Heinkel Salamander


The He 162 had its genesis in a demand by the Jägerstab (Fighter Staff) for a Volksjäger (People's Fighter) that was simple, inexpensive and suitable for production by semi-skilled and unskilled labour out of non-strategic materials such as wood. It was to be powered by a single BMW 003 turbojet, weigh no more than 2000 kg (4410 lbs) fully loaded, carry an armament of one or two 30mm cannon, fly faster than 750 kph (466 mph), possess an endurance of 30 minutes at sea level and be able to take off in a distance less than 500 meters (1640 feet). This requirement was distributed to all the major aircraft companies on 8 Sep 1944 with responses due by 20 September so that mass production could commence 1 January! The Volksjäger concept was pushed by Party Leader Otto Saur, director of the Jägerstab and a protégé of Albert Speer, head of the Ministry of Armaments, over the vociferous objections of Adolf Galland, General der Jagdflieger (General of Day Fighters). Galland believed that all of Germany's remaining aircraft production facilities should be concentrated on proven aircraft such as the Me 262. He also didn't believe that pilots could be trained quickly enough to fly the aircraft in the numbers envisioned. Designers such as Kurt Tank and Willy Messerschmitt also objected to the project on the more technical grounds of a totally unrealistic specification and an absurdly short amount of time for design and preparations for production. Despite this opposition the submission date was actually advanced by 6 days to 14 September!


A Heinkel He 162A-2 of 1./JG 1 based at Leck airfield - Germany 1945

Proposals were received from Blohm und Voss, Arado, Focke-Wulf, and Heinkel when the first evaluations were made on 15 September, Messerschmitt having refused to submit a proposal. Focke-Wulf's proposal was deemed unrealistic, Arado's was completely rejected and Heinkel's was deemed unsuitable; while Blohm und Voss's was judged the best submitted. The Heinkel proposal unacceptable on 5 counts: a sea-level endurance of only 20 minutes; the unusual location of the engine on top of the fuselage would undoubtedly result in maintenance problems; it failed to meet the stipulated take-off requirement; it would take too long to dismantle for rail transport; and it was designed to carry 20mm cannon rather than the 30mm specified. Heinkel's representative protested that their proposal was being evaluated by standards other than those applied to the other proposals to the detriment of Heinkel's proposal. Another meeting was scheduled for 19 September to make a decision after all the proposals were re-evaluated.

By this time new proposals had been received from Junkers, Focke-Wulf, Siebel and Fiesler, but the result was much the same. Blohm und Voss's Projekt 211 was judged the best with Heinkel's as second-best.

It may well have been second-best, but it possessed one major advantage over the Blohm und Voss proposal; it was much further along in the design process. Heinkel had been working on a simple and unsophisticated jet fighter, the Spatz (Sparrow), since the early part of the summer and had even test-flown the BMW 003 in July to obtain necessary performance data. The effort to convert the Spatz into the Volksjäger was not inconsiderable, but it was far easier and faster than working from a clean sheet of paper as the others had to do.

On 23 September Heinkel showed a mock-up of their Volksjäger to officials while the decision was made to proceed with the Volksjäger concept in a meeting at Göring's headquarters that same day. It was decided that pilots would be recruited from the ranks of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). The boys would be taught to fly on the Volksjäger if they didn't already know how to fly and would finish their training by flying operational missions! Party Leader Saur favored Heinkel's Projekt 1073 over the Blohm und Voss Projekt 211 and ordered construction of the first prototype the next day on his own authority.

Heinkel had nearly carried the day, but it wasn't until two aerodynamicists were consulted that the partisans of the P.211 were finally defeated. They ventured the opinion that there might be a problem with the airflow of the engine inlet and this was enough that the Heinkel proposal was ordered into production at an initial rate of a thousand aircraft per month. The aircraft was originally designated the He 500, but this was quickly changed to the He 162, a number previously used by Messerschmitt's contender for the Schnellbomber (fast bomber) competition that had been won by the Ju 88. The project was code-named 'Salamander', this being often confused for the name of the aircraft itself.

The final drawings were complete by 29 October, one day ahead of schedule and the first prototypes were in an advanced stage of construction. The He 162 was unique in the history of aviation as the only aircraft in which development, pre-production prototypes and main production lines were started almost simultaneously and proceeded in parallel.

The production arrangements were quite complex and are an excellent example of the effort Germany had to make to minimize the vulnerability of her aviation industry. Little was it realized that this decentralization plan would play right into the hands of the Allies as the 8th Air Force executed its plan to destroy all German means of transport from railcars to river barges.

Final assembly was to be at 3 plants, Heinkel-Nord at Rostock-Marienhe, Junkers at Bernburg and Mittelwerke at Nordhausen; the first two being expected to assemble a thousand machines a month and the latter, two thousand. All wooden components were to be produced by two groups of wood-working and furniture-manufacturing firms specially organized the Erfurt and Stuttgart areas. Metal fuselages were to be built by Heinkel factories at Barth in Pomerania, Pütnitz in Mecklenburg, Stassfurt in Saxony and at Berlin-Oranienburg as well as the Junkers factories in Schönbeck, Ascherleben, Leopoldshall, Halberstadt and Bernburg. In addition fuselages were to be built in former salt mines at Eglen and Tarthun. The Heinkel factory at Wien-Schwechat was to handle construction of the prototypes and later to begin production in a converted chalk mine outside Vienna at Hinterbühl. Another salt mine near Urseurg housed the machinery from the Berlin-Spandau and Basdorf-Zülsdorf engine factories for the production of the BMW 003 engines. The production schedule called for the first thousand aircraft to be ready by the end of April 1945 and output to reach two thousand per month the following month. The He 162A was one of the most distinctive aircraft ever designed with its engine mounted above the fuselage and downward-drooping wing tips. The Heinkel design team had placed the engine in this unusual position to minimize any difficulties with the inlet and exhaust ducting, the aerodynamics of which were poorly understood.

In line with the semi-expendable nature of the Volksjäger, the He 162 was a rather spare design, but it did include a simple ejection seat as pilots were considered rather more valuable than the aircraft itself. It was essential as the chances of bailing out in the usual manner were considered less than optimal with the jet intake mounted right behind and above the cockpit.

The first prototype, the He 162 V1, made its initial flight on 6 December, 90 days from the receipt of the requirement! A record unparalleled for a modern combat aircraft. The flight was mostly uneventful except that a wooden landing-gear door was torn away during the high-speed portion of the flight. Four days later, the second flight ended in tragedy as the starboard wing leading edge separated from the aircraft which caused it to crash in front of large crowd of VIPs. The pilot did not survive. An investigation determined that the bonding agent for the wood was defective. It was a new adhesive that had to be used as the factory producing the usual bonding agent had been bombed out. The Ta 154 Moskito was cancelled because of this type of problem, but the He 162 program had too much political weight behind it to suffer a similar fate.

The second prototype flew on 22 December and others rapidly followed. It was initially to be armed with 2x 30mm MK 108 cannon, but the airframe proved to be too lightly built for such a heavy armament. Flight test revealed problems with lateral instability, snaking at high speeds and severe instability during left-hand high G turns. It also proved to need much more runway for take-off and landing than allowed by the specification. The tail surfaces were enlarged and the wing tips extended and drooped on the V3 and V4 prototypes in a successful effort to resolve most of these problems. Had time permitted the wing would have undoubtedly been fully redesigned rather than the expedient wing tip drooping.

Very few He 162A-1 aircraft were built with the 30mm cannon before production switched to the A-2 model armed with 2x 20mm MG 151 cannon. The A-2 also incorporated a number of aerodynamic changes to increase stability, but these were not fully successful as it remained very unforgiving of abrupt movements of the controls. The 162 had a very high rate of roll, but much care had to be taken as full rudder induced a lot of shudder and buffeting. Only three-quarters rudder could be used if a smooth turn was desired, such as when trying to shoot at an enemy! Experienced piston-engine pilot had to unlearn their habit of throwing themselves around the sky if they wished to master the 162 as it demanded smooth, flowing motions from its pilot. In brief the He 162 was a handful for experienced pilots and would have been a death-trap for the average Hitlerjugend pilot fresh from glider training.

The Luftwaffe formed Erprobungskommando (Evaluation Unit) 162 under Heinz Bär, the 8th leading ace of all time with 220 kills, in January '45 to evaluate the He 162 at the Rechlin test centre. By April Erprobungskommando 162 had joined Adolf Galland's band of disgruntled fighter pilots, JV 44, with its Me 262s at their base near München, but had little opportunity for combat as the 162 wasn't yet considered ready for action.

On 8 February I/JG 1 was ordered to turn over its Fw 190s to II/JG 1 and proceed to Parchim to begin conversion to the He 162, but their first aircraft didn't arrive until the end of the month. Later joined by the Geschwaderstab they stayed there until bombed out by the British on 8 April. They moved to a number of different airfields in North Germany to avoid being overrun by the advancing Allies ending the war at Leck in Schleswig-Holstein. II/JG 1 left their Fw 190s behind on 8 April as they transferred to Rostock to begin the conversion to the He 162, but joined the first Gruppe at Leck on 2 May to escape the Soviet advance. The conversion of III/JG 1 was planned to begin in mid-April, but it was disbanded on 24 April and its personnel were distributed to other units. On 3 May JG 1 was reorganized into two Gruppen, I (Einsatz [Combat]) and II (Sammel [Replacement]). They totalled some 50 pilots and aircraft in 6 staffeln.

I/JG 1 was declared combat-ready on 23 April, after it had already claimed one British fighter on 19 April. Feldwebel Günther Kirchner was credited with shooting down a fighter when the captured pilot admitted he'd been shot down by a jet. Unfortunately Kirchner himself was shot down shortly thereafter by another British fighter. At least two other claims were made by He 162 pilots before the end of the war, although only one Tempest V can be confirmed from British records since a number of British aircraft were lost to unknown causes at times and places that match these other claims. At least one and possibly three He 162s were lost to enemy action.

The BMW engine proved to be far less sensitive to throttle movements than those of the Me 262, though still prone to flameouts. This allowed the He 162 to be flown up to the limits of the pilot's confidence in the aircraft, unlike the Me 262 whose engines restricted much in the way of manoeuvres.

The He 162's primary drawback was its very short endurance of 30 minutes at sea-level. This forced the pilot to pay close attention to his fuel gauge and allowed little leeway for bad weather or enemy aircraft over the pilot's home airfield. In fact several of the operational losses can be attributed simply to running out of fuel.

Other problems were the lack of visibility above and to the rear and the inability of the tail to handle the maximum stress that the rudder could generate. The former would only really have been a problem if the 162 was at a low enough speed that it could be bounced by piston-engined fighters since the area obscured by the engine is the most vulnerable of any aircraft. The weakness of the tail instilled a lack of confidence in its pilots that the 162 could withstand extreme manoeuvres and they, therefore, were reluctant to do so lest it break-up in mid-air.

Despite all these caveats, the He 162 would have been a effective fighter in the hands of a trained pilot if the war had continued, easily superior to the best fighters fielded by the Allies, possibly even including the P-80A.

Specifications (Heinkel He 162A-2 Salamander)

Type: Single Seat Interceptor

Design: Ernst Heinkel Design Team.

Manufacturer: Ernst Heinkel AG. First batch Vienna-Schwechat. Production totally dispersed with underground assembly at Nordhausen (Mittelwerke), Bernberg (Junkers) and Rostock (Heinkel).

Powerplant: One 1,764 hp (800 kw) thrust BMW 003A-1 or E-2 Orkan single shaft turbojet engine.

Performance: Maximum speed 522 mph (840 km/h) at 19,685 ft (6000 m); service ceiling 39,500 ft (12040 m). Endurance 57 minutes at 35,990 (10970m). Climb rate 3,780 ft/min (19.2m /sec) at sea level - 1,950 ft/min (9.9m /sec) at 19,690 ft (6000 m) - 315 ft/min (1.6m /sec) at 36,090 ft (11000 m).

Range: 410 miles (660 km) at 35,990 ft (10970 m).

Weight: Empty 4,520 lbs (2050 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 5,941 lbs (2695 kg).

Dimensions: Span 23 ft 7 1/2 in (7.20 m); length 29 ft 8 1/4 in (9.05 m); height 8 ft 7 1/2 in (2.55 m); wing area 120.56 sq ft (11.20 sq m).

Armament: (Early) Two 30 mm Rheinmetall MK 108 cannon with 50 rounds per gun. (Late) Two 20 mm Mauser MG 151/20 cannons with 120 rounds per gun.

Variants: He 162A-0 (pre-production), He 162A-1, He 162A-2.

Avionics: FuG 24 R/T (radio) FuG 25a IFF.

History: First flight 6 December 1944; first delivery January 1945.

Operators: Germany (Luftwaffe).