v1.1.0 / 01 nov 01 / 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 and in large quantity. This document provides a short history of the Volksjaeger.
* In September 1944, with the Nazi empire under extreme pressure on all fronts on land and in the air, 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", or "People's Fighter".
Such a measure made some sense under the circumstances, but there were those in the Nazi leadership, including Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering, who went further, believing that this 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 hardly-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, an excellent pilot 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 800 kilograms (1,760 pounds) thrust. The aircraft was to weigh no more than two tonnes (4,400 pounds), making it a featherweight in the air combat environment. 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 a similar 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", which was 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 allow the vertical tailplanes 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. A two-stroke piston engine was used to start the BMW-003. 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, 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 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 fore-and-aft instability and directional 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 efforts 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 called for in 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 had been 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:
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
spec metric english
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
wingspan 7.20 meters 23.6 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
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
* 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 of Jagdgeschwader 1 (I/JG-1)", which had previously flown Focke-Wulf 190s.
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 on the way back 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 when one of the tailplanes 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 also 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 1,300 kilograms (2,870 pounds) 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 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) thrust and the other using twin Argus As-014 engines with 332 kilograms (734 pounds) thrust each.
Although pulsejets, unlike ramjets, can produce static thrust, the Argus pulsejets didn't produce enough power at low speed 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 using pulsejets, as they 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.
* 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.