|Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe|
The Luftwaffe's falcon
The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe ("Swallow") was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II opened, but engine problems meant the aircraft did not reach operational status until the summer of 1944. Compared with Allied fighters of its day, including the jet-powered Gloster Meteor which entered service a little earlier it was much faster and packed a much heavier punch.
In combat, when properly flown, it proved difficult to counter. It was able to outrun its Allied counterparts by as much as 100 mph. Me 262 pilots claimed a total of 509 Allied kills (although higher claims are sometimes made) against the loss of about 100 Me 262s. As the only aircraft in Luftwaffe service able to operate safely at that point in the war, the design was pressed into a variety of roles, including light bomber, reconnaissance and even experimental night fighter versions.
The Me 262 is considered to have been the most advanced German aviation design in operational use during World War II. The Allies countered its potential effectiveness in the air by relentlessly attacking the aircraft on the ground, or while they were taking off or landing. Maintenance during the deteriorating war situation and a lack of fuel also reduced the effectiveness of the aircraft as a fighting force. In the end, the Me 262 had a negligible impact on the course of the war due to its late introduction and the small numbers that were deployed in operational service.
In-game, just a group of eight of these can take on any number of enemy fighter aircraft, and it is advised to protect bombers with these. Only a mass of heavy AA guns can pound the Me 262 out of the sky.
The Me 262 was already being developed as Projekt 1065 before the start of World War II. Plans were first drawn up in April 1939, and the original design was very similar to the plane that eventually entered service. The progression of the original design into service was delayed greatly by technical issues involving the new jet engines. Funding for the jet program was also initially lacking as many high-ranking officials thought the war could easily be won with conventional aircraft.
Among those were: Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, who cut the engine development program to just 35 engineers in February 1940; Willy Messerschmitt, who desired to maintain mass production of the Bf 109 and the projected Me 209; and Major General Adolf Galland, who supported Messerschmitt through the early development years, flying the Me 262 himself on 22 April 1943. By that time, problems with engine development had slowed production of the aircraft considerably.
The project aerodynamicist on the design of the Me 262 was Ludwig Bölkow, later a prominent figure in the post-World War II development of the German aircraft industry. He initially designed the wing using NACA airfoils modified with an elliptical nose section. Later in the design process, these were changed to AVL derivatives of NACA airfoils, the NACA 00011-0.825-35 being used at the root and the NACA 00009-1.1-40 at the tip.
The elliptical nose derivatives of the NACA airfoils were used on the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces. Wings were single-spar cantilever construction, with stressed skins, varying from 3 mm (0.12 in) thick at the root to 1 mm (0.039 in) at the tip. The wings were fastened to the fuselage at four points, using a pair of 20 mm (0.79 in) and forty-two 8 mm bolts.
In mid-1943, Adolf Hitler envisioned the Me 262 as an offensive ground-attack/bomber rather than a defensive interceptor. The configuration of a high speed, light payload Schnellbomber ("Fast Bomber") was intended to penetrate enemy airspace during the expected Allied invasion of France. His edict resulted in the development of (and concentration on) the Sturmvogel variant. It is debatable to what extent Hitler's interference extended the delay in bringing the Schwalbe into operation.
Albert Speer, then Minister of Armaments and War Production, claimed in his memoirs that Hitler originally had blocked mass production of the Me 262 before agreeing in early 1944. He rejected arguments that the aircraft would be more effective as a fighter against Allied bombers destroying large parts of Germany, and wanted it as a bomber for revenge attacks. According to Speer, Hitler felt its superior speed compared to other fighters of the era meant it could not be attacked and so preferred it for high altitude straight flying.
Although the Me 262 is often referred to as a "swept wing" design, the production Me 262 had a leading edge sweep of only 18.5°, too slight to achieve any significant advantage in increasing the critical Mach number. Sweep was added after the initial design of the aircraft, when the engines proved to be heavier than originally expected, primarily to position the center of lift properly relative to the centre of mass. On 1 March 1940, instead of moving the wing forward on its mount, the outer wing was repositioned slightly aft; the trailing edge of the mid-section of the wing remained unswept. Based on data from the AVA Göttingen and wind tunnel results, the middle section's leading edge was later swept to the same angle as the outer panels.
Design work started before World War II began but engine problems prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944.
While Germany was bombed intensively, production of the Me 262 was dispersed into low-profile production facilities, sometimes little more than clearings in the forests of Germany and occupied countries. Through the end of February to the end of March 1945, approximately 60 Me 262s were destroyed in attacks on Obertraubling and 30 at Leipheim (the Neuberg jet plant was bombed on 19 March.) Large, heavily protected underground factories were constructed to take up production of the Me 262, safe from bomb attacks, but the war ended before they could be completed. At B8 Bergkristall-Esche II at St. Georgen/Gusen, Austria, forced labourers of Concentration Camp Gusen II produced fully equipped fuselages for the Me 262 at a monthly rate of 450 units on large assembly lines from early 1945.
Wings for the Me 262 were produced in Germany's oldest motorway tunnel at Engelberg to the west of Stuttgart. In the end, slightly over 1,400 Me 262s of all versions were produced. As few as 200 Me 262s made it to combat units due to fuel shortages, pilot shortages, and the lack of airfields that could support the Me 262.
- 4 x 30mm autocannons (2 for Me 262 A2 fighter-bomber version)
- 24xsmall caliber air-to-air rockets
- 4x250 kg bombs (fighter-bomber only)