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The quotation by local author Og Mandino, fits the Me 262, perfectly.

It broods over the ‘Milestones of Flight’ collection in the RAF Museum, London, as if poised to strike. The Messerschmitt Me 262 is one of those aircraft which seems to exude an air of menace, even when its fangs are drawn! The jet engine was developed in both Britain and Germany, but although Frank Whittle (later, Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle, OM, KBE, CB, FRS, Hon FRAeS, RAF) had produced experimental units in advance of the German engineer Hans von Ohain, due to funding difficulties and official indifference Germany always had the lead. For example, the experimental Heinkel He 178 flew on 27th August, 1939 well before the Whittle-powered Gloster E.28/39 did (15th May, 1941). Similarly, Britain’s first operational jet fighter prototype, the Gloster Meteor flew on 12th June, 1943, whereas the Me 262 – ordered by the Reichluftfartministerium in 1938 –  had flown under the power of 2 x Junkers Jumo 004 turbojets of 1,850 lb st on 18th July, 1942. Before its jet engines were ready, a prototype had flown using a single Junkers Jumo 210G piston engine of 700 hp on 4th April, 1941.

German authorities were not convinced of the need for large-scale production of the Me 262 – they thought that the war would be won before it was ready for combat – so it wasn’t until May, 1944 before the first production version, the Me 262A-1a Schwalbe (Swallow) was delivered. The ‘Programme 223′ plan to deliver around 60 aircraft a month from May, 1944 was foiled initially by heavy Allied bombing attacks on the Messerschmitt factory at Regensberg, and the following dispersal of production and development facilities, and the personal intervention of Adolf Hitler. It was Hitler who, having seen the Me 262 fly, declared that it was to be his new ‘Schnellbomber’, and demanded that all aircraft be modified to carry bombs! This ‘Sturmvogel‘ (Stormbird) Me 262A-2a variant of the aircraft was to be used to repel the Allied invasion of Europe. Undoubtedly, this demand slowed the production of the ground-breaking fighter, but there were also difficulties with the powerplants. The Jumo 004 used chromium plating, rather than chromium steel alloys, for certain components and along with a critical lack of other temperature and wear-resistant metals such as cobalt, nickel, molybdenum and tungsten, gave the early Jumo engines a ‘time between overhaul’ of only 25 hours!

A test and training unit, Erpobungskommando 262, was formed in 1944, which lead to the formation of III/Erg. Jagdgeschwader 2 in November, 1944. Other Me 262 units included Jagdeschwader 7 and the elite Jagdverband 44, which, lead by the then-disgraced General Adolf Galland, carved a swathe through American bomber formations in the last few weeks of the war. Basically, only 15% of the 1,433 Me 262 aircraft built made it to front-line units, and despite their incredible speed (540 mph at 20,000ft) and armament (4 x 30mm MK 108 cannon, and 24 x 5cm R4M air-to-air missiles) the Me 262 was a classic case of ‘too little, too late’. Victories over the Me 262 were achieved by late-model Spitfires, and P-51 aircraft. However, perhaps the most deadly foe of the ‘Schwalbe’ was the Hawker Tempest V, which Luftwaffe pilots feared, especially at low-level for its high speed, and fire-power.

Here we see the RAF Museum’s superbly restored Me 262A-2a, Wk/Num 112372, originally assigned to JG 7 ‘Nowotny’ in March, 1945. This aircraft was flown to Fassberg, Germany, on 8th May, 1945, from Zatec, Czechoslovakia, as Russian forces closed in. It was surrendered to RAF personnel, and members of No. 616 Sqn., the RAF’s first Gloster Meteor unit, made several test flights in it. Flown to the U.K., it was taken on charge by the Royal Aircraft Establishment’s Aerodynamics Flight at Farnborough, where a flight test programme was carried out. Following this, the aircraft was put on display at various RAF Stations, including Cosford, Gaydon and Finningley. Eventually refurbished as ‘Yellow 4′ at RAF Cosford, it was placed in the ‘Milestones of Flight’ Gallery in the RAF Museum, London in 2003. Its menacing appearance and impression of sheer speed are shown in this front view of ‘Yellow 4′.

If you think that the Allies had a lucky escape when circumstances delayed the service entry of the Me 262, consider this. If the Luftwaffe had ordered the Heinkel He 280 fighter prototype in 1941, they would have had a 500 mph twin-jet fighter capable of flying rings around the Fw 190 (it did so in a fly-off), and in squadron service by 1942! Fortunately, early engine problems with the Heinkel HeS 8 engines, and a perverse political decision by Ernst Udet, ensured that the USAAF 8th Air Force B-17 and B-24 bomber streams were not slaughtered in 1943, and the course of the war changed.

Originally posted to Kossack Air Force on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 04:00 PM PST.

Also republished by World War Two Aircraft.

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