v1.2.0 / 01 nov 03 / greg goebel / public domain
* Hitler's Reich achieved notoriety for the advanced weapons created by German researchers, such as missiles, guided bombs, and jet fighters. While these weapons were in most cases too little and too late to affect the course of the war, they remain an interesting subject.
One of these interesting weapons was the Heinkel "He-162 Volksjaeger (People's Fighter)", a lightweight jet fighter designed to be produced cheaply in large quantity. This document provides a short history of the Volksjaeger, and the somewhat similar Henschel "Hs-132" jet dive bomber.
* In September 1944, with the Nazi empire under extreme pressure on all fronts, the German Air Ministry ("ReichsLuftsfahrtMinisterium" or "RLM") acknowledged Germany's desperate circumstances by issuing a requirement for a new jet fighter that would be simple, cheap, and easy to build in large quantity. The aircraft would be built in such quantities that little maintenance would be required, as a defective aircraft could simply be discarded and replaced with a new one. The Air Ministry called this aircraft the "Volksjaeger (People's Fighter)".
Such a measure made some sense under the circumstances, but there were those in the Nazi leadership, including Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, who went further, believing that the new fighter would be piloted by Hitler Youth. These adolescents would be given elementary pilot training by flying gliders based on the Volksjaeger, and then would immediately be put behind the controls of the fighter itself, to sink or swim in flight operations and air combat. The idea of putting barely trained kids into the cockpit of a high performance fighter, particularly one designed in haste and manufactured as cheaply as possible, was of course lunacy, and Goering, a fighter ace himself, should have known better.
Generalleutnant Adolf Galland, in command of the Luftwaffe's fighter force, bitterly opposed the Volksjaeger, as he felt it would divert resources from existing aircraft programs, particular the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter. He was supported in his objections by Willi Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf's Kurt Tank. As the Volksjaeger proposal was backed by Reichsmarshall Goering and Armaments Minister Albert Speer, the objections were overruled.
The Air Ministry requirement specified a single-seat fighter, powered by a single "BMW-003" turbojet engine with 7.85 kN (800 kgp / 1,760 lbf) thrust. The aircraft was to weigh no more than two tonnes (4,400 pounds), making it a featherweight in the air combat arena. Maximum speed was specified as 750 KPH (466 MPH) at sea level; operational endurance was to be at least a half hour; and the takeoff run was to be no more than 500 meters (1,640 feet). Armament was specified as either two 20 millimeter cannon with 100 rounds per gun, or two 30 millimeter cannon with 50 rounds per gun.
The Air Ministry issued the requirement on 10 September 1944, and specified that proposals were to be submitted no later than 20 September. The Volksjaeger was to be ready to go into full production by New Year's Day, 1945.
All major German aircraft manufacturers were sent the requirement and all were interested. However, Heinkel had been working on an appropriate concept for several months, and was able to respond quickly with a proposal with the company designation "P.1073". Blohm und Voss submitted a competing proposal, the "P.211", a much more advanced design that looked forward to the next generation of swept-winged jet fighters, such as the F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15.
Heinkel lobbied harder and won the competition at the end of September. The company was awarded an order for 1,000 Volksjaegers, to be delivered by April 1945, with production ramping up to 2,000 fighters a month in May. The program was named "Salamander", though Heinkel gave the aircraft itself the name of "Spatz (Sparrow)". The Blohm und Voss proposal was filed away.
The Heinkel design was developed by a team lead by Siegfried Guenther and Karl Schwaerzler. Their Volksjaeger concept was a neat, sporty-looking little aircraft, with a sleek streamlined fuselage; the BMW-003 engine carried in a nacelle on the back of the aircraft; twin tailfins, to clear the jet exhaust; a high-mounted straight wing with a shallow dihedral; and tricycle landing gear that retracted into the fuselage.
Controls were hydraulically operated. The BMW-003 was electrically started, but featured a pull-started two-stroke piston engine in the intake bullet for auxiliary starting. Baling out of an aircraft with a high wing and a jet engine directly behind the cockpit was clearly hazardous, so the aircraft was to be fitted with a simple ejection seat, fired by an explosive cartridge. The aircraft was to be built mostly of metal, but with wings and vertical tailplanes made mostly of wood.
The new aircraft was originally assigned the designation "He-500", but in order to misdirect Allied intelligence the designation was changed to "He-162". The lower number hopefully would suggest that the type had been in development for a number of years. Two variants were to be produced, including the "He-162A-1" bomber destroyer with two MK-108 30 millimeter cannon and 50 rounds per gun, and the "He-162A-2" air superiority fighter with two MG-151 20 millimeter cannon and 120 rounds per gun.
Work began immediately at the Heinkel factory in Vienna on a first batch of 31 aircraft. In the meantime, an enormous effort was begun to set up a network of suppliers of parts and subassemblies, dispersed all over the Reich. Final assembly was to be at the Heinkel plant in Marienhe, the Junkers plant at Bernberg, and in the infamous SS underground slave-labor factory near Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains, known as "Mittelwerk (Central Works)".
In essence, the He-162 was being put into mass production even before the first example had flown. There wasn't any time to do anything else.
* The first prototype of the He-162 was rolled out at the beginning of December 1944. It made its first flight on 6 December from the airfield at Schwechat near Vienna, with test pilot Gotthold Peter at the controls.
The flight lasted 20 minutes until one of the wooden gear doors fell off, a victim of a faulty glue bond. Peter landed the aircraft immediately. The flight had otherwise gone well, with the little jet reaching a top speed of 840 KPH (522 MPH) at an altitude of 6 kilometers (19,700 feet), although some yaw instability and "snaking" was noted.
On 10 December, Peter took the prototype into the air from Schwechat to show it off to Nazi Party officials. He was making a fast run over the airfield when one of the wings came partly unglued and shed an aileron. The prototype rolled into the ground and Peter was killed.
There was little time to mourn the loss of either plane or pilot, and after a thorough checkover the second prototype took to the air on 22 December, with Heinkel director Carl Francke at the controls. Diagnosis of the accident that had destroyed the first prototype showed that the wing needed to be redesigned for greater strength, but the second prototype still had the original wing design, and so Francke kept his top speed under 500 KPH (310 MPH), although he was able to perform aggressive maneuvers.
The second prototype was for the He-162A-1 variant, and was fitted with the twin MK-108 30 millimeter cannon. While these were low-velocity weapons, just somewhat more potent than a grenade launcher, their recoil was still too much for the lightweight airframe to absorb. As a result, production plans shifted towards manufacture of the He-162A-2 variant, while design work began on a "He-162A-3" variant with a reinforced nose to allow carriage of the MK-108 cannon.
The third and fourth prototypes both took to the air on 16 January 1945. They had the new, stronger wing and a number of other changes, the most visible being turned-down wingtip extensions. The wingtip extensions were intended to reduce the He-162's directional instability. The proper solution would have been to reduce the dihedral of the wings, but with manufacturing already ramping up Guenther had to choose a "band-aid" fix for the problem.
The various changes resulted in an aircraft that weighed substantially more
than the 2 tonne limit of the original specification. The He-162A-2 weighed
a total of 2.8 tonnes (6,180 pounds) fully loaded. However, performance was
excellent, much better than specified. The He-162 was capable of 890 KPH
(553 MPH) at low altitude and 905 KPH (562 MPH) at 5,950 meters (19,500
feet). The RLM was not inclined to complain about the increased weight.
HEINKEL HE-162A-2 VOLKSJAEGER:
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spec metric english
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wingspan 7.20 meters 23.6 feet
wing area 11.20 sq_meters 120.56 sq_feet
length 9.05 meters 29.7 feet
height 2.60 meters 8.5 feet
empty weight 1,660 kilograms 3,660 pounds
max loaded weight 2,800 kilograms 6,180 pounds
maximum speed 900 KPH 562 MPH / 489 KT
service ceiling 12,000 meters 39,400 feet
range 600 kilometers 370 MI / 322 NMI
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* The first Luftwaffe unit to fly the He-162 was an evaluation unit named "Erprobungskommando 162", formed at the Luftwaffe test center at Rechlin under the command of Oberstleutnant Heinz Baer, a respected combat pilot who was credited with 200 kills.
46 He-162s were delivered to the Luftwaffe in February, allowing Baer's unit to acquire familiarity with the type. That month also saw deliveries of the He-162 to its first operational unit, the "Ist Gruppe / Jagdgeschwader 1 (I/JG-1)", which had previously flown the Focke-Wulf FW-190.
I/JG-1 was pulled back to Parchim, not far from the Heinkel factory at Marienhe, where the Luftwaffe pilots could pick up their new jets. They began intensive training on the type in March, but by that time the Third Reich was obviously on the threshold of collapse and transportation and fuel supply was grinding to a halt under the pressure of Allied air attacks.
On 7 April, the USAAF bombed the field at Parchim with 134 B-17 Flying Fortresses. Two days later, I/JG-1 left their demolished facilities to move to a nearby airfield at Ludwigslust. Less than a week later they moved again, flying north to an airfield at Leck, in Schleswig-Holstein, near the Danish border. In the meantime, II Gruppe of JG-1 had moved to the Heinkel airfield at Marienhe to begin trading their FW-190s for He-162s.
* The He-162 finally began to see combat in mid-April. On 19 April, the pilot of a British Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter who had been captured by the Germans informed his interrogators that he had been shot down by a jet fighter whose description was clearly that of a He-162. The Heinkel and its pilot were lost as well, shot down by an RAF Tempest fighter while returning to base.
On 20 April, a Luftwaffe pilot successfully ejected from a He-162, though the reason for the hasty exit from his aircraft was not recorded. One possibility is that he simply ran out of fuel. The He-162's half-hour endurance was simply not enough, and at least two of JG-1's pilots were killed making "dead-stick" landings after exhausting their fuel.
On 4 May, all of JG-1's surviving He-162s were formed into a special consolidated "Einsatzgruppen (Special Action Group)", but this action amounted to little more than "rearranging the deck chairs on the TITANIC". On 5 May, the Germans agreed to a cease-fire and the He-162s were all grounded.
From mid-April, I/JG-1 had scored a number of kills, but had also lost thirteen He-162s and ten pilots. Most of the losses were from flying accidents, due to problems such as engine flame-outs and occasional structural failures. The difficulties with the type seem to have been due to the fact that it was rushed into production, not that it was an inherently bad design. One experienced Luftwaffe pilot who flew it called it a "first-class combat aircraft".
Erprobungskommando 162 fighters, which had been passed on to an operational unit under Adolf Galland a few weeks earlier, were all destroyed by their crews to keep the jets from falling into Allied hands. However, JG-1 cooperatively turned their He-162s over to the Allies, and examples of the fighter were then flown in the US, Britain, France, and the USSR.
One British pilot who evaluated the He-162 also praised it, though a second British pilot was killed in November 1945 during an air display at Farnborough. One of the tailfins broke off, sending the fighter into the ground.
* The design had some clear weaknesses, of course, such as its short endurance and the fact that the position of the engine left the pilot almost completely blind to the vital rear "six" position. Some sources also state that the back-mounted engine made the aircraft logitudinally unstable, rendering any maneuvers that "threw the aircraft around" unsafe.
However, in one sense the He-162 was remarkable: it was designed and flown in three months, and in the five months following several hundred were built under the most difficult conditions. It was fortunate for the Allies that the He-162 was much too late to be anything more than a footnote to the history of the air war over Europe, but a certain curiosity remains over what it might have been able to do had events been more favorable to it.
A handful of Volksjaegers still exist as static displays in museums around the world. None remain flying. Given that the lack of hardened alloys meant that German jet engines sometimes had to be scrapped after as little as ten hours of flight operations, it is unlikely one of the original He-162s will ever fly again.
* Heinkel built two He-162 prototypes fitted with the larger "Jumo-004D-4" engine, which was planned to lead to a "He-162A-8" version with higher performance and greater endurance. Heinkel also built two prototypes of the "He-162S" tandem-seat training glider, in accordance with the lunatic scheme to provide pilots for the fighter using Hitler Youth. No He-162A-3s, with the reinforced nose mounting twin MK-108 30 millimeter cannon, were ever produced.
* A number of advanced follow-ons to the He-162A were considered. An "He-162B-1" was slated to go into production in early 1946, with a more powerful Heinkel-Hirth 011A turbojet providing 12.75 kN (1,300 kgp / 2,870 lbf) thrust, along with a fuselage stretch to provide more fuel and endurance and increased wingspan, with proper dihedral and discarding the turned-down wingtip extensions. The He-162B-1 was to be armed with twin MK-108 30 millimeter cannon. In reality, only nine Heinkel-Hirth 011A turbojets were ever completed and the He-162B-1 never happened.
The He-162B airframe was also used as the basis for possible designs powered by pulsejet engines, one concept using a single Argus As-044 engine with 4.9 kN (500 kgp / 1,100 lbf) thrust and the other using twin Argus As-014 engines with 3.26 kN (332 kgp / 734 lbf) thrust each. Although pulsejets, unlike ramjets, can in principle produce static thrust, the Argus pulsejets didn't produce enough power at low speeds for takeoff, and so various launch schemes were considered, ranging from towplanes to catapults to the most intelligent solution, a rocket-assisted takeoff booster unit.
However, neither the Luftwaffe nor Heinkel engineers were at all enthusiastic about the pulsejet powered He-162 variants. Pulsejets had poor high-altitude performance, bad fuel economy, and high levels of vibration. Pulsejets operate with a pulsed combustion scheme that gave them a loud, low, rapid "putt-putt" sound, and a ride in an aircraft with such engines was likely to be rough. Messerschmitt had experimented earlier in the war with a fighter designated the "Me-328" that was powered by twin pulsejets, and engine vibration eventually led to the loss of the aircraft.
The pulsejet-powered He-162 project was driven from the top, with the aircraft perceived as almost completely expendable. Although three airframes were set aside for testing, they were never fitted with the Argus engines.
Other He-162 variants under consideration included the "He-162C", with the B-series fuselage, Heinkel-Hirth 011A engine, swept wing, and "vee" or "butterfly" tail assembly; and the "He-162D", with a similar configuration but a forward-swept wing. They were to me armed with twin MK-108 30 millimeter cannon, and a scheme was considered in which the cannon could be pivoted upward from the horizontal, allowing the fighter to fire at a bomber while flying under it.
The He-162C and He-162D got no farther than a half-completed prototype that could be fitted with interchangeable forward-swept or back-swept wings, discovered by the Allies when they occupied the plant at Schwechat.
In fact, the only advanced variant of the He-162 that was actually flown was the "He-162E", which was an He-162A fitted with the BMW-003R mixed power plant, which was a BMW-003A with an integrated BMW-718 liquid-fuel rocket engine for boost power. At least one prototype was built and flight-tested for a short time.
* The advanced He-162 variants have proven to be of interest to modelers, particularly the imaginative LUFTWAFFE / 1946 interest groups, which project the aircraft that the Third Reich might have had available had the war lasted longer. Model kits of many of these mystery aircraft are available from specialty model companies.
* The Germans also tried to build a dive bomber, the Henschel Hs-132, that had strong similarities to the He-162, but never got it off the ground.
After the Allied amphibious invasions of Sicily and Italy in 1943, it was obvious to Adolf Hitler that the greatest threat faced by the Reich from Western forces was an amphibious invasion to open a "second front", forcing Nazi Germany to fight Allied armies in both the East and the West. It was also obvious that the best time to deal with such invasion forces was before they established a foothold on land. However, invasion fleets were certain to be protected by heavy air cover, and penetrating thick screens of fighters to attack troopships and landing craft was not going to be easy.
In February 1944, the RLM issued a request for a new dive bomber. The original request specified a piston-powered aircraft, but it quickly became clear that the performance figures dictated a jet-powered aircraft.
In April and May 1944, Henschel submitted a design for a jet-powered dive bomber, which was approved as the "Hs-132". Its overall configuration was roughly similar to the He-162, with straight wings, a twin-fin tail, and a single BMW-003 turbojet engine on the back, where it would be shielded from ground fire. However, it had a glassed-in nose, with the pilot laying flat on his stomach, in principle to allow the pilot to endure greater gee forces as he pulled out of his fast attack dive. The aircraft had tricycle landing gear, with the main gear hinged in the wing and retracting inward, providing a wide ground track.
The Hs-132 was to have a wingspan of 7.85 meters (25 feet 9 inches), a length of 8.8 meters (28 feet 10 inches), a level speed of speed of 780 KPH (484 MPH) and a range of 1,130 (700 miles). The basic "Hs-132A" was to carry a 500 kilogram (1,100 pound) bomb but had no other armament, with self-defense based on simple speed.
The "Hs-132B" was to have a more powerful Junkers Jumo-004B engine, plus twin 20 millimeter MG-151 cannon with 250 rounds each, in addition to its bomb armament. The "Hs-132C" was to have still a still more powerful Heinkel HeS-011A-1 engine, twin 20 millimeter MG-151 cannon with 250 rounds each, and twin 30 millimeter MK-103 or MK-108 cannon with 60 rounds each, and could carry a 1,000 kilogram (2,200 pound) bomb if the aircraft was fitted with booster rockets for take-off. These variants were apparently also expected to serve as tank busters.
An "Hs-132D" with an extended wingspan of 9.1 meters (29 feet 10 inches) was also considered, but none of it happened. Six HS-132 prototypes were ordered in May 1944, but construction didn't start until March 1945, by which time it was much too late. An Hs-132V1 prototype was in advanced construction when the Henschel factory was overrun by the Red Army in May, and the incomplete prototype was captured.
The idea of flying in a prone position was considered by a number of nations during and after the war, but it proved impractical. Although it had potential advantages in streamlining and supposedly improved a pilot's endurance of gee forces, it greatly restricted the pilot's critical ability to look around, and complicated escape in an emergency. Development of improved gee suits and, much later, reclined seats proved a better solution.
* There seems to be a slight amount of controversy over the He-162's actual name. The name "Salamander" applied to the entire project, and it is uncertain if this was used as the aircraft's name. The name "Spatz" given to the aircraft by Heinkel seems appropriate, due to the aircraft's "sparrow" size, but sources give little indication this name was ever used. As the matter is a bit academic, I have used the name "Volksjaeger" in this document, and will leave the debate over the propriety of that decision to others.
The LUFT '46 website is a fun source of information, though the surprising large of information there necessarily makes it a bit hard to navigate. Nonetheless, I encourage web surfers to look it up.
* Revision history:
v1.0 / 01 nov 99 / gvg
v1.1 / 01 jun 00 / gvg / Minor cleanup, new details on pulsejet He-162s.
v1.2 / 01 jun 01 / gvg / Another cosmetic tweak, minor corrections.
v1.1.0 / 01 nov 01 / gvg / New "advanced variants" section.
v1.2.0 / 01 nov 03 / gvg / Added HS-132 section.