Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe "Swallow"

The Me262 was the first operational turbojet powered aircraft. In addition to being jet powered it brought forth many advancements in aircraft design. Although sometimes viewed as a last ditch Nazi super-weapon, the Me262 was under development before the start of WWII and did have some shortcomings. While never available in quantity, it was effectively used by the Luftwaffe in a variety of roles and proved itself a potent weapon.

Development began on the Me 262 in April 1939 which was code named Stormbird or Silver. A combination of excellent design and downright luck resulted in a very harmonious design while significantly stretching the known aeronautical boundaries. An example of this is the Me262's wing. The characteristic swept design was the result of a need to place the centre of gravity aft to compensate for heavier then expected engines. It was only later that the benefits of swept wings were realized.

A Messerschmitt Me 262A (Wk.Nr. 170 303) the second V7 bomber prototype on the ramp at Lechfeld, Germany 1944.

The first test flights began April 18, 1941 with Me262 V1 PC+UA. Since the planned BMW 003 turbojets were not ready at this time, a conventional Jumo 210 twelve cylinder mounted in the nose was used for power in order to test the airframe. Later when the BMW 003 engines were installed a test flight took place which resulted in both turbojets failing and the pilot bringing the plane in on the nose mounted engine alone.

PC+UC became the first fully jet propelled Me 262 on July 18, 1942. Fritz Wendel piloted this third prototype on the momentous occasion. The plane was powered by the new Jumo 004A-0 turbojets.

The Jumo 004 would prove to be the source of the Me 262's greatest weakness. The turbojet was at this time still in it's infancy and many technological hurdles had to be overcome. This resulted in a lengthy period of development which led to continued delay in the development and production of the Me 262. One of the problems was that the materials necessary for proper heat proofing were extremely rare in war-torn Germany. Alternate materials had to be used which resulted in engines that were less than reliable. In some cases, a brand new engine would suffer catastrophic failure during initial run-up. Even engines that worked right had a very short operational life. Most would only last for 12 hours of operation. On many occasions, pilots were forced to land with one or both engines out.

The first experimental fighter unit to use the Me 262 was Erprobungskommando 262 (EKdo262), III./ZG 26. The unit formed at Lechfeld on December 19, 1943. EKdo 262 was composed of two Staffeln and one Stab unit. The unit received their first Me 262 in April of '44 and scored their first victory of a Mosquito on July 26, 1944. By September, elements of EKdo 262 went on to join Kommando Nowotny and III./EJG2 at Lechfeld.

The first active unit to use the Me 262 was Kommando Nowotny which was formed at Achmer in September of 1944 and headed by Major Walter Nowotny. The unit became operational on the 3rd of October and claimed their first kill, a B-24, on October 7th. Nowotny began the practice of using prop-driven conventional fighters as cover against the roaming Allied fighters during the takeoffs and landings of the Me 262. The Me 262 was especially vulnerable as the turbojet's relatively low thrust resulted in slow acceleration. It took some time for the jet to get up to speed. But once there, no Allied aircraft could touch it. It was while landing his Me 262 that Nowotny himself was killed. On November 8, 1944, USAAF Mustangs braved flak and the circling Fw190Ds to swoop down and attack Nowotny as he approached causing him to crash short of landing. The unit was disbanded shortly after Nowotny's death. The unit had claimed 22 aircraft with a loss of 26 Me 262s, eight of which were due to accidents and mechanical failures.

The first operational Jagdgeschwader to be equipped with the new jet, JG 7 was formed in August 1944 from the remnants of Kommando Nowotny, along with KG 1 and JG 3. Consisting of one stab and three gruppe, JG 7 was initially led by Oberst Steinhoff.

JG 7 was to become the strongest Me 262 unit in terms of number of planes and pilots. The first weeks were a period of frenetic activity as new aircraft were brought in and pilots were trained in flying them. During this time JG 7 was located at Brandenburg-Briest and for the next six weeks Steinhoff worked to mold them into an effective fighting force. Steinhoff was later replaced by Major Theodor Weissenburger. Later, Major Rudolf Sinner was put in charge from February 19th to March 3rd of 1945.

By November 19th, 1944 III./JG 7 had formed as the first Gruppe of the new Geschwader to be established. Based out of Lager-Lechfeld and commanded by Major Hohagen, III./JG 7 suffered from an inadequate supply of new aircraft and replacement parts. They also had their share of training accidents with ten Me 262s being lost in the first six weeks due to mechanical failure or pilot error.

However, things began to shape up by late February of 1945 as III./JG 7 began to deliver concentrated attacks on USAAF heavy bomber formations. The group was instrumental in establishing how the jet was to be implemented in the anti-bomber role. It is interesting to note that there was much debate among senior JG 7 pilots on the appropriate tactics to employ against the heavy bombers. Even experts in this type of engagement were in variance. At the time, conventional prop fighters had evolved to the head-on attack. Fighters would approach bombers from the front and aim their heavy cannon at the bomber cockpit. The combined speed meant that the fighters had only an instant to fire, but it was also safer as they were within the enemies gun range for only a few seconds. The speed of the Me 262 made this type of attack impossible.

In the end, a return to the standard rear attack was employed by the jet pilots. With the speed of the Me 262 , they could quickly overtake the bombers to get in close and fire their cannon and quickly dive away from the bomber's guns. Of course they would have to withstand the hail of fire from the bombers rear gun emplacements, something that the lightly armoured and somewhat delicate Me 262 did not do well. In fact Steinhoff himself was of the opinion that the jets should be employed against the escorting fighters. The bombers could then be attacked by conventional prop fighters.

Whatever the tactics used, the sheer number of allied planes involved made the jet attacks almost irrelevant. For instance, on March 18th III./JG 7 sent up 37 Me 262s to engage a force of 1,221 American bombers and 632 escorting fighters. This action marked the first time the new R4M rockets were used by the Me 262. In the end 12 bombers and 1 fighter were claimed with the loss of 3 Me 262s. Even on their biggest day, JG 7 flew 38 sorties, knocking down 14 US and British bombers and 2 fighters with a loss of 4 Me 262s. Their best efforts yielded less than a 1% loss for the Allies. Thus, we see the pattern that marked most German efforts in the latter part of the war. The Germans had many effective weapons but they were no match for the overwhelming Allied numerical superiority.

JV 44 "The Squadron of Experts" was established on February 5th, 1945. Probably one of the more famous of the Me 262 units, JV 44 was commanded by the legendary Generalleutnant Adolf Galland. Hitler himself had given the orders that Galland was to set up a small staffel strength unit to demonstrate the superiority of the Me 262 as a fighter. Galland had been a long time supporter of the Me 262 since he first flew a prototype in 1943. At the time, Galland and many other top fighter pilots were in direct conflict with the upper level commanders of the Luftwaffe. Most of their anger was directed towards the incompetence of Reichsmarschall Goering. Goering had begun to view the Jagdwaffe as the source of all his problems and relieved Galland of his duties as General der Jagdflieger. This in turn brought a minor revolt from high-ranking Kommodoren who confronted Goering with a list of grievances which included a demand for Galland's reinstatement. It was at this point that Hitler stepped in and in a face-saving move allowed Galland to form JV 44.

JV 44 did not become fully operational until very late in the war. Much of March was spent training and working up the new unit. A single kill, a Il-2 Sturmovik was scored by Steinhoff during this period. The unit then relocated to Munich-Riem to better protect the jet production plants in southern Germany. More pilots were recruited by Galland. Many were fellow "co-conspirators". New aircraft were available from nearby Messerschmitt factories. JV 44 went on to achieve a final tally of 56 kills before the war ended.

Heinz Bar took command of the unit after Galland had become injured in combat on April 26th in which he brought down two B-26 bombers. Three days later the remnants of JV 44 made a hurried move to Salzburg-Maxglan to avoid the rapidly approaching US Seventh Army. Only one sortie was flown from Salzburg. Heinz Bar was able to capture a P-47 in the sights of his specially armed six-cannon Me 262 over Bad Aibling on April 29th. Within a week the Seventh Army again caught up with them and JV 44's remaining two-dozen Me 262s were destroyed before the advancing enemy troops could take possession of them.

In the final analysis, the Me 262 was a remarkable achievement. The design and performance of the aircraft were advanced for the time. Design features first seen on the Me 262 would later be incorporated in many aircraft. But the Me 262 was far from perfect. As the operational record shows, it was not quite a fully developed weapon of war. It suffered from a number of teething problems the most critical of which were it's engines. It was also deployed in a very harsh environment where constant enemy attacks and disruption of critical supplies were the norm.

If the Luftwaffe had been able to field 300 Me 262 on a given day to attack the heavy bomber formations it is possible that daylight bombing would have stopped for a time. However, as General Galland remarked "As a negative consequence, the war would most probably have been prolonged, and the Russians allowed more time to conquer further German territory. So let us now be satisfied with Hitler's mistakes towards the legendary Me 262."

Alarmstart (scramble) at Lechfeld Germany. A pair of Me 262A-1a Schwalbe jet fighters from III./EJG 3 make a quick taxi to the runway after being given orders to intercept an incoming American bomber stream in early 1945.

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 fuselage. 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.

Engine - Jumo 004 "Orkan"

Eight stage compressor, single stage turbine with axial flow, Diesel Oil


The development of the Jumo 004 was based on the Magdeburg experiments. This development was continued by Franz Anselm at the Otto-Mader-Werke since 1939. Anselm used several existing components to built the Jumo 004. The compressor was built from an 8 stage axial construction of the AVA Gottingen. The turbine blades were developed by AEG.
On October, 11th 1940 the first static test run of the engine was performed. A total of 80 experimental Jumo 004A engines (V-series) were built. The first flight was performed on March, 15th 1942 onboard a Me 110 and on 18th July 1942 the first Messerschmitt Me 262 was equipped with the new engine.

The first preproduction series was the Jumo 004A-0 (also called 109-004A-015). This engine was used for extensive flight tests, which did not satisfy due to material overload and failure of the fan blades. Also this test and experimental design was not usable for serial production.

In summer 1941 the reconstruction of the Jumo 004A for serial production was started. The first serial production engines Jumo 004B-1 to B-3 were ready in early 1942 and underwent intensive tests during 1943. The Jumo 004B differed in the compressor entry, an improved stator blade design for the compressor, modified turbine entry and had separate compressor discs. Also hollow turbine blades were introduced, which caused again blade failures. In summer 1943 the serial production of these engines was started at Junkers Leipzig and at the Opelwerke at Russelsheim. The Messerschmitt Me 262 was mostly equipped with this engine. A total of 7916 Jumo 004B were built by Junkers Flugzeugwerke plus an unknown number of engines at Opel.

Several improved series were designed until the end of the war. The Jumo 004C had increased thrust, auxiliary fuel injection and afterburner. This series was only projected, none was built.

The Jumo 004D with regulator for throttle movement and two stage fuel injection. Prototypes were built and tested, serial production began shortly before end of WWII.

The Jumo 004E was D-series engine with a shorter tail pipe and a double tube. This engine was developed for getting a better altitude performance. At the end of WWII several test engines were ready and serial production was planned for summer 1945.

The Jumo 004H was a further development, which also incorporated several features of the already designed Jumo 0012. It had an 11 stage axial compressor and a two stage turbine. This design did not leave project status until the end of WWII. 

Specifications (Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a Schwalbe "Swallow")

Type: Single Seat Fighter Interceptor

Design: Willy Messerschmitt Design Team

Manufacturer: Messerschmitt AG

Powerplant: Two 1,984 hp (900 kw) thrust Jumo 004B turbojet engines.

Performance: Maximum speed 540 mph (870 km/h) at 19,685 ft (6000 m); service ceiling 37,565 ft (11450 m).

Range: 652 miles (1050 km) on internal fuel.

Weight: Empty 8,378 lbs (3800 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 14,110 lbs (6400 kg).

Dimensions: Span 40 ft 11 1/2 in (12.48 m); length 34 ft 9 1/2 in (10.60 m); height 12 ft 7 in (3.84 m); wing area 233.58 sq ft (21.70 sq m).

Armament: Four 30mm MK 108 cannon in the nose, two guns with a 100 rounds each and two with 80 rounds each. (262A-1a/U1) Two 30 mm MK 103 cannon, two Mk 108 cannon and two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon. (A-1b) As A-1a plus 24 fin stabilised R4/M 50 mm rockets. (B-2a) As A-1a plus two inclined MK 108 cannon behind the cockpit in Schrafe Musik installation. (D) SG 500 Jagdfaust with 12 rifled mortar barrels in nose. (E) 50 mm MK 114 gun or 48 R4/M rockets. (A-2a bomber) One 1,102 lbs (500 kg) bomb or two 551 lbs (250 kg) bombs in the Me 262A-2a fighter bomber version.

Variants: Me 262A-0 (pre-production), Me 262A-1a, Me 262A-1a/U1 (Two 30mm MK 103, Two MK 108, Two 20mm MG 151/20), 262A-1a/U2 (bad weather fighter - standard radio was supplemented with a FuG 125), 262A-1a/U3 (unarmed reconnaissance aircraft with two Rb 50/30 cameras), Me 262A-1b (same as A-1a plus 24 spin-stabilised R4/M 55mm rockets), Me 262A-2a (fighter/bomber - identical to the 1a but with the addition of bomb racks), Me 262A-3a (increased armour protection), 262A-5a (armed reconnaissance aircraft with two MK 108 cannon and two drop tanks), 262B-1a (two seat trainer), 262B-1a/U1 (converted to night fighters), 262B-2a (dedicated night fighter - same as A-1A plus two inclined MK 108 behind the cockpit in Schrage Musik installation; SG 500 Jagdfaust with 12 rifled mortar barrels inclined in nose; 50mm MK 114 gun or 48 R4/M rockets), Me 262C (an experimental flown in February 1945 using auxiliary rocket boosting, but only three aircraft were ever produced).

Avionics: (Me 262B-1a) SN-2 radar.

History: First flight (Me 262V-1 on Jumo 210 piston engine) 4 April 1941; (Me 262V-3 on two Jumo 004-0 turbojets) 18 July 1942; (Me 262A-1a) 7 June 1944; first delivery (A-0 to Rechlin) May 1944; first experimental combat unit (EK 262) 30 June 1944; first regular squadron (8/ZG 26) September 1944.

Operators: Germany (Luftwaffe).