Heinkel He-162 slideshow
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The Heinkel He-162 Volksjäger

The Volksjäger (people's fighter), otherwise known as the Salamander or Spatz (sparrow) was planned, designed and flown in approximately 10 weeks during 1944 as a high-performance defensive fighter making minimal demands on strategic materials and skilled man power. The Heinkel He-162 could be built by semiskilled labour out of non-strategic materials. The first of many prototypes flew on the 6th December 1944 (the prototype crashed four days later) as a shoulder-wing monoplane of largely wooden construction but fitted with tricycle landing gear and a tailplane with vertical surfaces so that the single turbojet could be mounted in an easy maintenance position above the fuselage. A number of handling deficiencies were countered by the enlargement of the vertical tail surfaces. About 116 were completed & more than 800 were in various stages of assembly when the underground production centres were overrun.

The Luftwaffe received 120 He-162s which were used by I./JG1 (No.1 squadron/ No.1 fighter combat wing) and II./JG1 (No.2 squadron/ No.1 fighter combat wing). Two additional units were supposed to be equipped with the type - III./JG1 and I./JG400, but the war ended before this could be carried out. The He-162A-2 was the main production variant, however, several prototypes of different versions were built. These were powered by different engines such as Jumo 004B, Argus As 044, As 004 and As 014 or Heinkel-Hirth HaS 011. There was also a version with a BMW 003E & R engine. The trainer variant was designated He-162S and was similar to He-162A-2 except it had a second cockpit and did not have an engine. The He-162S was a glider with a longer wing span.

BMW 003 E-1 Axial Flow Turbojet Engine
The BMW 003 E-1 Axial Flow Turbojet Engine
Click image for an enlargement

Though the Volksjäger had several different types of powerplants the version made by BMW is probably the most famous. The BMW 003 E-1 Axial Flow Turbojet Engine manufactured in Munich between 1944-45 weighted 568 kg (1,252 pounds) & had a 7 stage axial compressor, single stage turbine, annular combustion chamber with 16 burners & 798.3 kg (1,760 lbs) - 898.1 kg (1,960 lbs) thrust. Rotation speed 9,500 rpm. Fuel Consumption 1,134 kg (2,500 pounds) per hour. Fuel J-2 (Diesel oil) or 87 octane.

The engine was used in Heinkel He-162A, Arado 234B jet bomber & the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter.

Total scheduled output of Heinkel He-162s was to be 4000 per month. Pilots supplied for this vast output were to be given glider training and assigned directly to this jet fighter. It is fortunate that this plan was never realised since the He-162 was no machine for the inexperienced. Even seasoned pilots had to use extremely smooth and delicate control movements to stay out of trouble. A rudimentary ejection seat carried the pilot past the engine air-intake on bailout. The first and only successful use of this device (in an He-162) was made by pilot Rudolf Schmitt. Shortly after, on 4th May 1945 Rudolf Schmitt shot down a Hawker Tempest. The fact that the novice Lieutenant Schmitt had been able to shoot down one of the RAF's best fighter planes shows the Heinkel's formidable combat potential.

The aeroplane did have some draw backs. Among them:The A-1 nose structure was not strong enough for the 30mm cannons, so initially, A-2 bodies were used with 20mm cannons installed. The A-1 was strengthened to incorporate the 30mm cannons and was designated the A-3.

The plane had a very short endurance due to the large amount of fuel needed for a half-hour mission. This poor endurance caused many difficulties. The plane had a bad "six-o-clock" view due to the engine being placed directly behind the pilot's cockpit.

Pilots mastered some of the Spatz's nasty habits but the jet would always be a difficult, and dangerous aircraft to fly, even for experienced pilots. Had the Luftwaffe used Hitler Youth squadrons flying the He-162, takeoff and landing would have killed as many pilots as combat. One of the central concepts of the programme thus proved illusory.

The Volksjäger project was vehemently opposed by Generalleutnant Adolf Galland and other senior officers in the Luftwaffe. He claimed that it was a useless diversion of resources away from the Me 262 and other more effective programmes. He also regarded the idea of producing an easy-to-fly aircraft in such a short time as ludicrous. However, the programme had strong support from Göring, and other high ranking ministers, so Galland had to look on in frustration as his reasoned objections were quickly overruled.

The original armament, two 30 mm MK 108 cannons, was also too heavy for the small airframe, so Heinkel substituted two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon, creating the He-162A-2 variant. Heinkel started production before completing the initial testing and modification phase. Re-equipment of JG 1 (Jagdgeschwader 1 or No.1 Fighter Squadron) began in February 1945. On March 31, the Luftwaffe transferred two Gruppen of JG 1 to Leck airbase, in Schleswig-Holstein near the border with Denmark, to begin operational training. Because the aircraft was never certified ready for combat, He-162 pilots had only very limited encounters with Allied aircraft.

The first He-162 fighters started to appear in squadron service in February of 1945. However, the introduction of the fighter into actual combat was deferred until all of the bugs could be shaken out and the aircraft was deemed completely ready. The general confusion and disintegration present in Germany in the last few months of the war caused hopeless maintenance headaches and chaotic supply situations. Aircraft and pilots were constantly being moved from one base to another to avoid advancing Allied forces. Many He-162s sat idle on their airfields, lacking either fuel or spare parts.

In September 1944 the Deutscher Volkssturm (Home Guard) was established. Within this "people's movement" organisation several Luftwaffe units were supposed to be formed and equipped with Volksjägers. In January 1945 the Volksjäger-Erprobungskommando 162 (No.162 Experimental Squadron) was formed with Oberst Heinz Bär in command. This unit started its training in Rechlin and then in München-Riem (Munich-Riem). In February 1945 I./JG1 gave its Fw-109s to II./JG1 and all the personnel started training on He-162s. After the training was completed the unit was moved to Leck. The II./JG1 was also equipped with Salamanders later on. Because of the lack of fuel there was almost no operational or training flights. On 24th April commander of II./JG1 Hauptmann Paul-Heinrich Dahne died when ejecting from his He-162, because the canopy did not eject. On 2nd May 1945 the first victory was recorded by Unteroffizier Rechberger, who shot down an American P-47 Thunderbolt. Two days later Leutnant Schmitt shot down a British Typhoon near Rostock. The airfield in Leck was taken over by the British Army on 8th May 1945.

Because of the extreme shortage of qualified pilots, only two fighter units, I./JG 1 and II./JG 1 managed to convert to the type before the end of hostilities. Thus the He-162 didn't play any important role in the final stage of World War II. Although plans existed for a monthly production of 4000, less than 200 were actually delivered to the German Air Force by the end of the war.

The He-162 Salamander is interesting not only in itself but for the insight its creation gives us into the minds of the German leadership at the time.Göring & others seriously wanted the plane to be piloted by half trained members of the Hitler Youth. Though the plan came to nothing it demonstrates the loss of reason effecting the Nazi leadership as the inevitability of their defeat began to sink in. Interviewed as a prisoner of war the great air ace & fighter leader Adolf Galland identified what he considered to be the reasons for the ultimate failure of the German fighters.

For Galland & others the Nazi leadership failed to take the concept of the fighter seriously enough. Before the war the Luftwaffe comprised of 30 bomber gruppen, 9 Stuka gruppen & 13 fighter gruppen. The high command personified by Hitler favoured the bomber disproportionately & it was difficult for senior figures within the fighter contingency to influence the high command decisions. The absence of a single fighter command structure like that of the RAF was a major factor. The failure to replace the Bf-109 with the Fw-190 early enough was also identified as a major factor by Galland as was the further failure to replace the Fw-190 with the Me-262 as soon as it was available. In addition to the negelect of new technology in fighter design the fighters already in service were not produced in sufficient numbers quickly enough. In 1941 when Germany was already fighting on three seperate fronts a total of just 250 fighters a month were produced. By 1944 production of some individual planes exceeded 1000 in the same time period. By then the tide of the war had turned.

Galland was also highly critical of Göring whom he held in the utmost contempt. After the war he gave his captors a forceful statement of his views. Göring as Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe had from the moment of the loss of air superiority on the various fronts committed no realistic reflection, argument or decision to prevail. Instead he squandered time & energy in the most digusting way regarding the fighter force. By this he achieved in the fighter force itself as well as in the other branches & among the people themselves exactly the opposite effect of that he sought. Everyone spoke in general terms about the failure of the fighter force. Ultimately the failure of the Luftwaffe's fighter force cannot be explained without reference to the failure of Hitler's overall strategy. Despite the often brilliant innovations of their fighter plane designers & the undeniable skill of their airmen it was the German leadership that lead to the ultimate failure of their fighter force in the Second World War.

The He-162 in the above photo was captured by British Forces at Leck, Germany in May, 1945. It is in the markings it flew in with Jagdgeschwader 1 (No. 1 Fighter Wing). It currently belongs to the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California.

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