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Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) Fighter (1944)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 11/25/2013

The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe became the world's first operational-level jet-powered fighter.

The Me 262 Schwalbe (or "Swallow") is a good case study in the "what if" category centering around poor production design and the bureaucracy inherent in a dictatorship like that of the Third Reich. With the unrealized capabilities of this most advanced aircraft, the German Luftwaffe allowed the Me 262 to fall into the category of unrealized potential. Such could have been the impact of becoming the world's first fighter powered by turbojet technology. It would, however, go on to hold the distinction of becoming the world's first jet-powered aircraft.

The Me 262 was a ground breaking design at a time when most every nation of power was considering the future of military aviation in terms of the turbojet. The Me 262 initially was fielded with a standard undercarriage formation but was later transformed into the more modern tricycle format. The first Schwalbe was produced with a piston engine in the nose until the jet engines could be made ready. When they were, the turbojet engines flared out on first flight, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing under the power of the piston engine.

Once better engines became available, the system was being test flown by a variety of pilots including Adolf Galland, who voiced his suggestion that the fighter go into production as soon as possible - obviously realizing its potential. Allied bombing campaigns against Me 262 production facilities (unknowingly by the Allies) delayed full production. Hitler's insistence that the fighter be made into a fighter-bomber conversion also delayed final production models. A shortage of parts, skilled labor forces and trained pilots all contributed to the aircraft never materializing as a tide-turner.

Overall, the Me 262 was a solid yet groundbreaking design, incorporated a swept-wing, low-monoplane look on a smooth fuselage. Engines were mounted under each wing and the system was armed with four 30mm cannons and could be complimented with additional air-to-air rockets. For the few units (about 300 were ever made operational) that made it to combat, the Me 262 showed its prowess particularly against Allied bomber formations. Against Allied fighters, it faired in average terms due to the some-what poor maneuverability when compared to the agile piston fighters. The 4 x 30mm cannon assembly was also prone to jamming at the most inopportune times. The Me 262 was soon found to be at its most vulnerable when still on the ground or during take off whereas its pure speed and power would enable it to be master of the skies otherwise.

Four days in March of 1945 signified the height of the Me 262 program, where up to forty sorties a day against Allied bombers was reached. Beyond that, the Me 262 never faced off against its British rival - the Gloster Meteor - jet-on-jet combat and the captured Me 262 designs would be picked apart and researched by Allied scientists at war's end. In the end, however, the research garnered from the Me 262 study would prove critical in establishing the new generation of jet-powered design. The Me 262 in any form still remains one of the most influential aircraft designs in the history of aviation and will forever be tied to the "what-if" scenarios that revolve around discussions covering the end of World War Two.

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Specifications for the
Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow)

Focus Model: Messerschmitt Me 262A-1
Country of Origin: Nazi Germany
Manufacturer: Messerschmitt - Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1944
Production: 1,400

Crew: 1

Length: 34.78ft (10.6m)
Width: 41.01ft (12.50m)
Height: 12.47ft (3.80m)
Weight (Empty): 8,378lbs (3,800kg)
Weight (MTOW): 14,110lbs (6,400kg)

Powerplant: 2 x Junkers Jumo-004B Turbojet Engines delivering 1,984lbs of thrust.

Maximum Speed: 541mph (870kmh; 470kts)
Maximum Range: 652miles (1,050km)
Service Ceiling: 37,730ft (11,500m; 7.1miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 3,937 feet per minute (1,200m/min)

Hardpoints: 2
Armament Suite:
4 x 30mm MK 108 Cannons

External Bombload of up to 1,200lbs

Other armaments of later models included:
2 x 20mm Cannons (in addition to existing 4 x 30mm cannons)
24 x Air-to-Air Unguided High-Explosive Rockets

Me 262 V1 - Prototype

Me 262 V2 - Prototype

Me 262 V3 - Protoype; Achieved first all-jet powered flight.

Me 262A-0 - 23 Pre-Production models built

Me 262A-1a - First Operational Status Model

Me 262A-1a/U1 - Additional 2 x 20mm cannons (in addition to the base 4 x 30mm assembly.

Me 262A-1a/U2 - "Bad Weather" Variant

Me 262A-1a/U3 - Unarmed Reconnaissance Model

Me 262A-1b - 24 x air-to-air unguided rockets added (12 under each wing).

Me 262A-2 Sturmvogel (Stormbird) - Fighter Bomber designation.

Me 262A-2a - Bomber variant capable of 1,102lb external bomb loadout.

Me 262A-2a/U2 - Two-seat bomber variant with bomber crewman fitted into prone bomb-aimer position.

Me 262A-5 - Reconnaissance Fighter

Me 262B-1a - Two-seat conversion trainer variant

Me 262B-2 - Night Fighter

Czechoslovakia; Nazi Germany