The Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger (People's Fighter) was an early jet fighter developed for the Luftwaffe to combat Allied bombing campaigns against Germany. Designed with the intention of being quickly and easily produced, it was among the fastest of the early jet aircraft due to its light weight. Despite this intention, only around 380 were built before Germany was forced to capitulate.
The concept of a lightweight fighter, which would use the minimum of strategic materials, be suitable for rapid mass-production and have a performance superior to contemporary piston engine fighters, was discussed at a conference of industrial leaders and officials from the Speer Ministry held during the late summer of 1944. This led to the issuing on 8 September of a basic project requirement to Arado, Blohm und Voss, Focke-Wulf, Junkers, Heinkel and Messerschmitt, with all but the last agreeing to consider the project. The requirement stated that material had to be submitted for consideration by 14 September, and the aircraft had to be ready by 1 January 1945. The requirement called for the following;
- Maximum speed at low and medium altitudes, with minimum sea level speed of 750 km/h (466 mph).
- Unassisted take off within 600 m (1,970 ft) or less.
- Minimum production build up, to obtain large scale production in the shortest possible time.
- Extensive employment of wood in the structure.
- Production of the type not to interfere with production of the Me 262 and Ar 234.
- Exploitation of dormant production capacity, made available by cancellation of other production programmes.
- Employment of only one turbojet.
- Armament of two 20 mm MG 151 cannon, interchangeable with two 30 mm MK 108 cannon.
- FuG 24 R/T and FuG 25a IFF radio equipment.
- Protective armour only against frontal attack.
Heinkel's mock-up was ready on 20 September, with construction of prototypes and work on detailed drawings commencing in parallel on 24 September, six days before the written contract was received. the Heinkel contender wining partly due to the incorporation of simple constructional features, and partly due to a personal decision made by Otto Saur, founder of the Jagerstab (Fighter Staff).
The first prototype - c/n 200 001 - made its initial flight at Schwechat on 6 December, flown by company test pilot Flagkapitan Peter. Following the loss of a defectively bonded undercarriage door, which was torn away when the aircraft was flown at maximum speed, Peter and the engineers were anxious to fully examine the general bonding of the aircraft before a demonstration flight scheduled for 10 December. During the course of the demonstration, which was carried out in front of RLM, Luftwaffe and party officials, the starboard wing leading edge began to split during a low pass, with the upper skin rolling back, followed by the starboard aileron breaking away. This resulted in the aircraft rolling out of control and crashing just outside the boundary of the airfield, killing the pilot.
The accident was attributed to a new type of wood adhesive which, due to the presence of insufficiently neutralised acid, had weakened the wooden structure. The new formula had been selected as an emergency replacement after Allied bombing of the Tego-Film factory eliminated stocks of the original bonding agent. However, the incident did not delay the programme, as the second prototype made its first flight on 22 December, before being used, at the insistence of the RLM, for firing trials with a pair of Mk 108 autocannon. Additional flying with this aircraft by the Heinkel test team revealed aerodynamic deficiencies, including lateral instability, snaking at high speeds, and severe instability during left hand turns of more than 4g. This resulted in the third and forth prototypes receiving enlarged vertical tail surfaces, extended wingtips with 55 degrees anhedral, and a weight over the nose-wheel to adjust the centre of gravity, before the pair made their first flights on 16 January 1945. These modifications alleviated the problems.
Further testing led to armament being standardised as two MK 151/20 cannon, followed by increases in fuselage length - to improve stability - and wing root incidence - to ensure the root stalled before the tip. These modifications, together with spoilers fitted to the leading edge of the wing root, were introduced on He 162A-2 production aircraft. Despite these modifications, the type was still regarded as being unsuitable for novice pilots, due to persistent aerodynamic instability and the low critical Mach number of 0.75. In spite of this the He 162 was a tough aircraft, being designed with a load factor of 7.5 - similar to the figure for dive bombers - and a safety factor of 1,8.
The He 162 was initially operated by the E-Stelle-Rechlin based Erprobungskommando 162. Commanded by Obstlt Heinz Bar, this unit worked from January 1945 on proving the He 162 in operational service, with the work later being carried out at Munich-Riem. On 6 February 1945 I./JG 1, commanded by Oberst Herbert Ihlefeldt, were transferred to Parchim from the Eastern Front for training on the He 162, followed later by Stab/JG 1. During March II./JG 1 moved to Warnrmunde from Insterburg in East Prussia. I./JG 1 then moved to Leck, in Schleswig-Holstein, on 14 April, before beginning it's work up under the temporary command of Oblt Demuth. Meanwhile, II./JG 1's commander, Hptm Dahne, was killed during a training flight on 24 April, and replaced by Maj Zober, only for II./JG 1 to abandon their training programme by the end of the month, due to the approach of the Red Army to Warnemunde. This resulted in the rements of II./JG 1 joining I./JG 1 at Leck on 3 May.[N 2] The following day, all units of JG 1 were regrouped to form I. (Einsatz) Gruppe/JG 1, commanded by Zober and with a nominal total strength of fifty He 162s, shared between three Staffeln.
By this time, the aircraft of Einsatzkommando Bar had joined up with JV 44, the elite Messerschmitt Me 262 of Aldof Galland, at Salzburg-Maxglam, as part of a last ditch effort by the Luftwaffe. However, combat was forbidden for the He 162 pilots, as their aircraft were not considered ready for action. One of the few Allied reports about the aircraft described an encounter between a He 162 and a North American P-51 Mustang, which occurred in April 1945. Taking place between 500 and 1,000 ft (150 and 300 m), the encounter demonstrated the He 162's ability to match the P-51's turn and climb rate, while exceeding it's level speed and acceleration. Operational use of the He 162 by the Luftwaffe ended when the I (Einsatz) Gruppe/JG I surrendered at Leck on 8 May 1945.
There were two main versions, the He 162A-1 fitted with two 30mm cannons, and the He 162A-2 fitted with two 20mm cannons, respectively carrying fifty and a hundred-twenty rounds per gun. In addition, there were plans for a number of other versions, such as the Argus pulse jet equipped He 162B, powered by either a pair of 109-014 (B-1) or a single 109-044 (B-2), as well as versions with butterfly tails and wings that swept either forward (He 162C) or backwards (He 162D). The He 162 was also intended for use as part of the Mistel programme. As well as providing an alternative to the Messerschmitt Me 262 in the Ju 268 based Mistel 5, the He 162 was envisaged as the parent aircraft for the E.377A pilotless bomb.
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