A Brief History
On July 18, 1942, German aeronautical engineers reached a milestone in aviation history when the twin jet powered Messerschmitt Me 262 made its first flight under jet power. Initial flights of the soon to be first successful jet warplane had been made with a regular propeller driving engine mounted on the nose of the prototype in order to test the airframe.
The Me 262 Swallow (“Schwalbe” in German) would become operational in April of 1944, much to the chagrin of Allied pilots. The Me 262 boasted a top speed of 559 mph, more than 100 mph faster than British, American and Russian propeller driven fighter planes. It was also heavily armed in order to reliably shoot down Allied bombers, with 4 30 mm cannon. The first swept wing fighter, the Me 262 would go on to influence the development of post-war fighter designs in Britain, the US and the USSR. The first British and American jet fighters, the Gloster Meteor and the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star were actually outperformed by the Me 262.
Unfortunately for the German Air Force (“Luftwaffe”), the meddling of Adolf Hitler resulted in delays in getting the badly needed fighter into combat, as the Fuhrer demanded the Swallow be designed as a ground attack plane. Able to carry rockets and bombs while devastating ground targets with those 30 mm cannon, the Swallow was indeed a good ground attack platform, but was much more sorely needed to stem the Allied bombing campaign. Production difficulties due to a lack of appropriate metals and other resources also delayed and limited production and deployment. The main weak point of the Swallow was its Jumo jet engines, which had a short life between rebuilds and failures.
Despite a production run of over 1400 airplanes, there were never more than 200 Me 262’s available for combat at any given time. The Me 262’s that did see combat fared well, shooting down about 450 Allied planes for a loss of about 100 Swallows. In fact, the Me 262 was so superior, Allied pilots usually got their kills only then the Me 262 was landing low on fuel, just taking off, or helpless with engine failure.
Numerous variants of the Me 262 were planned, including an export version for Japan, but most of these never achieved their intended purposes. Today, the only Me 262’s in flying condition are reproductions, made to externally resemble the original.
Hitler and Nazi planners had high hopes the Me 262 would be a war winning advantage for Germany, and had the plane been produced sooner and in greater numbers it may well have greatly aided the German war effort. As it is, the Swallow barely affected the outcome of World War II despite being the highest performance fighter of the war. Question for students (and subscribers): Is there any other fighter of World War II you would have preferred to fly? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Heaton, Colin D., Anne-Marie Lewis, et al. The Me 262 Stormbird. Zenith Press, 2012.
Radinger, Willy, Walter Schick, et al. Messerschmitt Me 262: Development /Testing/Production. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2004.
Sharp, Dan. Messerschmitt Me 262: Secret Projects and Experimental Prototypes. Mortons Media Group Ltd, 2013.