Heinkel He 343 (Strahlbomber / Strabo 16) Bomber / Reconnaissance Aircraft
The Heinkel He 343 was a proposed four engine jet bomber being developed towards the end of World War 2.
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Towards the end of World War 2, there was a definitive shift in German thinking from piston-powered aircraft types to jet-powered ones. Many of the famous German concerns - Arado, Blohm und Voss, Heinkel, Junkers, Messerschmitt - all delivered plans for new turbojet-powered mounts that could fulfill the vast needs of the dwindling German Luftwaffe. Daily and nightly Allied air raids against German wartime infrastructure were taking its toll and limiting the German war machine to critical levels. While many of these designs ended up as nothing more than "paper airplanes" on the drawing board of engineer teams or models in wind tunnel tests, a few saw serial production begin before the end of the war in 1945. Some were in the prototyping stages ready to take to the next level if the situation allowed while some made it a step further and saw production reach into the hundreds - though Germany was out of experienced pilots and the necessary fuel for them to be effective solutions. The more successful end-war products became the Messerschmitt Me 262 "Schwalbe"
, the Heinkel He 162 "Volksjager"
and the rocket-powered Messerschmitt Me 163 "Komet"
. A Heinkel-designed jet-powered fighter development - the He 280
- lost out to the Me 262 and, in the process, earned the firm a sour impression within the German Air Ministry. Any future design considerations would therefore take some extra convincing.
Beyond the successes and failures, there lay the Heinkel He 343 - a promising design initiative. The budget-minded aircraft was penciled by the Heinkel concern in the early part of 1944 (under the formal project designation of "He P.343"), intended to follow along the lines of the existing and further advanced Arado Ar 234 "Blitz" jet bomber ("Strahlbomber") for expediency's sake. The intention was to provide the German Luftwaffe with a hard-hitting, fast-flying four-engined bombing platform that could evade enemy air protection and land-based defenses at will. The fuselage could serve multiple roles as a cost-saving measure and, thusly, four distinct versions of the aircraft were soon planned - the aircraft known to this point as the "Strabo 16". It was only later, after an RLM review of the proposal, that the "He 343" designation was formerly assigned to the project. Construction began in February of 1944. The four variants under consideration became the base He 343A-1 dedicated bomber, the He 343A-1 reconnaissance model, the He 343A-3 heavy fighter and the similar He 343B-1 heavy fighter. The bomber and reconnaissance versions could be used for quick-strike, hit-and-run actions against Allied positions and factories while the heavy fighters could be sent aloft to intercept the hordes of Allied bombers raking German airfields, railways, bridges and factories - their armament consisted to destroying larger targets. In German nomenclature, heavy fighters were termed "Destroyers" leading to the collective naming of "Zerstorer" being used to describe the aircraft type. The early-war Messerschmitt Bf 110 "Zerstorer"
was one example of this type of aircraft.
Like other Heinkel projects before it, the He 343 was to be conceived of and developed as a private venture.
The He 343 was slated to use a variety of available (and still under development) engines as the war situation allowed. These powerplants would be set in streamlined nacelles with two under each wing, protruding from the leading edges. The wings, interestingly left wholly unswept, would be high-mounted on the fuselage to help the nacelles clear the ground. The fuselage, rounded at the edges but slab -sided otherwise, was plain and streamlined from front to rear with the cockpit set at the extreme forward of the aircraft. As a jet-powered aircraft capable of reaching upwards into the stratosphere, the cockpit would be wholly pressurized and seat two crew, each wearing specialized high-altitude suits. Ejection seats were assumed to be a part of the He 343 design for crew survivability at such intended high-speeds and operating altitudes. The cockpit's placement would offer up a tremendous forward view of the oncoming action as well as clear views of all four engines and was covered over in a slightly framed structure. The empennage was conventional in appearance, sporting a single vertical tail fin and a pair of horizontal tailplanes. The undercarriage would have been fully-retractable and feature two single-wheeled main landing gear legs and a single-wheeled nose landing hear. In this arrangement, such an undercarriage was termed a "tricycle" undercarriage. Its placement, particularly the nose leg and wheel, forced forward armament to be situated along the starboard side of the forward fuselage.
The decision to go with straight wing assemblies was schedule-induced so production could begin in earnest. Later models were to experiment with more efficient swept wings of 25 degrees and more, up to 35 degrees in one concept.
Initially, it was agreed upon that the He 343 was to be fitted with the Junkers Jumo 004B series turbojet engines while the Jumo 004C models were still in development. The specific design of the He 343, however, introduced the prospect of variable engine installations as supply dictated. As such, the aircraft could, technically, be fitted with whatever turbojets were becoming available at the time of serial production. Estimated specifications included a top speed of 565 miles per hour with an operational range of 1,730 miles - clearly besting the opposition to the extreme. Loaded weight would have neared 43,000lbs. In terms of a bomb load, the He 343 would have been saddled with up to 6,600lbs of internal stores, the rest of her internal volume destined for the cockpit, systems and fuel stores. In the He 343A-2 reconnaissance mount, the internal bomb load would have been replaced by a pair of Rb 75/30 series photographic cameras and extra internal fuel for increased loitering times and operational ranges.
Armament between all four of the aircraft types would have varied slightly by their respective intended roles. The He 343A-1 bomber was defensive in nature, fielding a pair of fixed, rear-facing 20mm MG 151 cannons to protect the vulnerable rear areas from enemy fighter attack (should Allied aircraft manage to catch up with the fast He 343). Similarly, the He 343A-2 reconnaissance model would have fielded this same defensive-minded armament for self-protection. The two "destroyer" heavy fighter types, the He 343A-3 and He 343B-1, were naturally fitted with heavier armament. The A-3 was to be given either 2 x 20mm MG 151 cannons and 2 x 30mm MK 103 cannons or a full battery of 4 x 30mm MK 103 cannons, all forward-firing in fixed positions to help tackle the Allied bombers that could absorb much damage in their large frames. The A-3 would have retained the 2 x 20mm MG 151 rear-facing cannons for simple defensive purposes. The B-1 heavy fighter would have followed along the same armament lines as the A-3 but installation of a remote-controlled FHL 151Z powered turret (aimed via a periscope in the cockpit ala the Arado Ar 234 "Blitz") fitting 2 x 20mm MG 151 cannons was to have replaced the static 2 x 20mm MG 151 cannon configuration present on the A-3 models. To compensate for the turrets broad firing arc, a twin vertical fin tail assembly would have to be engineered and fully tested prior to serial production. Both destroyer mounts would have fitted dive flaps for their attack roles.
By the end of 1944, work had progressed steadily on the He 343. However, by this time, a new fighter initiative had been enacted by German authorities that shifted priority to jet-powered fighters in defense of Germany itself. The move collectively fell under the apt name of "Emergency Fighter Program" and a flurry of new designs soon emerged to net the lucrative defense contracts across the country (despite the deteriorating war effort, competition was still high among German firms and money still drove the business). As such, resources (and interest for that matter) were pulled from existing programs -including the He 343 - despite an initial order for 20 such aircraft already having been secured - Heinkel facilities were already beginning to produce the needed components for production He 343 airframes and, though disputed in sources, one prototype may have been completed and destroyed in an Allied bombing raid. All this effort came to naught with the forced cancellation of the He 343 project. Heinkel did, however, find some limited success with their He 162 "Volksjager" ("People's Fighter", intended to be flown by little-trained German civilians and Hitler youth, hence its title of a "people's fighter") product appearing in early 1945. The He 162 existed as a single-engined, single-seat jet-powered fighter of which only 170 were produced before the end of the war.
With Germany out of the picture come May of 1945, the invading Soviet forces claimed some of the He 343 data work from Heinkel. After extensive study of the German design, Soviet engineers began development of a similar turbojet-powered aircraft that was soon designated the "Ilyushin Il-22". Only a single prototype was ever constructed and flown (this on July 24th, 1947), becoming the first jet bomber ever for the Soviet Union. While never entering serial production, the information and data garnered from its development led to the design and production of the more powerful Ilushin Il 28 "Beagle"
, this product entering service with the Soviet Air Force in 1950 - just in time for escalating Cold War tensions further. Some 6,731 of the type were eventually produced, it proving a Cold War-era success for the Soviet Union and, in some ways, verifying the original Heinkel design to an extent.
Under the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fur Segelflug (DFS) naming system (a German glider research institute formed in 1933), the He 343 was assigned the project designation of "P.1068" but was otherwise known as the He 343. A second completed He 343 bomber prototype and a half-completed reconnaissance airframe were said destroyed by a fire at the Heinkel Wrede facility.