to AVL derivatives of NACA airfoils, the NACA 00011-0.825-35 being used at the root and the NACA 00009-1.1-40 at the tip. The elliptical nose derivatives of the NACA airfoils were used on the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces. Wings were of single-spar cantilever construction, with stressed skins, varying from 3 mm (0.12 in) skin thickness at the root to 1 mm (0.039 in) at the tip. To expedite construction, save weight and use less strategic materials, late in the war, wing interiors were not painted. The wings were fastened to the fuselage at four points, using a pair of 20 mm (0.79 in) and forty-two 8 mm (0.31 in) bolts.
In mid-1943, Adolf Hitler envisioned the Me 262 as a ground-attack/bomber aircraft rather than a defensive interceptor. The configuration of a high-speed, light-payload Schnellbomber ("fast bomber") was intended to penetrate enemy airspace during the expected Allied invasion of France. His edict resulted in the development of (and concentration on) the Sturmvogel variant. It is debatable to what extent Hitler's interference extended the delay in bringing the Schwalbe into operation; it appears engine vibration issues were at least as costly, if not more so. Albert Speer, then Minister of Armaments and War Production, in his memoirs claimed Hitler originally had blocked mass production of the Me 262, before agreeing in early 1944. Hitler rejected arguments the aircraft would be more effective as a fighter against the Allied bombers destroying large parts of Germany, and wanted it as a bomber for revenge attacks. According to Speer, Hitler felt its superior speed compared to other fighters of the era meant it could not be attacked, and so preferred it for high altitude straight flying.
The Me 262 is often referred to as a "swept wing" design as the production aircraft had a small, but significant leading edge sweep of 18.5° which likely provided an advantage by increasing the critical Mach number. Sweep, uncommon at the time, was added after the initial design of the aircraft. The engines proved heavier than originally expected, and the sweep was added primarily to position the center of lift properly relative to the center of mass. (The original 35° sweep, proposed by Adolf Busemann, was not adopted.) On 1 March 1940, instead of moving the wing backward on its mount, the outer wing was re-positioned slightly aft; the trailing edge of the midsection of the wing remained unswept. Based on data from the AVA Göttingen and wind tunnel results, the inboard section's leading edge (between the nacelle and wing root) was later swept to the same angle as the outer panels, from the "V6" sixth prototype onward throughout volume production.
Test flights began on 18 April 1941, with the Me 262 V1 example, bearing its Stammkennzeichen radio code letters of PC+UA, but since its intended BMW 003 turbojets were not ready for fitting, a conventional Junkers Jumo 210 engine was mounted in the V1 prototype's nose, driving a propeller, to test the Me 262 V1 airframe. When the BMW 003 engines were installed, the Jumo was retained for safety, which proved wise as both 003s failed during the first flight and the pilot had to land using the nose-mounted engine alone. The V1 through V4 prototype airframes all possessed what would become an uncharacteristic feature for most later jet aircraft designs, a fully retracting conventional gear setup with a retracting tailwheel—indeed, the very first prospective German "jet fighter" airframe design ever flown, the Heinkel He 280, used a retractable tricycle landing gear from its beginnings, and flying on jet power alone as early as the end of March 1941.
The V3 third prototype airframe, with the code PC+UC, became a true jet when it flew on 18 July 1942 in Leipheim near Günzburg, Germany, piloted by test pilot Fritz Wendel. This was almost nine months ahead of the British Gloster Meteor's first flight on 5 March 1943. Its retracting conventional tail wheel gear (similar to other contemporary piston powered propeller aircraft), a feature shared with the first four Me 262 V-series airframes, caused its jet exhaust to deflect off the runway, with the wing's turbulence negating the effects of the elevators, and the first takeoff attempt was cut short.
On the second attempt, Wendel solved the problem by tapping the aircraft's brakes at takeoff speed, lifting the horizontal tail out of the wing's turbulence. The aforementioned initial four prototypes (V1-V4) were built with the conventional gear configuration. Changing to a tricycle arrangement—a permanently fixed undercarriage on the fifth prototype (V5, code PC+UE), with the definitive fully retractable nosewheel gear on the V6 (with Stammkennzeichen code VI+AA, from a new code block) and subsequent aircraft corrected this problem.[Note 2]
Test flights continued over the next year, but engine problems continued to plague the project, the Jumo 004 being only marginally more reliable than the lower-thrust (7.83 kN/1,760 lbf) BMW 003. Airframe modifications were complete by 1942 but, hampered by the lack of engines, serial production did not begin until 1944, and deliveries were low, with 28 Me 262s in June, 59 in July, but only 20 in August.
By Summer 1943, the Jumo 004A engine had passed several 100-hour tests, with a time between overhauls of 50 hours being achieved. However, the Jumo 004A engine proved unsuitable for full-scale production because of its considerable weight and its high utilization of strategic material (Ni, Co, Mo), which were in short supply. Consequently, the 004B engine was designed to use a minimum amount of strategic materials. All high heat-resistant metal parts, including the combustion chamber, were changed to mild steel (SAE 1010) and were protected only against oxidation by aluminum coating. The total engine represented a design compromise to minimize the use of strategic materials and to simplify manufacture. With the lower-quality steels used in the 004B, the engine required overhaul after just 25 hours for a metallurgical test on the turbine. If it passed the test, the engine was refitted for a further 10 hours of usage, but 35 hours marked the absolute limit for the turbine wheel. While BMW's and Junkers' axial compressor turbojet engines were characterised by a sophisticated design that could offer considerable advantage – also used in a generalized form for the contemporary American Westinghouse J30 turbojet – the lack of rare materials for the Jumo 004 design put it at a disadvantage compared to the "partly axial-flow" Power Jets W.2/700 turbojet engine which, despite its own largely centrifugal compressor-influenced design, provided (between an operating overhaul interval of 60–65 hours) an operational life span of 125 hours. Frank Whittle concludes in his final assessment over the two engines: "it was in the quality of high temperature materials that the difference between German and British engines was most marked"
Operationally, carrying 2,000 litres (440 imperial gallons; 530 US gallons) of fuel in two 900-litre (200-imperial-gallon; 240-US-gallon) tanks, one each fore and aft of the cockpit; and a 200-litre (44-imperial-gallon; 53-US-gallon) ventral fuselage tank beneath,[Note 3] the Me 262 would have a total flight endurance of 60 to 90 minutes. Fuel was usually J2 (derived from brown coal), with the option of diesel or a mixture of oil and high octane B4 aviation petrol. Fuel consumption was double the rate of typical twin-engine fighter aircraft of the era, which led to the installation of a low-fuel warning indicator in the cockpit that notified pilots when remaining fuel fell below 250 l (55 imp gal; 66 US gal).
On 19 April 1944, Erprobungskommando 262 was formed at Lechfeld just south of Augsburg, as a test unit (Jäger Erprobungskommando Thierfelder, commanded by Hauptmann Werner Thierfelder) to introduce the 262 into service and train a corps of pilots to fly it. On 26 July 1944, Leutnant Alfred Schreiber with the 262 A-1a W.Nr. 130 017 damaged a Mosquito reconnaissance aircraft of No. 540 Squadron RAF PR Squadron, which was allegedly lost in a crash upon landing at an air base in Italy. Other sources state the aircraft was damaged during evasive manoeuvres and escaped.
Major Walter Nowotny was assigned as commander after the death of Thierfelder in July 1944, and the unit redesignated Kommando Nowotny. Essentially a trials and development unit, it mounted the world's first jet fighter operations. Trials continued slowly, with initial operational missions against the Allies in August 1944, and the unit made claims for 19 Allied aircraft in exchange of six Me 262s lost.
Despite orders to stay grounded, Nowotny chose to fly a mission against an enemy bomber formation flying some 9,100 m (30,000 ft) above, on 8 November 1944. He claimed two P-51Ds destroyed before suffering engine failure at high altitude. Then, while diving and trying to restart his engines, he was attacked by other Mustangs, forced to bail out, and died. The Kommando was then withdrawn for further flight training and a revision of combat tactics to optimise the 262's strengths.
On 26 November 1944, a Me 262A-2a Sturmvogel of III.Gruppe/KG 51 'Edelweiß' based at Rheine-Hopsten Air Base near Osnabrück was the first confirmed ground-to-air kill of a jet combat aircraft. The 262 was shot down by a Bofors gun of B.11 Detachment of 2875 Squadron RAF Regiment at the RAF forward airfield of Helmond, near Eindhoven. Others were lost to ground fire on 17 and 18 December when the same airfield was attacked at intervals by a total of 18 Me 262s and the guns of 2873 and 2875 Squadrons RAF Regiment damaged several, causing at least two to crash within a few miles of the airfield. In February 1945, a B.6 gun detachment of 2809 Squadron RAF Regiment shot down another Me 262 over the airfield of Volkel. The final appearance of 262s over Volkel was in 1945 when yet another fell to 2809's guns.
By January 1945, Jagdgeschwader 7 (JG 7) had been formed as a pure jet fighter wing, partly based at Parchim although it was several weeks before it was operational. In the meantime, a bomber unit—I Gruppe, Kampfgeschwader 54 (KG(J) 54)—redesignated as such on 1 October 1944 through being re-equipped with, and trained to use the Me 262A-2a fighter-bomber for use in a ground-attack role. However, the unit lost 12 jets in action in two weeks for minimal returns. Jagdverband 44 (JV 44) was another Me 262 fighter unit, of squadron (Staffel) size given the low numbers of available personnel, formed in February 1945 by Lieutenant General Adolf Galland, who had recently been dismissed as Inspector of Fighters. Galland was able to draw into the unit many of the most experienced and decorated Luftwaffe fighter pilots from other units grounded by lack of fuel.
During March, Me 262 fighter units were able, for the first time, to mount large-scale attacks on Allied bomber formations. On 18 March 1945, thirty-seven Me 262s of JG 7 intercepted a force of 1,221 bombers and 632 escorting fighters. They shot down 12 bombers and one fighter for the loss of three Me 262s. Although a 4:1 ratio was exactly what the Luftwaffe would have needed to make an impact on the war, the absolute scale of their success was minor, as it represented only 1% of the attacking force.
In the last days of the war, Me 262s from JG 7 and other units were committed in ground assault missions, in an attempt to support German troops fighting Red Army forces. Just south of Berlin, halfway between Spremberg and the German capital, Wehrmacht's 9th Army (with elements from the 12 Army and 4th Panzer Army) was assaulting the Red Army's 1st Ukrainian Front. To support this attack, on 24 April, JG 7 dispatched thirty-one Me 262s on a strafing mission in the Cottbus-Bautzen area. Luftwaffe pilots claimed six lorries and seven Soviet aircraft, but three German jets were lost. On the evening of 27 April, thirty-six Me 262s from JG 7, III.KG(J)6 and KJ(J)54 were sent against Soviet forces that were attacking German troops in the forests north-east of Baruth. They succeeded in strafing 65 Soviet lorries, after which the Me 262s intercepted low flying IL-2 Sturmoviks searching for German tanks. The jet pilots claimed six Sturmoviks for the loss of three Messerschmitts. During operations between 28 April and 1 May Soviet fighters and ground fire downed at least ten more Me 262s from JG 7. However, JG 7 managed to keep its jets operational until the end of the war. And on the 8th of May, at around 4:00 p.m. Oblt. Fritz Stehle of 2./JG 7, while flying a Me 262 on the Erzgebirge, attacked a formation of Soviet aircraft. He claimed a Yakovlev Yak-9, but the plane shot down was probably a P-39 Airacobra. Soviet records show that they lost two Airacobras, one of them probably downed by Stehle, who would thus have scored the last Luftwaffe air victory of the war.
Several two-seat trainer variants of the Me 262, the Me 262 B-1a, had been adapted through the Umrüst-Bausatz 1 factory refit package as night fighters, complete with on-board FuG 218 Neptun high-VHF band radar, using Hirschgeweih ("stag's antlers") antennae with a set of dipole elements shorter than the Lichtenstein SN-2 had used, as the B-1a/U1 version. Serving with 10. Staffel Nachtjagdgeschwader 11, near Berlin, these few aircraft (alongside several single-seat examples) accounted for most of the 13 Mosquitoes lost over Berlin in the first three months of 1945. Intercepts were generally or entirely made using Wilde Sau methods, rather than AI radar-controlled interception. As the two-seat trainer was largely unavailable, many pilots made their first jet flight in a single-seater without an instructor.
Despite its deficiencies, the Me 262 clearly marked the beginning of the end of piston-engined aircraft as effective fighting machines. Once airborne, it could accelerate to speeds over 850 km/h (530 mph), about 150 km/h (93 mph) faster than any Allied fighter operational in the European Theater of Operations.
The Me 262's top ace[Note 5] was probably Hauptmann Franz Schall with 17 kills, including six four-engine bombers and ten P-51 Mustang fighters, although fighter ace Oberleutnant Kurt Welter claimed 25 Mosquitos and two four-engine bombers shot down by night and two further Mosquitos by day. Most of Welter's claimed night kills were achieved by eye, even though Welter had tested a prototype Me 262 fitted with FuG 218 Neptun radar. Another candidate for top ace on the aircraft was Oberstleutnant Heinrich Bär, who is credited with 16 enemy aircraft while flying Me262's out of his total of 240 aircraft shot down.
The Me 262 was so fast that German pilots needed new tactics to attack Allied bombers. In the head-on attack, the combined closing speed of about 320 m/s (720 mph) was too high for accurate shooting, with ordnance that could only fire about 44 shells a second (650 rounds/min from each cannon) in total from the quartet of them. Even from astern, the closing speed was too great to use the short-ranged quartet of MK 108 cannon to maximum effect. Therefore, a roller-coaster attack was devised. The 262s approached from astern and about 1,800 m higher (5,900 ft) than the bombers. From about five km behind (3.1 mi), they went into a shallow dive that took them through the escort fighters with little risk of interception. When they were about 1.5 km astern (0.93 mi) and 450 m (1,480 ft) below the bombers, they pulled up sharply to reduce speed. On levelling off, they were one km astern (1,100 yd) and overtaking the bombers at about 150 km/h (93 mph), well placed to attack them.
Since the 30mm MK 108 cannon's short barrels and low muzzle velocity (only 540 m/s (1,900 km/h; 1,200 mph)) rendered it inaccurate beyond 600 m (660 yd; 2,000 ft), coupled with the jet's velocity, which required breaking off at 200 m (220 yd; 660 ft) to avoid colliding with the target, Me 262 pilots normally commenced firing at 500 m (550 yd; 1,600 ft). Gunners of Allied bomber aircraft found their electrically powered gun turrets had problems tracking the jets. Target acquisition was difficult because the jets closed into firing range quickly and remained in firing position only briefly, using their standard attack profile, which proved more effective.
"This was a Blitzkrieg aircraft. You whack in at your bomber. It was never meant to be a dogfighter, it was meant to be a destroyer of bombers... The great problem with it was it did not have dive brakes. For example, if you want to fight and destroy a B-17, you come in on a dive. The 30mm cannon were not so accurate beyond 600 metres [660 yd; 2,000 ft]. So you normally came in at 600 yards [550 m; 1,800 ft] and would open fire on your B-17. And your closing speed was still high and since you had to break away at 200 metres [220 yd; 660 ft] to avoid a collision, you only had two seconds firing time. Now, in two seconds, you can't sight. You can fire randomly and hope for the best. If you want to sight and fire, you need to double that time to four seconds. And with dive brakes, you could have done that."
Eventually, German pilots developed new combat tactics to counter Allied bombers' defences. Me 262s, equipped with up to 24 unguided folding-fin R4M rockets—12 in each of two underwing racks, outboard of the engine nacelle—approached from the side of a bomber formation, where their silhouettes were widest, and while still out of range of the bombers' machine guns, fired a salvo of rockets with strongly brisant Hexogen-filled warheads, exactly the same explosive in the shells fired by the Me 262A's quartet of MK 108 cannon. One or two of these rockets could down even the famously rugged Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, from the "metal-shattering" brisant effect of the fast-flying rocket's 520 g (18 oz) explosive warhead. The much more massive BR 21 large-calibre rockets, used from their tubular launchers in undernose locations for an Me 262A's use (one either side of the nosewheel well) were only as fast as the MK 108's shells.
Though this broadside-attack tactic was effective, it came too late to have a real effect on the war, and only small numbers of Me 262s were equipped with the rocket packs. Most of those so equipped were Me 262A-1a models, members of Jagdgeschwader 7. This method of attacking bombers became the standard, and mass deployment of Ruhrstahl X-4 guided missiles was cancelled. Some nicknamed this tactic the Luftwaffe's Wolf Pack, as the fighters often made runs in groups of two or three, fired their rockets, then returned to base. On 1 September 1944, USAAF General Carl Spaatz expressed the fear that if greater numbers of German jets appeared, they could inflict losses heavy enough to force cancellation of the Allied bombing offensive by daylight.
The Me 262 was difficult to counter because its high speed and rate of climb made it hard to intercept. However, as with other turbojet engines at the time, the Me 262's engines did not provide sufficient thrust at low air speeds and throttle response was slow, meaning in certain circumstances such as takeoff and landing, the aircraft became a vulnerable target. Another disadvantage that pioneering jet aircraft of the World War II era shared, was the high risk of compressor stall and if throttle movements were too rapid, the engine(s) could suffer a flameout. The coarse opening of the throttle would cause fuel surging and lead to excessive jet pipe temperatures. Pilots were instructed to operate the throttle gently and avoid quick changes. German engineers introduced an automatic throttle regulator later in the war but it only partly alleviated the problem.
The plane had, by contemporary standards, a high wing loading (294.0 kg/m2, 60.2 lbs/ft2) that required higher takeoff and landing speeds. Due to poor throttle response, the engines' tendency for airflow disruption that could cause the compressor to stall was ubiquitous. The high speed of the Me 262 also presented problems when engaging enemy aircraft, the high-speed convergence allowing Me 262 pilots little time to line up their targets or acquire the appropriate amount of deflection. This problem faces any aircraft that approaches another from behind at much higher speed, as the slower aircraft in front can always pull a tighter turn, forcing the faster aircraft to overshoot.
Luftwaffe pilots eventually learned how to handle the Me 262's higher speed and the Me 262 soon proved a formidable air superiority fighter, with pilots such as Franz Schall managing to shoot down seventeen enemy fighters in the Me 262, ten of them American P-51 Mustangs. Other notable Me 262 aces included Georg-Peter Eder, with twelve enemy fighters to his credit (including nine P-51s), Erich Rudorffer also with twelve enemy fighters to his credit, Walther Dahl with eleven (including three Lavochkin La-7s and six P-51s) and Heinz-Helmut Baudach with six (including one Spitfire and two P-51s) amongst many others.
Pilots soon learned that the Me 262 was quite maneuverable despite its high wing loading and lack of low-speed thrust, especially if attention was drawn to its effective maneuvering speeds. The controls were light and effective right up to the maximum permissible speed and perfectly harmonised. The inclusion of full span automatic leading-edge slats,[Note 6] something of a "tradition" on Messerschmitt fighters dating back to the original Bf 109's outer wing slots of a similar type, helped increase the overall lift produced by the wing by as much as 35% in tight turns or at low speeds, greatly improving the aircraft's turn performance as well as its landing and takeoff characteristics. As many pilots soon found out, the Me 262's clean design also meant that it, like all jets, held its speed in tight turns much better than conventional propeller-driven fighters, which was a great potential advantage in a dogfight as it meant better energy retention in maneuvers.
Too fast to catch for the escorting Allied fighters, the Me 262s were almost impossible to head off. [Note 7] As a result, Me 262 pilots were relatively safe from the Allied fighters, as long as they did not allow themselves to get drawn into low-speed turning contests and saved their maneuvering for higher speeds. Combating the Allied fighters could be effectively done the same way as the U.S. fighters fought the more nimble, but slower, Japanese fighters in the Pacific.
Allied pilots soon found that the only reliable way to destroy the jets, as with the even faster Me 163B Komet rocket fighters, was to attack them on the ground or during takeoff or landing. Luftwaffe airfields identified as jet bases were frequently bombed by medium bombers, and Allied fighters patrolled over the fields to attack jets trying to land. The Luftwaffe countered by installing extensive flak alleys of anti-aircraft guns along the approach lines to protect the Me 262s from the ground—and by providing top cover during the jets' takeoff and landing with the most advanced Luftwaffe single-engined fighters, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190D and (just becoming available in 1945) Focke-Wulf Ta 152H. Nevertheless, in March–April 1945, Allied fighter patrol patterns over Me 262 airfields resulted in numerous jet losses.
As the Me 262A's pioneering Junkers Jumo 004 axial-flow jet engines needed careful nursing by their pilots, these jet aircraft were particularly vulnerable during takeoff and landing. Lt. Chuck Yeager of the 357th Fighter Group was one of the first American pilots to shoot down an Me 262, which he caught during its landing approach. On 7 October 1944, Lt. Urban Drew of the 365th Fighter Group shot down two Me 262s that were taking off, while on the same day Lt. Col. Hubert Zemke, who had transferred to the Mustang equipped 479th Fighter Group, shot down what he thought was a Bf 109, only to have his gun camera film reveal that it may have been an Me 262. On 25 February 1945, Mustangs of the 55th Fighter Group surprised an entire Staffel of Me 262As at takeoff and destroyed six jets.
The British Hawker Tempest scored several kills against the new German jets, including the Messerschmitt Me 262. Hubert Lange, a Me 262 pilot, said: "the Messerschmitt Me 262's most dangerous opponent was the British Hawker Tempest—extremely fast at low altitudes, highly manoeuvrable and heavily armed." Some were destroyed with a tactic known to the Tempest 135 Wing as the "Rat Scramble": Tempests on immediate alert took off when an Me 262 was reported airborne. They did not intercept the jet, but instead flew towards the Me 262 and Ar 234 base at Hopsten air base.[Note 8] The aim was to attack jets on their landing approach, when they were at their most vulnerable, travelling slowly, with flaps down and incapable of rapid acceleration. The German response was the construction of a "flak lane" of over 150 emplacements of the 20 mm Flakvierling quadruple autocannon batteries at Rheine-Hopsten to protect the approaches.[Note 9] After seven Tempests were lost to flak at Hopsten in a week, the "Rat Scramble" was discontinued.
Adolf Busemann had proposed swept wings as early as 1935; Messerschmitt researched the topic from 1940. In April 1941, Busemann proposed fitting a 35° swept wing (Pfeilflügel II, literally "arrow wing II") to the Me 262, the same wing-sweep angle later used on both the American F-86 Sabre and Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter jets. Though this was not implemented, he continued with the projected HG II and HG III (Hochgeschwindigkeit, "high-speed") derivatives in 1944, designed with a 35° and 45° wing sweep, respectively.
Interest in high-speed flight, which led him to initiate work on swept wings starting in 1940, is evident from the advanced developments Messerschmitt had on his drawing board in 1944. While the Me 262 V9 Hochgeschwindigkeit I (HG I) flight-tested in 1944 had only small changes compared to combat aircraft, most notably a low-profile canopy—tried as the Rennkabine (literally "racing cabin") on the ninth Me 262 prototype for a short time—to reduce drag, the HG II and HG III designs were far more radical. The projected HG II combined the low-drag canopy with a 35° wing sweep and a V-tail (butterfly tail). The HG III had a conventional tail, but a 45° wing sweep and turbines embedded in the wing roots.
Messerschmitt also conducted a series of flight tests with the series production Me 262. Dive tests determined that the Me 262 went out of control in a dive at Mach 0.86, and that higher Mach numbers would cause a nose-down trim that the pilot could not counter. The resulting steepening of the dive would lead to even higher speeds and the airframe would disintegrate from excessive negative g loads.
The HG series of Me 262 derivatives was believed capable of reaching transonic Mach numbers in level flight, with the top speed of the HG III being projected as Mach 0.96 at 6,000 m (20,000 ft) altitude. After the war, the Royal Aircraft Establishment, at that time one of the leading institutions in high-speed research, re-tested the Me 262 to help with British attempts at exceeding Mach 1. The RAE achieved speeds of up to Mach 0.84 and confirmed the results from the Messerschmitt dive-tests. The Soviets ran similar tests.
After Willy Messerschmitt's death in 1978, the former Me 262 pilot Hans Guido Mutke claimed to have exceeded Mach 1 on 9 April 1945 in a Me 262 in a "straight-down" 90° dive. This claim relies solely on Mutke's memory of the incident, which recalls effects other Me 262 pilots observed below the speed of sound at high indicated airspeed, but with no altitude reading required to determine the speed. The pitot tube used to measure airspeed in aircraft can give falsely elevated readings as the pressure builds up inside the tube at high speeds. The Me 262 wing had only a slight sweep, incorporated for trim (center of gravity) reasons and likely would have suffered structural failure due to divergence at high transonic speeds. One airframe—the aforementioned Me 262 V9, Werknummer 130 004, with Stammkennzeichen of VI+AD, was prepared as the HG I test airframe with the low-profile Rennkabine racing-canopy and may have achieved an unofficial record speed for a turbojet-powered aircraft of 975 km/h (606 mph), altitude unspecified, even with the recorded wartime airspeed record being set on 6 July 1944, by another Messerschmitt design—the Me 163B V18 rocket fighter setting a 1,130 km/h (700 mph) record, but landing with a nearly disintegrated rudder surface.
About 1,400 planes were produced, but a maximum of 200 were operational at any one time. According to sources they destroyed from 300 to 450 enemy planes, with the Allies destroying about one hundred Me 262s in the air. While Germany was bombed intensively, production of the Me 262 was dispersed into low-profile production facilities, sometimes little more than clearings in the forests of Germany and occupied countries. Through the end of February to the end of March 1945, approximately sixty Me 262s were destroyed in attacks on Obertraubling and thirty at Leipheim; the Neuburg jet plant itself was bombed on 19 March 1945.
Large, heavily protected underground factories were constructed - as with the partly-buried Weingut I complex for Jumo 004 jet engine production - to take up production of the Me 262, safe from bomb attacks, but the war ended before they could be completed. Wings were produced in Germany's oldest motorway tunnel at Engelberg, to the west of Stuttgart. At B8 Bergkristall-Esche II at St. Georgen/Gusen, Austria, slave labourers of concentration camp Gusen II produced fully equipped fuselages for the Me 262 at a monthly rate of 450 units on large assembly lines from early 1945. Gusen II was known as one of the harshest concentration camps; the typical life expectancy was six months. An estimated 35,000 to 50,000 people died on the forced labour details for the Me 262.
After the end of the war, the Me 262 and other advanced German technologies were quickly swept up by the Soviets, British and Americans, as part of the USAAF's Operation Lusty. Many Me 262s were found in readily repairable condition and were confiscated. The Soviets, British and Americans wished to evaluate the technology, particularly the engines.
During testing, the Me 262 was found to be faster than the British Gloster Meteor jet fighter, and had better visibility to the sides and rear (mostly due to the canopy frames and the discoloration caused by the plastics used in the Meteor's construction), and was a superior gun platform to the Meteor F.1 which had a tendency to snake at high speed and exhibited "weak" aileron response. The Me 262 had a shorter range than the Meteor and had less reliable engines.
The USAAF compared the P-80 Shooting Star and Me 262, concluding that the Me 262 was superior in acceleration and speed, with similar climb performance. The Me 262 appeared to have a higher critical Mach number than any American fighter.
The Americans also tested a Me 262A-1a/U3 unarmed photo reconnaissance version, which was fitted with a fighter nose and a smooth finish. Between May and August 1946, the aircraft completed eight flights, lasting four hours and forty minutes. Testing was discontinued after four engine changes were required during the course of the tests, culminating in two single-engine landings. These aircraft were extensively studied, aiding development of early US, British and Soviet jet fighters. The F-86, designed by engineer Edgar Schmued, used a slat design based on the Me 262's.
The Czechoslovak aircraft industry continued to produce single-seat (Avia S-92) and two-seat (Avia CS-92) variants of the Me 262 after World War II. From August 1946, a total of nine S-92s and three two-seater CS-92s were completed and test flown. They were introduced in 1947 and in 1950 were supplied to the 5th Fighter Squadron, becoming the first jet fighters to serve in the Czechoslovak Air Force. These were kept flying until 1951, when they were replaced in service by Soviet jet fighters. Both versions are on display at the Prague Aviation museum in Kbely.
In January 2003, the American Me 262 Project, based in Everett, Washington, completed flight testing to allow the delivery of partially updated spec reproductions of several versions of the Me 262 including at least two B-1c two-seater variants, one A-1c single seater and two "convertibles" that could be switched between the A-1c and B-1c configurations. All are powered by General Electric CJ610 engines and feature additional safety features, such as upgraded brakes and strengthened landing gear. The "c" suffix refers to the new CJ610 powerplant and has been informally assigned with the approval of the Messerschmitt Foundation in Germany (the Werknummer of the reproductions picked up where the last wartime produced Me 262 left off – a continuous airframe serial number run with a near 60-year production break).
Flight testing of the first newly manufactured Me 262 A-1c (single-seat) variant (Werknummer 501244) was completed in August 2005. The first of these machines (Werknummer 501241) went to a private owner in the southwestern United States, while the second (Werknummer 501244) was delivered to the Messerschmitt Foundation at Manching, Germany. This aircraft conducted a private test flight in late April 2006, and made its public debut in May at the ILA 2006. The new Me 262 flew during the public flight demonstrations. Me 262 Werknummer 501241 was delivered to the Collings Foundation as White 1 of JG 7; this aircraft offered ride-along flights starting in 2008. The third replica, a non-flyable Me 262 A-1c, was delivered to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in May 2010.
Note:- U = Umrüst-Bausatz – conversion kit installed at factory level, denoted as a suffix in the form /Un.
A series of reproductions was constructed by American company Legend Flyers (later Me 262 Project) of Everett, Washington. The Jumo 004 engines of the original are replaced by more reliable General Electric CJ610 engines. The first Me 262 reproduction (a two-seater) took off for the first time in December 2002 and the second one in August 2005. This one was delivered to the Messerschmitt Foundation and was presented at the ILA airshow in 2006.
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Alfred Schreiber (11 November 1923 – 26 November 1944), was a fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe during World War II. He is noted for claiming the first aerial victory by a jet fighter in aviation history.
He was born on 11 November 1923 in Keplachowitz. On 26 July 1944, Schreiber, a former Zerstörergeschwader 26 pilot, intercepted and attacked a Mosquito PR XVI, a photo-reconnaissance aircraft from No. 540 Squadron RAF, while flying Messerschmitt Me 262 A-1a W.Nr. 130 017. It is often referred to as the first aerial victory by a jet fighter in aviation history. Although damaged, the Mosquito, did in fact, manage to return to an Allied held airfield in Italy but the aircraft was lost in the crash landing. Schreiber would be credited with a further four aerial victories before being killed on 26 November 1944, making him the first jet ace in history. Schreiber was killed in a crash landing at Lechfeld. His aircraft wheels caught the lip of a slit trench, causing his Me 262 to cartwheel.Cheb Airport
Cheb Airport (in Czech Letiště Cheb) (ICAO: LKCB) is the oldest in the Czech Republic. It is located 4.5 km from city of Cheb (in German Eger).
The airport was built during the World War I to serve needs of the Austro-Hungarian Army. In 1918, when Czechoslovakia was created, it was the only working airport in the country. The first airplanes for the newly formed Czechoslovakian Army were obtained from the airport. Later, the army set up a pilot training center next to the airport.
During World War II Germans built a large aircraft factory (Eger Flugzeugwerke GmbH) next to the airport. The factory repaired and produced parts Heinkel He 111, Heinkel He 177, Heinkel He 219 and Messerschmitt Me 262. American bombing at the end of war destroyed the airport and the factory, with one of the military airfield's circular concrete dispersal areas at its periphery being the "final resting place" for the He 177 V101 four-engined prototype heavy bomber, apparently wrecked there at the war's close.In the airport is located VOR/DME station (call sign OKG).Airport was reopened 19 August 2010 as public domestic aerodrome and operational availability is VFR DAY. A repair of a concrete runway is currently underway.General Electric CJ610
The General Electric CJ610 is a non-afterburning turbojet engine derived from the military J85, and is used on a number of civilian business jets. The model has logged over 16.5 million hours of operation. Civilian versions have powered business jets such as the Learjet 23 and the Hamburger Flugzeugbau HFB 320 Hansa Jet. The engines are also used in the flyable Messerschmitt Me 262 reproductions built by the Me 262 Project in the United States.
A development, the CF700, added a rear-mounted fan mounted directly on the free-running low-pressure turbine.Heinz Arnold
Heinz Arnold (12 February 1919 in Flöha in Saxony – 17 April 1945) was a former German Luftwaffe fighter ace. He is credited with 49 aerial victories including seven victories claimed flying the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter.Arnold joined the Luftwaffe in September 1939, training for a technical role with the Kampffliegerschule at Tutow. Arnold began flying training in January 1940 with Flieger Ausbildungs Rgt. 12., before advanced training with Jagdfliegerschule 5 in late 1940.
Arnold was then posted to Jagdgeschwader 5 on the Arctic Front. He claimed some 42 victories during 1942–44, before transferring into 11 staffel, JG 7 to fly Me 262 jets. Oberfeldwebel Arnold claimed another 7 victories, (including five four-engine bombers) in March 1945.
Arnold's Me 262 A-1a (Werknummer 500491—factory number) "Yellow 7" was unserviceable at Alt Lönnewitz when, on 17 April 1945, Arnold took a replacement Me 262A-1a into an action from which he failed to return. Arnold was shot down and killed in aerial combat possibly by USAAF P-51 fighters, during a ground-attack mission near Großebersdorf in the Thuringer Wald area of Germany.
Heinz Arnold was credited with 49 victories, 42 victories over the Eastern Front. Of the 7 victories on the Western Front, 5 were four-engine bombers. All his Western front victories were claimed flying the Me 262 jet fighter.
Me 262 W.Nr.500491 bearing his personal victory marks is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA.Jagdgeschwader 7
Jagdgeschwader 7 (JG 7) Nowotny was a Luftwaffe fighter wing during World War II and the first operational jet fighter unit in the world. It was created late in 1944 and served until the end of the war in May 1945, and it operated the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter exclusively.Jagdverband 44
Jagdverband 44 (JV 44) was a German air unit during World War II. It was formed during the last months of World War II to operate the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter.The commander of JV 44 was General Adolf Galland, the former General der Jagdflieger (General of Fighter pilots) who had recently been sacked from his staff post by Hermann Göring for criticizing the operational policies, strategic doctrine, and tactics mandated by the Luftwaffe High Command. Galland was charged with setting up a small Me 262 unit to demonstrate the capabilities of the jet fighter.JV 44 comprised a core of experienced pilots (Experten) chosen from Galland's former staff or recruited from units which had been disbanded or were being re-equipped. JV 44 performed well during its brief history, achieving a 4-to-1 kill ratio. However, it had relatively few operational jet planes available for any single sortie and was repeatedly forced to relocate due to the approach of Allied ground forces. Its complement included 50 pilots and 25 airplanes.Junkers Jumo 004
The Junkers Jumo 004, was the world's first production turbojet engine in operational use, and the first successful axial compressor turbojet engine. Some 8,000 units were manufactured by Junkers in Germany late in World War II, powering the Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter and the Arado Ar 234 reconnaissance/bomber, along with prototypes, including the Horten Ho 229. Variants and copies of the engine were produced in Eastern Europe and the USSR for several years following the end of WWII.Kommando Nowotny
Kommando Nowotny was a Luftwaffe fighter Gruppe formed during the last months of World War II for testing and establishing tactics for the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter, and was created and first commanded by Walter Nowotny, from whom it drew its name.Kurt Welter
Kurt Welter (25 February 1916 – 7 March 1949) was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace and the most successful Jet Expert of World War II. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. He claimed a total of 63 aerial victories—that is, 63 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft—achieved in 93 combat missions. He recorded 56 victories at night, including 33 Mosquitos, and scored more aerial victories from a jet fighter aircraft than anyone else in World War II and possibly in aviation history. However this score is a matter of controversy; research of Royal Air Force losses suggests Welter overclaimed Mosquito victories considerably.
Welter was born in Aachen-Burtscheid on 25 February 1916. He joined the military service of the Luftwaffe in 1934 and was trained as a pilot. He showed a strong natural ability as a pilot and was subsequently selected for flight instructor training and served many years as a flight instructor. In 1943 Welter transferred to an operational night fighter unit flying contemporary piston engine fighter aircraft. On 18 October 1944, after 40 combat missions, Welter was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. In early 1945, Welter transferred to an experimental jet night fighter unit flying the Messerschmitt Me 262. On 11 March 1945 he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves for 48 aerial victories. Welter survived the war and was killed in an accident at a railroad crossing on 7 March 1949.Ludwig Bölkow
Ludwig Bölkow (30 June 1912 – 25 July 2003) was one of the aeronautical pioneers of Germany.MK 214A cannon
The MK 214A was a 50 mm (1.969 in) calibre auto-cannon designed by Mauser Werke AG, for use on Messerschmitt Me 262 and Me 410 bomber-destroyers.Intended for use on the Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a/U4, Mauser designed the MK 214, derived from the 5 cm Pak 38 anti-tank gun. Initial trials with the MK 214 revealed it to be over-complicated, so a refined version was developed as the MK 214A, flight tests of which were carried out from February 1945 by Karl Baur, but the weapon was not deployed operationally.A similar installation using the BK 5 cannon was also planned.Me 262 Project
The Me 262 Project is a company formed to build flyable reproductions of the Messerschmitt Me 262, the world's first operational jet fighter. The project was started by the Texas Airplane Factory and administered by Classic Fighter Industries. It is based at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, United States, near Seattle. The project team of designers, engineers, and technicians completed the flight test program in 2012 and delivery of the first of five jets.The aircraft are powered by General Electric CJ610 turbojet engines, concealed inside detailed reproductions of the original Junkers Jumo 004B engines and nacelles.Messerschmitt P.1099
The Messerschmitt P.1099 was a two-seat prototype jet plane designed by Messerschmitt for the Luftwaffe before the end of the Second World War.Panzerblitz (missile)
Panzerblitz is a German anti-tank unguided aerial rocket developed during the Second World War.
The missile was based on the R4M Orkan air-to-air rocket used by the Messerschmitt Me 262. It was fitted with either an 80 mm (3.1 in)-diameter standard warhead, in Panzerblitz I, or a 210 mm (8.3 in)-diameter hollow charge warhead, in the Panzerblitz III.
It was intended to be operated by the Henschel Hs 132, which would carry up to eight rockets, complementing or even replacing the cannon armament in the tank-destroying role. The 80mm model was tested extensively in early 1945 from Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, but neither Panzerblitz I nor Panzerblitz III (earmarked exclusively for the Hs 132) were ready for use by the German surrender in May 1945.Robert Lusser
Robert Lusser (19 April 1899 – 19 January 1969) was a German engineer, aircraft designer and aviator. He is remembered both for several well-known Messerschmitt and Heinkel designs during World War II, and after the war for his theoretical study of the reliability of complex systems. In the post-war era, Lusser also pioneered the development of modern ski bindings, introducing the first teflon anti-friction pads to improve release.Sd.Kfz. 2
The Sd.Kfz. 2 (Sonderkraftfahrzeug 2), better known as the Kleines Kettenkraftrad HK 101 or Kettenkrad for short (plural Kettenkräder; where Ketten means "chains" or "tracks" and krad is the military abbreviation of the German word Kraftrad, the administrative German term for motorcycle), started its life as a light tractor for airborne troops. The vehicle was designed to be delivered by Junkers Ju 52 aircraft, though not by parachute. The vehicle had the advantage of being the only gun tractor small enough to fit inside the hold of the Ju 52, and was the lightest mass-produced German military vehicle to use the complex Schachtellaufwerk overlapped and interleaved road wheels used on almost all German military half-track vehicles of World War II.
Steering the Kettenkrad was accomplished by turning the handlebars: Up to a certain point, only the front wheel would steer the vehicle. A motion of the handlebars beyond that point would engage the track brakes to help make turns sharper. It was also possible to run the vehicle without the front wheel installed and this was recommended in extreme off-road conditions where speed would be kept low.The Sd.Kfz. 2 was designed and built by the NSU Werke AG at Neckarsulm, Germany. Patented in June 1939, it was first used in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Later in the war Stoewer from Stettin also produced Kettenkrads under license, accounting for about 10% of the total production.Most Kettenkräder saw service on the Eastern Front, where they were used to lay communication cables, pull heavy loads and carry soldiers through the deep Russian mud. Later in the war, Kettenkräder were used as runway tugs for aircraft, especially for the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter, and sometimes the Arado Ar 234 jet reconnaissance-bomber. In order to save aviation fuel, a German jet aircraft would be towed to the runway, rather than taxiing under its own power.
The vehicle was also used in the North African theater and on the Western Front.
The Kettenkrad came with a special trailer (Sd.Anh.1) that could be attached to it to improve its cargo capacity.
Being a tracked vehicle, the Kettenkrad could climb up to 24° in sand and even more on hard ground.
Only two significant sub-variations of the Kettenkrad were constructed. Production of the vehicle was stopped in 1944, at which time 8,345 had been built. After the war, production resumed at NSU. Around 550 Kettenkräder were built for agricultural use, with production ending in 1948 (some sources say 1949).Walpersberg
The Walpersberg is a sandstone mesa on the west bank of the Saale near Kahla in Thuringia, Germany, formed around 60 million years ago. It is notable for formerly housing the REIMAHG-A aircraft factory, an underground facility for the production and assembly of the Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter jet during World War II.Wilhelm Herget
Wilhelm Herget (30 June 1910 – 27 March 1974) was a German Luftwaffe military aviator during World War II, a night fighter ace credited with 73—15 daytime and 58 nighttime—enemy aircraft shot down in over 700 combat missions. The majority of his victories were claimed over the Western Front in Defense of the Reich missions against the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command.
Born in Stuttgart, Herget grew up in the grew up in the German Empire, Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. Following graduation from school and a vocational education in printing, he joined the military service in the Luftwaffe. Herget flew his first combat missions in the 1939 Invasion of Poland and in 1940, in the Battle of France and Britain. In May 1941, he participated in the Anglo-Iraqi War. In November 1941, Herget transferred to the night fighter force, initially serving with Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1—1st Night Fighter Wing). In September 1942, Herget became group commander of I. Gruppe (1st group) of Nachtjagdgeschwader 4 (NJG 4—4th Night Fighter Wing), a position he held until December 1944. Following his 63rd aerial victory, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 11 April 1944. The Knight's Cross (German: Ritterkreuz), and its variants were the highest awards in the military and paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany during World War II. Herget flew his last combat missions with Jagdverband 44 (JV 44—44th Fighter Detachment), a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter unit, in 1945. After the war, he worked in publishing. Herget died on 27 March 1974 in Stuttgart.Woldemar Voigt (engineer)
Woldemar Voigt (10 February 1907 - June 1980) was a German aerospace engineer, who was responsible for some of the advanced swept wing German jet-powered aircraft at the end of World War II; one of his designs for a jet bomber ended up being built in the 1950s as a British V bomber.
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