Plane of the Week #10: Messerschmitt Me 262

This week’s plane of the week is the Messerschmitt Me 262.

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The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe/ Sturmvogel (Swallow/Storm Bird) of Nazi Germany was the world’s first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began, but engine problems and top-level interference kept the aircraft from operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944. Heavily armed, it was faster 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 was used in a variety of roles, including light bomber, reconnaissance, and even experimental night fighter versions.

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Me 262 pilots claimed a total of 542 Allied kills, although higher claims are sometimes made. The Allies countered its potential effectiveness in the air by attacking the aircraft on the ground and during takeoff and landing. Captured Me 262s were studied and flight tested by the major powers, and ultimately influenced the designs of a number of post-war aircraft such as the North American F-86 Sabre and Boeing B-47 Stratojet.A number of aircraft have survived on static display in museums, and there have also been several privately-built flying reproductions.

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The Me 262’s top ace was probably Hauptmann Franz Schall with 17 kills, which included six four-engine bombers and 10 P-51 Mustang fighters, although night fighter ace Oberleutnant Kurt Welter claimed 25 Mosquitos and two four-engine bombers shot down by night and two further Mosquitos by day flying the Me 262. Most of Welter’s claimed night kills were achieved in standard radar-less aircraft, 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 claimed 16 enemy aircraft while flying the Me 262.

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After the end of the war, the Me 262 and other advanced German technologies were quickly swept up by the Americans, British, and Soviets. Many Me 262s were found in readily repairable condition and were confiscated. Both the Soviets and Americans desired the technology to serve as a basis for their own jet fighters. The USAAF compared the P-80 Shooting Star and Me 262 concluding, “Despite a difference in gross weight of nearly 2,000 lb, the Me 262 was superior to the P-80 in acceleration, speed and approximately the same in climb performance. The Me 262 apparently has a higher critical Mach number, from a drag standpoint, than any current Army Air Force fighter.”

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Next week: the Flying Pancake.

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Plane of the Week #10: Messerschmitt Me 262

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