Messerschmitt Me 262 "Schwalbe"/"Sturmvogel" Jet Fighter/Bomber

Me-262A in flight

The Me-262, designed by Messerschmitt AG, was the first operational jet aircraft, as such it was both a technical success and a tactical failure. It’s first Flight was on July 18, 1942 using Turbojet engines. It first saw action with 8th Gruppe Zerstroergeschwader 26 in September 1944, although it had been in experimental action prior to that. It was a technical success in that it was the first effective operational use of jet engines, it much faster than any other aircraft in use at the time, and it was powerfully armed with cannons and bombs. Still, it was a tactical failure because of the unreliability of the engines (they had a service life of 25 hours), poor acceleration at low speeds and too few aircraft to make a difference. This coupled with the poor quality of German pilots in 1944, the failure of the German supply system and the overwhelming air superiority of the Allies caused the Me-262 to be only an interesting side note to WWII.

The Jumo motors tended to flame out if the throttles were advanced too quickly, making for sluggish perfomance during take-offs and landings. The Allied pilots flying Mustangs and Spitfires discovered this quickly and frequently attacked the jets on landing. This was the fate of Alexander Nowotny, the fifth ranked ace of the Luftwaffe when he was shot down and killed while landing his Me-262. The Mustangs and Spitfires were also much more manouverable than the Me-262, so that Allied pilots adopted the tactics of waiting until an Me-262 was committed to a dive before pulling a High-G turn to avoid the attacker. As a bomber it was limited by it’s payload (1,000 lbs) and by Hitler’s edict that it remain above 13,000 ft due to the highly sensitive nature of it’s engines. He was afraid that the inevitable losses of figher-bombers at low altitudes would provide the Allies with a functioning jet engine.

In all about 1,200 were delivered to the Luftwaffe although many more were made. Many were destroyed on the ground waiting for engines or fuel or were captured as Allied troops advanced into Germany.

Technical Details
There were three main variants of the Me-262, the A1-a (Schwalbe) fighter, the A-2 (Sturmvogel) fighter and the B-1a (fighter-bomber). All were single seat aircraft powered by a pair of Junkers Jumo 004B axial Turbojets developing 900 kg (1,980 lb) of thrust. The maximum speeds were: Me 262A-1a: 540 mph (870km/h); Me 262A-2a: 470 mph (755km/h); Me 262B-1a: 497 mph (800km/h). They climbed at 1200 m/min to a ceiling of 11,500 m. Their operational range at cruising speed on internal fuel was 1050 km (650 mi), although in use it was considerably less. The fighter variants were armed with four 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig cannons in the nose, two carried 100 rounds each, the top two carried 80 rounds each. The 30 mm cannon was extremely lethal, being capable of blowing a Spitfire in half with a single 330 g (11 oz.) explosive round. They were also capable of carrying 24 - 55 mm rockets, 12 under each wing. Despite being designed as a fighter the A-2 could also carry a pair of 500 lb bombs on the bottom of the fusilage. The B variants were variously armed with four cannons and two MK 108 20 mm cannons inclined to the rear of the cockpit in Schrage Musik installation for attacking night bombers, a set of SG 500 Jagdfaust with 12 rifled mortar barrels inclined in nose for attacking day bombers or 50mm MK 114 gun or 48 R4/M rockets for attacking bombers. Most of these last armament installations were not effective, especially the Jagdfaust mortars that created considerable drag and instability in the aircraft.

Canadian Aces Home Page

Image From:
Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum web site.

Technical Information From:
Luftwaffe Resource Group - Messerschmitt Me 262 web site
Afred Price and Mike Spick. Great Aircraft of WWII. Chartwell Books, 1997.