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lthough it was introduced late in the Luftwaffe endowment and failed to play a decisive role in the latter part of the war, the Messerschmitt Me-262 remains one of the most revolutionary aircraft in modern aviation history. It is the first operational military jet in the world. Me-262, through its structural elements, represented a development platform for future supersonic aircraft. The development program of the German Me-262 jet aircraft began in 1936. The engine built by Hans von Ohain launched the world’s first jet aircraft, the Heinkel He-178 prototype.

5 years of design

Work on the Me-262 began in April 1939 as Project 1065. Between 1939 and 1940, Messerschmitt created the first prototype aircraft to test its mechanical structure. The progress of the construction program of the Me-262 model was delayed due to the various technical problems arising and the underfunding due to the lack of interest in the project, manifested by senior Nazi officials who believed in the first phase that the war could be won by the use of conventional aircraft such as the popular BF-109.

Orthographically projected diagram of the Messerschmitt Me 262 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The first Me-262 prototype was built in April 1941, not equipped with a jet engine, but a 12-cylinder Juno Junkers 210 engine. The two 003 BMW turbojets were later fitted, retaining the Juno Junkers 210 engines as a precautionary measure. On the first flight of the Me-262 prototype, BMW’s turbocharged vents failed, forcing the pilot to land using the 12-cylinder spare engine mounted in the aircraft’s nose. The Me-262 aircraft was tested by engineer Willy Messerschmitt himself. BMW jet engines were replaced by Jumo 004. (slightly more feasible than BMW 003 turbojets).

The Me-262 V3 prototype equipped with jet engines only flew on July 18, 1942. The main problem encountered by Me-262, it was the lack of alloys to increase the thermal resistance of the fuselage. Engineer Ludwig Bölkow was responsible for developing the aerodynamic elements of the German jet. The wings of Me-262 are arrow-shaped but have a slope of only 18.5 °. The Me-262 could reach a top speed of almost 975 km/h (an officially unconfirmed speed). The construction of a Me-262 covered almost 6400 hours of work, being built until the end of the war almost 1400 airplanes. Of these 1400 aircraft, only 200 were operational.

Messerschmitt Me-262 V3 is being prepared for its First Flight (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

First Jet Fighter squadron

Messerschmitt Me 262 was introduced to the Luftwaffe in April 1944. Two variants of Me-262 were created to carry out two types of missions. Me-262 A “Schwalbe” fulfilled the role of interceptor fighter aircraft to defend the main German industrial targets from enemy bombing attacks. The other variant of the Me-262 Airplane Named Sturmvogel fulfilled the role of bomber, to meet one of Hitler’s desire to have a fast bomber.

The first squadron to be equipped with Me-262 jet aircraft was called Erprobungskommando 262, established in April 1944 and taken over from July 1944 under Major Walter Novotny. Later the squadron is renamed, Kommando Novotny. The first Me-262 entered combat on August 28, 1944, and had been shot down by a crew flying the P-47Thunderbolts aircraft consisting of Major Joseph Meyers and Second Lieutenant Manford Croy.

The new Me-262 formations had been organized from January 1945. One of the most famous Me-262 formations that became operational was the one named Jagdverband 44, led by the renowned pilot Adolf Gallant. Due to its high speed, the Me-262 was able in most cases to shoot down any type of Allied bomber, especially the escort. The preferred strategy of the pilots on the Me-262 was to attack with the 4 30mm cannons they were equipped with.

Pilots of the 44th Fighter Division (Jagdverband 44) and jet fighters Messerschmitt Me-262A-1a (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Pilots on American aircraft have developed several strategies to defend themselves against attacks by German Me-262 aircraft. The weakness of German jet planes was maneuverability. The pilots on the American P-51 Mustang aircraft quickly identified this weakness of the Me-262, and they were able to attack it when turning corners. In addition, the Allied bombers began to benefit from increasingly strong escorts.

Another weakness of the Me-262 was that it needed concrete runways to take off and land. As a result, the Allies placed on the target list, the bases on which German jet planes operated. Many Me-262 aircraft came under attack as they took off or landed. It is also worth mentioning that at low speed, the Me-262 recorded very poor performance. Moreover, German pilots were advised not to fly at a speed of less than 300 km/h. Even in these difficult circumstances, the Me-262 aircraft managed to take down about 500 enemy aircraft, losing 100 instead.

Even though the Messerschmitt jet plane did not play a major role in the latter part of the war, its construction completely revolutionized the global aviation industry. Me-262 marked the beginning of the era of supersonic aircraft.

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