Messerschmitt Me-262A-1 “Schwalbe”

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“I’ll never change an opinion I’ve expressed often, that with just 300 Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters we could have on any day shot down a minimum of 200 bombers. If this could have continued for even a fortnight, then the day bombing would have had to be halted.”

— Adolf Galland, Generalleutnant, JV 44. 

 

Strengths:

Speed  – When not carrying bombs or rockets, the Me-262 can walk away from anything else in the skies.

Firepower  – Four 30mm cannon and twenty-four air-to-air rockets gives the Me 262 the most potent firepower in the game.

 

Weaknesses:

Acceleration  – Once it is slowed down, the 262 is also slow to regain its speed leaving it prey to the quicker accelerating piston-engine planes.

The basic design concept of the Me-262 was begun in late 1938 when the RLM issued an order to Messerschmitt for a plane capable of using the new axial-flow turbojets being developed by BMW. BMW estimated that their new P3302 engine would produce 1,320 lbs. of thrust and would be available for installation by December 1939.

The Messerschmitt design team began work and on June 7, 1939 submitted their proposal to RLM as Project 1065. Utilizing two P3302 engines, the 1065 was projected to have a top speed of 560 mph. After inspecting the mock-up in January 1940, the RLM issued an order for three airframes for static and flight testing.

By now of course, BMW had failed to deliver the 003 engine, as the P3302 had been redesignated, and its size was appreciably larger than anticipated. The lack of availability was a time issue, but the larger size was a design issue as it had originally been planned to mount the engines in the wing roots. A complete redesign was in order and the result was a larger plane with the engines mounted in nacelles under the wings. The new design was accepted in June 1940.

Meanwhile bench tests of the BMW 003s revealed their output to be less than 570 lbs. of thrust, less than half of what they had promised. Fortunately, Junkers had also begun work on a turbojet, the Jumo 004. But although it was successfully run on the bench in November 1940, it too had problems and the first prototype was thus fitted with a single Junkers Jumo-210G in-line engine in the nose for flight testing of the airframe. It was in this form that the plane first flew on April 18, 1941 and although it could only reach 260 mph, the airframe displayed pleasant handling characteristics. Further tests revealed some minor buffeting problems in a dive, which were subsequently resolved.

The first flight-worthy BMW-003s arrived at Augsburg in November 1941 and were mounted in the nacelles of the 210G powered 262. After static testing it was declared flight-worthy and on March 25, 1942 the plane thundered down the runway under the power of all three engines. However, the plane was barely airborne before first one, then the other engine flamed out. Despite the increased weight and drag of the dead engines, the test pilot was able to make a circle and land safely. Upon inspection it was learned that the compressor blades had inexplicably broken and the engineers returned to BMW to work out the problems. As it turned out the BMW-003 had to be completely redesigned and would not fly again until late 1943.

Soon Junkers had resolved most of the problems in their turbojet and the pre-production Jumo-004A-0 was delivered to Augsburg for installation. Being larger and heavier than the BMWs the Jumos required larger nacelles and a larger rudder to compensate for the expected disruption to lateral stability. Finally, on July 18, 1942 the Jumo-powered 262 was ready to fly and the team commenced high-speed taxiing trials. After some aborted attempts to raise the tail-wheel off the ground it was suggested to the pilot that he tap the brakes to ìkickî the tail into the air. This worked and at 8:40 in the morning the Me-262 took to the air on turbojet power alone.

After completing seven additional short test flights it was felt that the plane could be turned over to a Luftwaffe test pilot for evaluation. After being told the take-off procedure the pilot tried to take off, but had difficulty getting the tail up in time. He barely had gotten airborne by the end of the runway, when he plowed through a hedge and into a manure pile, causing a ground loop from which he, but not the plane emerged safe. This set back the development program by a good six months while the prototype and new pre-production engines were rebuilt.

During 1943 flight-testing showed the engines to be extremely susceptible to either flaming out or burning the turbine blades. The plane required precise manipulation of the throttle with mistakes resulting in disaster. Even an excessive side-slip could cause an engine failure as they found on the second test flight of the reconstructed prototype when it crashed, killing the pilot.

On November 2, 1943 Göring visited the Messerschmitt firm to ask if the Me-262 could carry bombs. Messerschmitt replied that the plane had always been envisaged to carry two 551 lb. or a single 1102 lb. bombs, but that the equipment had not yet been installed. Göring then asked how soon the bomb-carrying version could be ready for delivery, to which Messerschmitt replied that the equipment hadnít actually been designed yet. Pressed further as to how much of a delay would be incurred, Messerschmitt amazingly replied, “Oh, not very long – two weeks perhaps. It isn’t really much of a problem; just a matter of camouflaging the clips.” Göring gullibly bought this excuse and left with the impression that the plane would soon be capable of carrying bombs.

On November 26, Göring returned to Augsburg with Hitler for a demonstration of the Me-262. It was at this meeting that Hitler is purported to have asked if the plane could carry bombs and on learning that it could, proclaimed it to be the new Blitzbomber. However a subsequent telegram from Hitler’s Luftwaffe aide to Göring revealed a desire to get as many “fighter-bombers” into front-line service as fast as possible and his feeling that “a delay in our jet fighter program would be tantamount to irresponsible negligence”. Several months later when he learned that the planes delivered were not capable of carrying bombs, he flew into a rage and ordered that all Me 262s coming off the line be so equipped.

But regardless of whether the plane was able to carry bombs or not the simple fact was that the revised Jumo-004B was still nowhere close to entering large-scale production. Only a few engines had been delivered by June 1944 when development was “frozen” in order to devote all resources to production of what they had achieved by that time. Further, the trickle of engines that flowed from the factory had to be split between the twin needs of the Me-262 and the Arado Ar-234 jet bomber.

Sixteen pre-production Me-262A-0s had been accepted by April 1944 with the majority going to Erpobungskommando 262 commanded by Hauptman Thierfelder for the purpose of devising both a conversion training program and new combat tactics. They started receiving their first production Me-262A-1a models in July. After Thierfelder was killed in a crash, Major Nowotny took command and the name of the unit was changed to Kommando Nowotny.

The problem of engine flameout was largely solved by the addition of fuel regulators, which provided the proper fuel flow regardless of how the throttle was handled, and the new plane was considered easier to fly than the Bf-109G. It was equipped with four 30mm Mk 108 cannon in the nose and could carry either two 551 lb. bombs or a single 1,102 lb. bomb. While the guns were effective, the most successful anti-bomber weapon was the brace of twenty-four R4M rockets, which were fired as a group into bomber formations. The rockets had about the same trajectory as the Mk 108 cannon and thus the same sight could be used.

Despite the conversion of numerous units to the jet late in the war, the combined weight of the Allied armies ringed around Germany was just too much and many Me-262s were destroyed on the ground by the hordes of Allied fighters that patrolled the skies over Germany. But when they were used in concerted efforts, they were successful with over 500 heavy bombers falling to their guns and rockets. Despite being years ahead of its time, the Me-262 was too late to save Germany.

 

Sources:
Green, William; Warplanes of the Third Reich; Doubleday and Company, Garden City, NY; 1970.

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