World War II: Heinkel He 162

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Heinkel He 162. Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force

Heinkel He 162 - Specifications:

General

  • Length: 29 ft., 8 in.
  • Wingspan: 23 ft., 7 in.
  • Height: 8 ft., 6 in.
  • Wing Area: 156 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 3,660 lbs.
  • Max Takeoff Weight: 6,180 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance:

  • Maximum Speed: 562 mph
  • Range: 606 miles
  • Service Ceiling: 39,400 ft.
  • Power Plant:  1 × BMW 003E-1 or E-2 axial flow turbojet

Armament

  • Guns: 2 × 20 mm MG 151/20 autocannons or  2 × 30 mm MK 108 cannons

    Heinkel He 162 - Background:

    With World War II in Europe raging, Allied air forces commenced strategic bombing missions against targets in Germany.  Through 1942 and 1943, daylight raids were flown by the US Army Air Forces' B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators.  Though both types possessed heavy defensive armaments, they incurred unsustainable losses to heavy German fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and specially-equipped Focke-Wulf Fw 190s.  This led to a pause in the offensive in late 1943.  Returning to action in February 1944, Allied air forces commenced their Big Week offensive against the German aircraft industry.  Unlike in the past when bomber formations flew unescorted, these raids saw the widespread use of the new P-51 Mustang which possessed the range to remain with the bombers for the duration of a mission.

    The introduction of the P-51 changed the equation in the air and by April, Mustangs were conducting fighter sweeps in front of bomber formations with the goal of destroying the Luftwaffe's fighter forces.

      These tactics proved largely effective and by that summer German resistance was crumbling.  This led to increased damage to German infrastructure and retarded the Luftwaffe's ability to recover.  In these dire circumstances, some Luftwaffe leaders lobbied for increased production of the new Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter believing that its advanced technology could overcome the superior number of Allied fighters.

      Others argued that the new type was too complicated and unreliable to be operated in large numbers and advocated for a new, cheaper design which could be easily maintained or simply replaced.

    Heinkel He 162 - Design & Development:

    Responding to the latter camp, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry - RLM) issued a specification for a Volksjäger (People's Fighter) powered by a single BMW 003 jet engine.  Constructed of non-strategic materials such as wood, RLM also required that the Volksjäger be capable of being constructed by semi- or unskilled labor.  In addition, it should be sufficiently easy to fly as to allow glider-trained Hitler Youth to operate it effectively.  RLM's design parameters for the aircraft called for a top speed of 470 mph, an armament of either two 20 mm or two 30 mm cannon, and a takeoff run of no more than 1,640 feet.  Anticipating a large order, several aircraft firms, such as Heinkel, Blohm & Voss, and Focke-Wulf commenced work on designs.

    Entering the competition, Heinkel possessed an advantage as it had spent the previous several months developing concepts for a light jet fighter.  Designated the Heinkel P.1073, the original design called for using two BMW 003 or Heinkel HeS 011 jet engines.

      Reworking this concept to meet the specification's requirements, the company easily won the design competition in October 1944.  Though the designation for Heinkel's entry was initially intended to be He 500, in an effort to confuse Allied intelligence RLM elected to re-use -162 which had previously been assigned to an earlier Messerschmitt bomber prototype.  

    The Heinkel He 162 design featured a streamlined fuselage with the engine mounted in nacelle above and behind the cockpit.  This arrangement necessitated the use of two tailfins placed at the end of highly dihedralled horizontal tailplanes in order to prevent the jet exhaust from hitting the aft section of the aircraft.  Heinkel enhanced pilot safety with the inclusion of an ejection seat which the company had debuted in the earlier He 219 Uhu.

      Fuel was carried in a single 183 gallon tank which restricted flight time to around thirty minutes.  For takeoff and landing, the He 219 utilized a tricycle landing gear arrangement.  Rapidly developed and quickly built, the prototype first flew on December 6, 1944 with Gotthard Peter at the controls.    

    Heinkel He 162 - Operational History:

    Early flights showed that the aircraft suffered from sideslip and pitch instability as well as issues with the glue used its plywood construction.  This latter problem led to a structural failure on December 10 which resulted in a crash and Peter's death.  A second prototype flew later that month with a strengthened wing.  Test flights continued to show stability issues and, due to the tight development schedule, only minor modifications were implemented.  Among the most visible changes made to the He 162 was the addition of drooped wingtips to increase stability.  Other alterations included settling on two 20 mm cannon as the type's armament.  This decision was made as the recoil of the 30 mm damaged the fuselage.  Though intended for use by inexperienced pilots, the He 162 proved a difficult aircraft to fly and only one Hitler Youth-based training unit was formed.  Construction of the type was assigned to Salzburg as well as the underground facilities at Hinterbrühl and Mittelwerk.

    The first deliveries of the He 162 arrived in January 1945 and were received by Erprobungskommando (Test Unit) 162 at Rechlin.  A month later, the first operational unit, the 1st Group of Jagdgeschwader 1 Oesau (I./JG 1), obtained their aircraft and commenced training at Parchim.

     Harried by Allied raids, this formation moved through several airfields during the spring.  While additional units were slated to receive the aircraft, none were operational before the end of the war.  In mid-April, I./JG 1's He 162s entered combat.  Though they scored several kills, the unit lost thirteen aircraft with two downed in combat and ten destroyed in operational incidents.  

    On May 5, JG 1's He 162s were grounded when General Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg surrendered German forces in the Netherlands, Northwest Germany and Denmark.  During its brief service, 320 He 162s were built while another 600 were in various stages of completion.  Captured examples of the aircraft were distributed among the Allied powers who commenced testing the He 162's performance.  These showed that it was an effective aircraft and that its flaws were largely due to it being rushed into production.         

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