| Continued from above… caused great concern to the Allies. The Messerschmitt Me 262 was the world's first operational jet fighter to go into armed sorties against allied fighter planes. |
In addition to being jet powered it brought forth many advancements in aircraft design. Although sometimes viewed as a last ditch German super-weapon, the Me262 was under development before the start of WWII and did have some shortcomings. While never available in quantity, it was effectively used by the Luftwaffe in a variety of roles and proved itself a potent weapon.
| The project began in 1938 when Messerschmitt was called upon to design a new fighter to be powered by two gas turbine engines. The configuration eventually chosen featured a sleek streamlined fuselage with the two podded engines carried beneath a low-mounted wing. Although the airframe was ready to fly by 1941, the B.M.W. engines were suffering prolonged development delays. |
When it did fly to air combat, the Me-262 was unstoppable at high speed, but it was vulnerable at low speed, after takeoff and before landing, because of its very sensitive jet engines, and that's where allied fighters ambushed it, in addition to attacking it on the ground.
"It felt as though angles were pushing"
Luftwaffe General Adolf Galland after his first flight with a Me262 on May 22, 1943.
|Early flights confirmed the good handling characteristics of the Me 262 and allowed other systems to be tested until the jet engines were finally ready a year later. Being conservative, the designers retained the piston engine as a backup, and with good result. On the first flight, the Me 262 had barely become airborne using all three engines when both jets failed, but the piston engine provided just enough power for a safe landing. |
Although the Me 262 project was delayed to some degree by the indifference of Luftwaffe leaders and Adolf Hitler's insistence that the aircraft be used as a bomber (the Me 262A-2a Sturmvogel (Stormbird) variant), it was these engine development problems that provided the greatest impediment to the program. However, Junkers had finally developed engines of sufficient power and reliability by late 1943 to make the new fighter feasible.
The Luftwaffe began committing the remarkable Me 262A-1a to combat in mid-1944 when they were pitted against the columns of heavy bombers making daily raids on German cities and military targets. Despite being well-armed with 30-mm cannons and air-to-air rockets, the Me 262 was simply too little too late to turn the tide of war in Germany's favor.
Maintaining production was difficult due to Allied attacks on industrial centers, many aircraft were destroyed on the ground, and several were shot down due to poor pilot training and both the superior numbers and maneuverability of Allied piston aircraft. Some 1,430 total aircraft were built, though only about 300 ever saw combat, and many survivors were used by the victorious Allies to help jumpstart the blossoming jet age.
| Fact File: |
Messerschmitt Me-262: The first jet fighter to enter operational service.
The Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe (Swallow) jet fighter remains one of World War II's most controversial aircraft, yet in aviation history marks the practical beginning of the jet age. Despite the manifest capabilities of the new design, however, political and military jealousies and dogma hampered the Me-262 's entry into service.
In 1938 it became apparent that the new turbo-jet engine being developed by the German engineer Von Ohain offered fascinating new possibilities for aircraft, and the Messerschmitt firm was asked to design an aircraft round the radical new power-plant, then under development by Junkers and BMW. Initial design work was completed in 1939, and in 1940 the firm was instructed to build a number of prototypes. But when these were ready there were no flight-ready turbojet engines available, and so the Me-262 first took to the air powered by a nose-mounted piston engine.
In July 1942, however, the Junkers Jumo 004 jet engine was adjudged ready for flight trials, and with this power-plant the Me-262 soon began to reveal its true capabilities as a combat aircraft. Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Air Ministry) assessments did not foresee the need for such a fighter, though, and the program thus enjoyed only a low priority. The new fighter was demonstrated in front of Hitler in November 1943, and the Fuhrer showed a marked interest in the type - but only as a bomber.
Production of the fighter version began in May 1944, but when Hitler discovered this shortly afterwards, he immediately ordered their conversion from Me-262A-l fighters into Me-262A-2 bombers capable of carrying a pair of 1,1021b (500 kg) bombs or one 2,204 1b (1,000 kg) weapon. The effect, naturally, was to slow the Me-262 to a speed at which Allied fighters could catch it. In the autumn of 1944, though, as the tide of war turned with absolute finality against Germany, Hitler at last sanctioned the type as a fighter -months too late for the Me-262 to have any real effect. In the closing months of the war, though, the Me-262 was used with some success by units such as Jagdgeschwader 7 'Nowotny'.