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|He 162 during post-war trials, USA.|
|First flight||6 December 1944|
|Number built||ca 320|
|This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2008)|
|He 162 during post-war trials, USA.|
|First flight||6 December 1944|
|Number built||ca 320|
The Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger (German, "People's Fighter"), the name of the project of the Emergency Fighter Program design competition, was a German single-engine, jet-powered fighter aircraft fielded by the Luftwaffe in World War II. Designed and built quickly, and made primarily of wood as metals were in very short supply and prioritised for other aircraft, the He 162 was nevertheless the fastest of the first generation of Axis and Allied jets. Volksjäger was the Reich Air Ministry's official name for the government design program competition that the He 162 design won. Other names given to the plane include Salamander, which was the codename of its construction program, and Spatz ("Sparrow"), which was the name given to the plane by Heinkel.
When the U.S. 8th Air Force re-opened its bombing campaign on Germany in early 1944 with the Big Week offensive, the bombers returned to the skies with the long-range P-51 Mustang in escort, and now performing air supremacy offensive "fighter sweeps" well ahead of the 8th Air Force's combat box massed bomber formations, intended to clear the skies well ahead of the bombers of any Luftwaffe opposition. This changed the nature of the war in the air. Earlier in the war, German fighter units could freely attack Allied bombers, and over the previous year, the Luftwaffe had been modifying their fleet to improve their capabilities against them. The addition of heavy cannons like the 30mm calibre MK 108, and even heavier Bordkanone autoloading weapons in 37mm and 50mm calibres on their Zerstörer heavy fighters through to the time of their obsolence, and the spring-1943 adoption of the Werfer-Granate 21 unguided rockets, gave the German single and twin-engined defensive fighters a degree of firepower never seen previously by Allied fliers. However, the extra armour added to the Zerstörer's single-engined replacements, the specially equipped Fw 190As performing the bomber destroyer role they took over from the Zerstörer heavy fighters, had the side effect of likewise reducing their performance. When the U.S. fighters arrived, the Luftwaffe's air defense force found itself hopelessly outclassed as both the Zerstörer twin-engined fighters and 30mm cannon-armed Fw 190A Sturmböcke, each in their turn, were driven from the skies over Germany by the USAAF in the first half of 1944 with the P-51 Mustangs' arrival.
By the end of April, as the P-51 escorts that formerly performed "close escort" of the USAAF's bomber combat boxes were now flying far ahead of the B-17 and B-24 formations in an air supremacy mode in aggressively seeking combat with the backbone of the Jagdwaffe (fighter force) to "clear the skies" of them, this change in USAAF tactics resulted in the German fighter forces being broken, with many of the Luftwaffe's leading aces killed in combat. Replacements were slow to arrive, leaving the Luftwaffe unable to put up much of a fight through the summer of 1944. With few planes coming up to fight, the U.S. fighters were let loose on the German airbases, railways and truck traffic. Logistics soon became a serious problem for the Luftwaffe, maintaining aircraft in fighting condition almost impossible, and having enough fuel for a complete mission profile was even more difficult, partly from the devastating effects of the Oil Campaign of World War II against Nazi petroleum industry targets.
This posed a considerable problem for the Luftwaffe. Two camps quickly developed, both demanding the immediate introduction of large numbers of jet fighter aircraft. One group, led by General der Jäger ("General of Fighters") Adolf Galland, reasoned that superior numbers had to be countered with superior technology, and demanded that all possible effort be put into increasing the production of the Messerschmitt Me 262 in its A-1a fighter version, even if that meant reducing production of other aircraft in the meantime.
The second group pointed out that this would likely do little to address the problem; the Me 262 had notoriously unreliable powerplants and landing gear, and the existing logistics problems would mean there would merely be more of them on the ground waiting for parts that would never arrive, or for fuel that was not available. Instead, they suggested that a new design be built - one so inexpensive that if a machine was damaged or worn out, it could simply be discarded and replaced with a fresh plane straight off the assembly line. Thus was born the concept of the "throwaway fighter".
Galland and other Luftwaffe senior officers expressed vehement opposition to the light fighter idea, while Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Armaments Minister Albert Speer fully supported the idea. Göring and Speer got their way, and a contract tender for a single-engine jet fighter that was suited for cheap and rapid mass production was established under the name Volksjäger ("People's Fighter").
The official RLM Volksjäger design competition parameters specified a single-seat fighter, powered by a single BMW 003, a slightly lower-thrust engine not in demand for the Me 262A nor the Ar 234B front-line aircraft already in service. The main structure of the Volksjäger competing airframe designs would use cheap and unsophisticated parts made of wood and other non-strategic materials and, more importantly, could be assembled by semi- and non-skilled labor, including slave labor. Specifications included a weight of no more than 2,000 kg (4,410 lb), when most fighters of the era were twice that. Maximum speed was specified as 750 km/h (470 mph) at sea level, operational endurance at least a half hour, and the takeoff run no more than 500 m (1,640 ft). Armament was specified as either two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons with 100 rpg, or two 30 mm (1.18 in) MK 108 cannons with 50 rpg. The Volksjäger needed to be easy to fly. Some suggested that even glider or student pilots should be able to fly the jet effectively in combat, and indeed had the Volksjägerprogramm aircraft design competition and its winning design got into full swing, that is precisely what would have happened. After the war, Ernst Heinkel would say "[The] unrealistic notion that this plane [The He 162] should be a 'people's fighter,' in which the Hitler Youth, after a short training regimen with clipped-wing two-seater gliders like the DFS Stummel-Habicht, could fly for the defense of Germany, displayed the unbalanced fanaticism of those days." The clipped-wingspan DFS Habicht models had varying wingspans of both 8-metre (26 ft 3 in) and 6-metre (19 ft 8 in), used also to prepare more experienced Luftwaffe pilots for the dangerous Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet rocket fighter — the same sort of training approach would also be used for the Hitler Youth aviators chosen to fly the jet-powered Volksjäger.
The requirement was issued 10 September 1944, with basic designs to be returned within 10 days and to start large-scale production by 1 January 1945. Because the winner of the new lightweight fighter design competition would be building huge numbers of the planes, nearly every German aircraft manufacturer expressed interest in the project, such as Blohm + Voss, and Focke-Wulf, whose Volksflugzeug design contender, likewise meant for BMW 003 turbojet power bore a resemblance to their slightly later Ta 183 jet fighter design. However, Heinkel had already been working on a series of "paper projects" for light single-engine fighters over the last year under the designation P.1073, with most design work being completed by Professor Benz, and had gone so far as to build and test several models and conduct some wind tunnel testing.
Although some of the competing designs were technically superior (in particular Blohm + Voss's P.211 submission), with Heinkel's head start the outcome was largely a foregone conclusion. The results of the competition were announced in October 1944, only three weeks after being announced, and to no one's surprise, the Heinkel entry was selected for production. In order to confuse Allied intelligence, the RLM chose to reuse the 8-162 designation (formerly that of a Messerschmitt fast bomber) rather than the other considered designation He 500.
Heinkel had designed a relatively small, 'sporty'-looking aircraft, with a sleek, streamlined fuselage. Overall, the look of the plane was extremely modernistic for its time, appearing quite contemporary in terms of layout and angular arrangement even to today's eyes. The BMW 003 axial-flow turbojet was mounted in a pod nacelle uniquely situated atop the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit and centered directly over the wing's center section. Twin roughly rectangular vertical tailfins were perpendicularly mounted at the ends of highly dihedralled horizontal tailplanes to clear the jet exhaust, a high-mounted straight wing with a forward-swept trailing edge and a noticeably marked degree of dihedral, with an ejection seat was provided for the pilot — which the Heinkel firm had pioneered in a front-line combat aircraft, with the earlier He 219 night fighter in 1942. The He 162 airframe design featured an uncomplicated tricycle landing gear that retracted into the fuselage, performed simply with extension springs, mechanical locks, cables and counterweights. The He 162 V1 first prototype flew within an astoundingly short period of time: the design was chosen on 25 September and first flew on 6 December, less than 90 days later. This was despite the fact that the factory in Wuppertal making Tego film plywood glue — used in a substantial number of late-war German aviation designs whose airframes were meant to be constructed mostly from wood — had been bombed by the Royal Air Force and a replacement had to be quickly substituted, without realizing that the replacement adhesive would turn out to be highly corrosive to the wooden parts it was intended to be fastening.
The first flight of the He 162 V1, by Flugkapitän Gotthard Peter, was fairly successful, but during a high-speed run at 840 km/h (520 mph), the highly acidic replacement glue attaching the nose gear strut door failed and the pilot was forced to land. Other problems were noted as well, notably a pitch instability and problems with sideslip due to the rudder design. Neither was considered important enough to hold up the production schedule for even a day. On a second flight on 10 December, again with Peter at the controls, in front of various Nazi officials, the glue again caused a structural failure. This allowed the aileron to separate from the wing, causing the plane to roll over and crash, killing Peter.
An investigation into the failure revealed that the wing structure had to be strengthened and some redesign was needed, as the glue bonding required for the wood parts was in many cases defective. However, the schedule was so tight that testing was forced to continue with the current design. Speeds were limited to 500 km/h (310 mph) when the second prototype flew on 22 December. This time, the stability problems proved to be more serious, and were found to be related to Dutch roll, which could be solved by reducing the dihedral. However, with the plane supposed to enter production within weeks, there was no time to change the design. A number of small changes were made instead, including adding lead ballast to the nose to move the centre of gravity more to the front of the plane, and slightly increasing the size of the tail surfaces.
The third and fourth prototypes, which now used an "M" for "Muster" (model) number instead of the older "V" for "Versuchs" (experimental) number, as the He 162 M3 and M4, after being fitted with the strengthened wings, flew in mid-January 1945. These versions also included small. anhedraled aluminium wingtip "droops", reportedly designed by Alexander Lippisch and known in German as Lippisch-Ohren ("Lippisch Ears"), in an attempt to cure the stability problems via effectively "decreasing" the main wing panel's marked dihedral angle. Both prototypes were equipped with two 30 mm (1.18 in) MK 108 cannons in the He 162 A-1 anti-bomber variant; in testing, the recoil from these guns proved to be too much for the lightweight fuselage to handle, and plans for production turned to the A-2 fighter with two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons instead while a redesign for added strength started as the A-3. The shift to 20 mm guns was also undertaken because the smaller-calibre weapons would allow a much greater amount of ammunition to be carried.
The He 162 was originally built with the intention of being flown by the Hitler Youth, as the Luftwaffe was fast running out of pilots. However, the aircraft was far too complicated for any but a highly experienced pilot. An unpowered two-seat glider version, designated the He 162S (Schulen), was developed for training purposes. Only a small number were built, and even fewer delivered to the sole He 162 Hitler Youth training unit to be activated (in March 1945) at an airbase at Sagan. The unit was in the process of formation when the war ended, did not begin any training, and it is doubtful that more than one or two He 162S gliders ever took to the air.
Various changes had raised the weight over the original 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) limit, but even at 2,800 kg (6,170 lb), the aircraft was still among the fastest aircraft in the air with a maximum airspeed of 790 km/h (491 mph) at sea level and 839 km/h at 6000 meters (521 mph @ 19,680 ft), but could reach 890 km/h (550 mph) at sea level and 905 km/h (562 mph) at 6,000 m (19,690 ft) using short burst extra thrust. The short flight duration of barely 30 minutes - only somewhat better than the even shorter 7.5-minute flight duration of the faster-flying Me 163B rocket fighter - was due to only having a single 695-litre (183 US gallon) capacity flexible-bladder fuel tank in the fuselage directly under the engine's intake.
In January 1945, the Luftwaffe formed an Erprobungskommando 162 ("Test Unit 162") evaluation group to which the first 46 aircraft were delivered. The group was based at the Luftwaffe main test center, or Erprobungsstelle at Rechlin and it is frequently stated[by whom?] that this unit was under the command of Heinz Bär. Bär, an experienced combat pilot credited with more than 200 kills, gained 16 of his victories with a Me 262 as commander of operational training unit III./Ergänzungs-Jagdgeschwader 2 (EJG 2). However, Bär's personal documents do not confirm his presence at Erprobungskommando 162 or if he ever flew He 162s.
February saw deliveries of the He 162 to its first operational unit, I./JG 1 (1st Group of Jagdgeschwader 1 Oesau — "1st Fighter Wing"), which had previously flown the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A. I./JG 1 was transferred to Parchim, which, at the time, was also a base for the Me 262-equipped Jagdgeschwader 7, some 80 km south-southwest of the Heinkel factory at "Marienehe" (today known as Rostock-Schmarl, northwest of the Rostock city centre), where the pilots could pick up their new jets and start intensive training beginning in March, all while the transportation network, aircraft production facilities and fuel supplies of the Third Reich had been collapsing under the pressure of continued Allied air attacks. On 7 April, the USAAF bombed the field at Parchim with 134 B-17 Flying Fortresses, inflicting serious losses and damage to the infrastructure. Two days later, I./JG 1 moved to an airfield at nearby Ludwigslust and, less than a week later, moved again to an airfield at Leck, near the Danish border. On 8 April, II./JG 1 moved to Marienehe and started converting from Fw 190As to He 162s. III./JG 1 was also scheduled to convert to the He 162, but the Gruppe disbanded on 24 April and its personnel were used to fill in the vacancies in other units.
The He 162 finally saw combat in mid-April. On 19 April, a captured Royal Air Force fighter pilot informed his German interrogators that he had been shot down by a jet fighter matching the description of the He 162. The Heinkel and its pilot were lost as well, shot down by an RAF Hawker Tempest while on approach to land (a point when German jets were at their most vulnerable). Though still in training, I./JG 1 had scored a number of kills beginning in mid-April, but had also lost 13 He 162s and 10 pilots. Ten of the aircraft were operational losses, caused by flameouts and sporadic structural failures. Only two of the 13 aircraft were actually shot down. The He 162's 30-minute fuel capacity also caused problems, as at least two of JG 1's pilots were killed attempting emergency landings after exhausting their fuel.
In the last days of April, as the Soviet troops approached, II./JG 1 evacuated from Marienehe and on 2 May joined the I./JG 1 at Leck. On 3 May, all of JG 1's surviving He 162s were restructured into two groups, I. Einsatz ("Combat") and II. Sammel ("Collection"). All JG 1's aircraft were grounded on 5 May, when General Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg signed the surrender of all German armed forces in the Netherlands, Northwest Germany and Denmark. On 6 May, when the British reached their airfields, JG 1 turned their He 162s over to the Allies, and examples were shipped to the U.S., Britain, France, and the Soviet Union for further evaluation. Erprobungskommando 162 fighters, which had been passed on to JV 44, an elite jet unit under Adolf Galland a few weeks earlier, were all destroyed by their crews to keep them from falling into Allied hands. By the time of the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945, 120 He 162s had been delivered; a further 200 had been completed and were awaiting collection or flight-testing; and about 600 more were in various stages of production.
The difficulties experienced by the He 162 were caused mainly by its rush into production, not by any inherent design flaws. One experienced Luftwaffe pilot who flew it called it a "first-class combat aircraft." This opinion was mirrored by Eric "Winkle" Brown of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA), who flew it not only during post-war evaluations, but went on to fly it for fun after testing had completed. He considered it delightful to fly, although the very light controls made it suitable only for experienced pilots. He wrote about his He 162A flights in Wings of the Luftwaffe, a description that has been reprinted in many media over the years. Brown had been warned to treat the rudder with suspicion due to a number of in-flight failures. This warning was passed on by Brown to RAF pilot, Flt Lt R A Marks, but was apparently not heeded. On 9 November 1945 during a demonstration flight from RAE Farnborough one of the fin and rudder assemblies broke off at the start of a low-level roll causing the aircraft to crash into Oudenarde Barracks, Aldershot killing Marks and a soldier on the ground.
The Mistel series of fighter/powered bomb composite ground-attack aircraft pre-dated the He 162 by over two years, and the Mistel 5 project study in early 1945 proposed the mating of an He 162A-2 to the Arado E.377A flying bomb. The fighter would sit atop the bomb, which would itself be equipped with two wing-mounted BMW 003 turbojets. This ungainly combination would take off on a sprung trolley, derived from that used on the first eight Arado Ar 234 prototypes, with all three jets running. Immediately after take-off, the trolley would be jettisoned, and the Mistel would then fly to within strike range of the designated target. Upon reaching this point, the bomb would be aimed squarely at the target and then released, with the jet turning back for home. The Mistel 5 remained a "paper project", as the Arado bomb never progressed beyond the blueprint stage.
Media related to Heinkel He 162 museum aircraft at Wikimedia Commons
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