Messerschmitt Me P.1101 Jet-Powered Fighter Aircraft
The variable-wing Messerschmitt P.1101 never flew but its incomplete airframe was captured by the Allies and put under review in the United States, producing the Bell X-5.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Messerschmitt Me P.1101 was a swept-wing, single-seat, single-engine jet-powered fighter aircraft under development for the German Luftwaffe in the closing years of World War 2. The aircraft was the first such design to feature variable-sweep wings, these being altered manually before flight while the aircraft was on the ground. Though in the process of having its first prototype nearing completion, the P.1101 program was halted when American ground forces arrived to secure the Messerschmitt facility. From there, the captured P.1101 underwent an evaluation period that furthered the next generation of jet-powered aircraft for other nations but its own. Had the P.1101 been completed in time, it is only left to the imagination what the aircraft would have done against even the latest prop-driven Allied fighters and bombers of the time.
While all major powers involved in World War 2 were, in some form or another, pursuing the technology of jet-powered aircraft, it was the Germans and the British that remained at the forefront of the new frontier. The Germans had more to lose in this race for their war had now become a wholly-defensive engagement, with Allied bombing raids weakening the German war-making infrastructure on a seemingly daily basis. The Reich Air Ministry (RLM) had all but given up on the production of bomber aircraft and had placed an emphasis on development and production of impressive - albeit technical - fighters of various makes and models. The RLM centered its sights on building fleets of jet-powered aircraft of which the likes of aerial combat had never before seen.
The Request Comes Down
With Germany on its heels, the Reich Air Ministry put forth Proposal 226/II on July 15th, 1944 under the collective initiative known as the "Emergency Fighter Competition". The specification called for 2nd generation jet-powered fighters to help in the defense of the Third Reich. These fighter proposals (with specifications continuously altered as time went on) would have to meet a top speed of 621 miles per hour at altitude, reach altitudes of nearly 46,000 feet with a pressurized cockpit, provide adequate armor protection for the pilot and supply an armament of at least 4 x MK 108 hard-hitting cannons. Power was to center around a single Heinkel-Hirth He S 011 series turbojet engine with a 264-gallon internal fuel capacity, supplying a flight time of at least a 1/2 hour.
The First Me P.1101
Work to fulfill the RLM requirement (and therefore obtain the potentially lucrative production contract thereafter) within the Messerschmitt firm began on July 24th, 1944. Messerschmitt engineer Hans Hornung began penciling out a design under the designation of "P.1101" as a stout, single-engine jet fighter with a "Vee" style tail arrangement, a fully-retractable tricycle landing gear system, swept-back wings and split side-mounted circular air intakes. The cockpit was held to the extreme forward of the tear-drop fuselage and was to offer up good visibility from out of the three-piece canopy. The wing leading edges were set at two different sweep angles (40- inboard and 26-degree outboard) while the trailing edge featured a consistent sweep with flap installations. Wings were mid-mounted along the sides of the oval fuselage which tapered at the rear. The rear held the "Vee" tail angled planes. The engine would have exhausted out at the base of the empennage, fitted at about 3/4 position of the fuselage underside. Armament was intended to be a pair of 30mm MK 108 series cannons fitted to each forward fuselage side. Provision was entertained for the carrying of a single bomb held under the fuselage center, with the bomb being placed in a semi-recessed enclosure.
The Second Me P.1101
A second P.1101 design emerged on paper on August 30th, 1944. This particular approach was more dart-like in appearance and made use of a sharp nose-cone assembly just ahead of the two-piece canopy system. The cockpit was situated further aft but still relatively forward in the design overall. The fuselage once again tapered into an extended boom mounting the Vee-style tail assembly. The powerplant was seated at the base of the fuselage and exhausted at the base of the empennage as in the previous design. The engine was aspirated via a pair of circular intakes fitted to either side of the cockpit. The wings were both equally swept and were essentially as those found on the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet-powered fighter-bomber. A tricycle undercarriage was once again the call of the day, though the shallower fuselage meant that the nose leg had to be rotated some 90-degrees to store itself flat in the forward bay. Proposed armament was to center around a pair of 30mm MK 108 series cannon OR - and this being perhaps somewhat optimistic - a pair of 55mm MK 112 cannons. Provisions were once again made for a single bomb to be carried under the fuselage.
The Finalized P.1101 Version
To help speed the project along, it was suggested that a flyable prototype be constructed alongside the ongoing data collection and evaluation testing. As such, work began on piecing together a new P.1101 design approach in late 1944, incorporating the culminated data for the project up to this point and utilizing whatever components were available from other existing aircraft. The new aircraft, designed by Willy Messerschmitt himself, would implement a unique ability to have its wing sweep adjusted manually while on the ground during pre-flight. This arrangement would allow for testing of the wing assembly at both 35- and 45-degree sweep as needed - something of a forerunner to the variable wing-sweep combat aircraft to follow decades later. Work was undertaken at the Messerschmitt facility at Oberammergau based in the mountains of Southern Germany. The target date for a first flight was penciled in for sometime in June of 1945.