Heinkel He 162A-2
The Heinkel He 162 was one of Nazi Germany’s last ditch attempts to win back the control of the skies with a cheap jet fighter capable of being flown by almost anyone. Like all the other weapons it came too late to have any effect on the outcome of the war.
By September 1944 the Western Allies and the Russians were closing in on the borders of German homeland and in a desperate attempt to reverse their defeats the Germans began a frantic search for a war-winning ‘wonder weapon’.
The German aircraft industry produced a number of designs including the popularly known ‘Volksjager’ (People’s Fighter), the Heinkel He162 jet fighter. Using a high proportion of wood in its construction due to shortages of light alloys, it was designed for mass production by semi-skilled labour at a number of dispersed sites.
In such a desperate period it took just sixty nine days from the start of design work to its first flight. As might be expected from such a hurried design the aircraft had unpleasant flying characteristics. Very few He162s were ever encountered in combat. Deliveries began to Luftwaffe units in February 1945 but only two victories were claimed for the type during its short service life and both were unconfirmed.
Although plans existed for a monthly production of 4,000, less than 200 were actually delivered to the German Air Force by the end of the war.
This particular Heinkel entry ended up becoming one of the more unique of the jet-powered design forms to emerge from Germany during the last months of the war. It seated its single pilot under a largely-unobstructed, two-piece canopy near the nose and twin autocannons were buried under the frontal section of the fuselage.
The fuselage was elegantly shaped for ultimate streamlining, housing all pertinent operating systems such as the cockpit, avionics, and fuel stores. The wing mainplane members were relatively short span-wise and mounted at the shoulder while be positioned near midships. The tail unit, one of the more unique design qualities of the He 162, involved a pair of rudders straddling upward-cranked horizontal planes.
Splitting the fins was the single turbojet housing which was, rather interestingly, fitted over the fuselage as opposed to under it, under the wings, or buried within the fuselage proper. In this way, the engine could be cleanly aspirated from its front-mounted intake and exhausted through its unobstructed rear port, the jet wash made to pass over the split tail arrangement without issue. This also simplified any ductwork from intake to exhaust considerably. The engine-of-choice became the BMW 003E series turbojet which promised an output of around 1,765lb thrust.
To complete this fighter, Heinkel engineers elected for a wholly-retractable tricycle undercarriage for ground-running and all three wheeled members would retract nicely into the fuselage.
Beyond the physical features and inherent capabilities of the lay the other part of the Heinkel He162 equation: qualified fighter pilots. By this time in the war veteran Luftwaffe pilots were in short supply due to losses and general wartime fatigue. It was therefore decided to man the new, somewhat disposable, fighter with airmen pulled from the “Hitler Youth”.
Training would be a short period of intense preparation though sometimes actual combat sorties would make up the lack of classroom experience. This also required making an aircraft that was relatively easy to fly meaning simple controls and a clean instrument panel. To aid in the survivability of the pilot, the Heinkel He162 was given a crude form of ejection seat, becoming one of the first military aircraft to offer this potentially life-saving feature.
A first-flight of an Heinkel He162 prototype was recorded on December 6th, 1944 and service introduction followed as soon as January 1945 – such was the desperate war situation for Germany. In service, the aircraft proved a handful to fly, even for seasoned pilots, and resulted in deaths both during the testing period as well as during actual service.
The airframe was, however, noted as quite rugged and designed to be able to withstand excessive forces of a dive. The dorsally-mounted engine installation was found to not play well with the shoulder-mounted wings, adding unnecessary turbulence in flight particularly at higher speeds.