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Heinkel turbojet fighters

By Sakhal

Historians who affirm that Ernst Heinkel was one of the great victims of the acquisition policies of the Luftwaffe, in similarity with those who have no repairs to reproach his tempestuous and intractable character, seem to agree, however, about how fascinating were his life and work as a vanguard aircraft designer. Heinkel was everywhere; no technology seemed to have secrets for him, not even that one that in 1939 showed such a complex and fickle face as it was the one of turbojet fighters, of which he was in fact the great precursor. After having flown in the 27th August 1939 the He 178, first aircraft in the world propelled by a turbine engine, Heinkel, with the assistance of engineer Robert Lusser, designed the twin-engine He 280, an aircraft of classical conception with twin-tail empennage and elliptical wings under which were installed two HeS 8 turbine engines, developed as well by the engine division of the Heinkel company. The He 280 flew in so early date as the 2nd April 1941, with test pilot Fritz Schafer at the controls. It was many months ahead of its great rival, the Me 262, even in something so obvious as the landing gear layout, which in the He 280 was always of forward tricycle type, while in the Me 262 the rear wheel was stubbornly kept until experience demonstrated that such formula was dated. In a bittersweet mood, Heinkel exposed all of this in his memoirs, with special emphasis in the docility of the controls in his aircraft, and in that simulated combat over Marienehe in which his He 280, piloted by Warsitz, easily beated a Fw 190A in presence of General Udet.

Looking with historical perspective, it seems clear that the He 280 was a superb design that, however, died militarily unused. And that despite of the very valuable tests about aerodynamics and propulsion that were made with it due to its bright flight qualities. In fact, an aircraft that started flying with the HeS 8 turbine engines, could later incorporate without problem the counterparts Jumo 004 and BMW 003 and, experimentally, the As 14 pulse jet engines used by the V-1 flying bombs, of which four were needed to keep the He 280 in the air, and still they lacked power to make it to take off and, hence, the He 280 had to be towed by a pair of twin-engined Me 110. In the history handbooks of the Luftwaffe it is registered the 13th January 1942 as the date of the initial and sole test of the pulse jet engines in the He 280. Despite in that harsh morning it was snowing abundantly, the trust of the pilot on his aircraft was unlimited, so according to what was intended, the two Me 110 towed the He 280 along the runway and raised it until the four pulse jet engines gave the necessary power to allow the He 280 to fly by its own means. Then, however, the weather conditions were so bad that the aircraft was rendered as ungovernable. For the pilot, the great luck was that precisely the He 280 was the first aircraft in the world equipped with an ejection seat, so at an altitude of 7875 feet, when nothing could be done to keep the aircraft at level, he pulled the lever and ejected, being the first pilot in History that saved his life in such way.

That first prototype was evidently lost, but there were another seven that granted valuable experiences (one of them the adoption of the V-shaped or butterfly tail) even if after the 15th September 1942 it was sentenced to oblivion this interesting and promising design by Heinkel. The fact that its prestations were inferior to the ones of the Me 262 fitted with arrow wings should not have necessarily forced its exit from the scene. But so things were. Turbojet aircraft did not start to be taken into consideration by the authorities of the Third Reich until it was too late. The He 280 was lost in History. The Me 262 had still to suffer a long calvary at the hands of those who tried to turn into a bomber the most fantastic fighter ever created. When ones and others realized that the only solution for fighters was the turbojet engine, Germany was no longer in condition to produce the Me 262 in the quantities demanded by the aerial defense of the Reich. Then there was not other alternative than to invoke the formula of the light fighter, to utopically try to achieve that an aircraft that would cost half than the Me 262 could do the same than this one. And, like in many other difficult times in which the authorities had to resort to the impossible, they called again Ernst Heinkel.

That that alleged program of light fighters or popular fighters (Volksjaeger) was a macabre absurd was known by everyone and the first one the very Heinkel who, however, accepted the challenge. His last work, the He 162, was designed in the incredible term of a week and the prototype was built in a bit more than four. The He 162 was the minimal expression of a turbojet fighter, with a narrow landing gear that made it vicious in the running; with a sole BMW 003 turbine engine installed in the upper part of the fuselage whose air intake, placed just after the cockpit canopy, made impossible that the pilot could eject from the aircraft during flight without being absorbed by the turbine. And, worst of all: the authorities of the Reich had provided an inconceivable plan according to which the members of the Hitler Youth, after a brief course of gliding, would be launched to defend the German sky in hundreds and hundreds of He 162 that would fly without remedy towards their self-immolation.

The first flight of the He 162 took place the 6th December 1944. Four days later, when being exhibited before the authorities of the Luftwaffe, test pilot Peter performed a tight turn, with so bad fortune that a part of a wing got detached due to a defective glueing in the wood. The aircraft started to disintegrate in its falling and the pilot could do nothing to save his life. The program, however, continued. The 16th January 1945 flew at the same time the third and fourth prototypes, that were followed in the same month of January by the first exemplars of a series of 800 units already launched. But it was already late for everything. Fortunately the tragical scene of seeing very young Germans dying in the He 162 was never depicted. Today, the He 162 is remembered as a supreme sign of the tenacity and geniality of the workers at Heinkel, who in the middle of the Allied bombings had managed to allocate the assembling facilities of the He 162 in caves excavated in the mountains and later, components already manufactured were carried towards them by means of cyclists, because there were barely no entire railways on where the trains could circulate. The He 162 was the second and most fictional of the turbojet fighters created by Ernst Heinkel, and perhaps the saddest epilogue for the fighter wing of the Luftwaffe in the Second World War.

Heinkel turbojet fighters

Heinkel turbojet fighters

Categories: Aviation - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-11-11

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