History and Development
As the world's first jet fighter to enter combat, the Messerschmitt Me 262 earned itself a place in history, being the most advanced aircraft of its period to fly and to achieve operational status. That it did not make a bigger impact was not due to any airframe shortcomings, but to engine problems, interference from government departments and, in the later stages, from Hitler himself.
In autumn 1938 Messerschmitt was given a contract to design an airframe around the axial-flow turbojets which BMW was developing. At that time the engines were expected to be ready by December 1939, each developing some 1,323-lb (600-kg) thrust.
The Me 262 was the world's first fully operational turbojet fighter. It flew its first combat on July 25th, 1944 when it attacked a Mosquito flying a reconnaissance mission over Munich. When it was allowed to be used solely as a fighter against bomber formations, the Me 262 was devastating.
Messerschmitt’s submission designated originally P.1065, envisaged engines in the wing roots (they were later fitted beneath the wings) and tailwheel landing gear; a speed of 599 mph (900 km/h) was expected and the company received an order for three prototypes plus a static test airframe under the designation Me 262. At the same time the Heinkel Company was working independently on a twin-jet fighter, the He 280.
BMW was having problems with its engine, which on bench tests was only giving 573-lb (260-kg) thrust; the rival Junkers Jumo 004 engine also had problems, so the prototype Me 262 flew on 18 April 1941 with a single Jumo 210G piston engine in the nose. Although acceleration was poor, general handling was good and testing continued in this form to prove various systems before the first BMW 003 turbojets were delivered in Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a November 1941. These were installed in the Me 262 prototype but the Jumo piston engine was retained fortunately as it turned out since both turbojets failed just after take-off and the pilot managed to keep the aircraft airborne only long enough to complete a circuit and land.
The compressor blade failures which had caused the (engines to seize necessitated a complete redesign, but the Me 262 could not wait and, since Junkers had overcome most of their problems, the Jumo 004A was chosen as the powerplant. As this engine was heavier and larger than the BMW engine the Me 262 airframe had to be modified, and the third prototype flew with two 1,852-lb (840-kg) thrust Jumo 004As on 18 July 1942.
Test flying continued, although there was a knack in getting airborne, because with the tailwheel landing gear the elevators were ineffective in the tail-down position. It was necessary during the take-off run to touch the brakes lightly, which brought the tail up and so made the elevators effective. This was obviously unacceptable in service, and tricycle landing gear with a non-retracting nose unit was designed and fitted to the fifth prototype, by which time two further prototypes and 15 Me 262A-0 pre-production aircraft had been ordered. The landing gear proved satisfactory, and a fully retractable system was introduced on the sixth prototype, which also had 1,984-lb (900-kg) thrust Jumo 0048-1 engines in redesigned nacelles.
Following a demonstration before Hitler in November 1943 the Me 262 was given a top-priority production status, but a number of problems both with the airframe and engine still had to be resolved using 12 prototypes and test aircraft. A hold-up in the supply of engines, which were also being built for the Arado Ar 234 bomber, meant that pre-production Me 262A-0 airframes had to be stockpiled, but 16 of these were delivered in April 1944, followed by a further seven in the following month.
Hitler's early interest in the Me 262 envisaged it as a fighter-bomber after he had been told that it could carry bombs although the necessary equipment had not been fitted. Messerschmitt was not keen to divert research in this direction but was given little choice in the matter, being told to go ahead with adapting the aircraft as a 'super-speed bomber'.
Various bomb racks were tried with combinations of loads up to 2,205 lb (1000 kg); there was even a bomb with a wooden wing, towed at the end of a 20 ft (6.10m) tube beneath the aircraft's tail, taking off on a jettisonable dolly. The intention was to dive towards the target and release the bomb and its towbar, the latter being jettisoned along with the bomb's wings. Tests were not promising and the concept was abandoned.
First production Me 262A-1a fighters began to enter service in July 1944 and were basically similar to the late pre-production aircraft. Later sub-variants included the Me 262A-1a/U1 which differed by having two MK 103, two MK 108 and two MG 151/20 cannon in the nose; Me 262A-1a/U2 bad-weather fighter in which the standard radio was supplemented by the FuG 125; and Me 262A-la/U3 unarmed reconnaissance aircraft with two Rb 50/30 cameras. The subsequent Me 262A-2a production bomber version was virtually identical except for having bomb racks to carry one 1,102-lb (500-kg) or two 551-lb (250-kg) bombs. Variants included the Me 262A-3a with extra armor protection and Me 262A-5a armed reconnaissance aircraft with two MK 108 cannon and two drop tanks.
While the Me 262A series had all been single-seaters, there was an obvious requirement for a two-seat conversion trainer, and this was met by the Me 262B-1a. The second seat replaced the rear main fuel tank, so auxiliary tanks were fitted below the forward fuselage; 15 were built before the obvious potential of the type as a night-fighter brought the conversion of 262B-1a aircraft on the production line to Me 262B-1a/U1 standard. A few were built, fitted with radar and homing equipment, but they proved so effective that they were succeeded by the Me 262B-2a, designed from the outset as a night-fighter. This version, which had a larger fuselage permitting extra fuel to be carried, began flight trials in March 1945, but the end of hostilities came before it could be developed.
The Me 262C was an experimental variant flown in February 1945 using auxiliary rocket boosting, but it was not developed beyond three prototypes.
Total production of the Me 262 amounted to about 1,430, and there is no doubt that if the type had not been held back through engine and political problems it could well have tipped the scales in Germany's favor by breaking up the Allied day bombing program. Me 262s using a salvo of 24 R4M missiles against a bomber formation and following these up with 30-mm cannon fire could be lethal, but although the Me 262s were considerably faster than the Allied fighters, a number were destroyed in combat by the superior maneuverability of Allied piston-engine aircraft.
Specifications Me 262A-1A
Type: Single-seat interceptor fighter/fighter-bomber
Two 1,984 lbs (900 kg) thrust Junkers Jumo 004B turbojet engines
Wing Span: 40 ft. 11 in. (12.48 m)
Length: 34 ft. 9.5 in. (10.60 m)
Height: 12 ft 7 in (3.84 m)
Wing Area: 233.58 ft x2 (21.70 m x2)
Empty Weight: 8,378 lbs (3,800 kg)
Maximum T/O Weight: 14,110 lbs (6,400 kg)
Maximum Level Speed: 541 mph (870 km/h)
Initial Climb: 3,937 ft (1,200 m) per minute
Service Ceiling: 37,565 ft (11,450 m)
Range: 652 mi (1,050 km)
Armament: 4x 30mm Mk 108 canon / 24 R4M AA rockets, external bomb load 1,200 lbs