The Heinkel He 178 became the world's first practical turbojet-powered aircraft to fly, beginning a new age of aviation in the process. The aircraft existed as a technology demonstrator intended to test the viability of the new propulsion method and lay the foundation for a new breed of aircraft designs still to come. Only two of her kind were produced in all before the end of World War 2 (1939-1945). Both were lost to separate Allied bombing raids - the first in 1943 while under the care of the Berlin Air Museum and the second, while in storage at Rostock, in 1945.
By this time in aviation history, Heinkel was a well-known and respective aviation concern. The company was founded in 1922 by Ernst Heinkel and primarily focused on design and development of airframes which were considered excellent for the period. Prior to World War 2 there proved a shift in company priorities which saw Heinkel begin to invest in the concept of turbojet propulsion. Heinkel obtained the services of engineer Dr. Hans Pabst von Ohain to head turbojet engine development in-house. Dr. Ohain came to the company with experience in gas turbines and Heinkel proved interested enough in the concept to help further it along
The German Air Ministry certainly respected Heinkel for his aircraft visions however it saw the shift to internal engine development as a nonsensical move, particularly when the German nation was gearing up for total war in Europe and all manner of resources would be required. This would lead to shortages of specialists and resources and, thusly, it was believed that each participating concern should continue to provide the services they had mastered in - Heinkel was needed to make its aircraft frames such as that of the famous He 111 Medium Bomber and not commit to a lengthy and expensive endeavor which may or may not yield something useful for the German cause.
Based on his patented concept for a gas turbine, Ohain successfully showcased his idea through the HeS 1 engine during a display in 1937. The concept evolved under Heinkel to become the diesel-fueled HeS 3 intended from the outset for aircraft propulsion. The engine initiative was evolved as a company private venture without official Air Ministry support and this commitment served to damage the good-standing Heinkel name. In 1938, the company debuted its turbojet aircraft concept fitted with the proposed jet and certainly earned notice from the Air Ministry - though officials were still more interested in war-making products for the here-and-now and not a developmental aircraft/jet combination effort. Heinkel persisted and managed a working prototype under the designation of He 178 - a single-seat, single-engine development strictly for testing the turbojet flight concept. The He 178 went airborne for the first time on August 27th, 1939 at Rostock and began the age of jet-powered flight - managing to achieve the top speed of 373 miles per hour (though a faster maximum speed was entirely possible, persistent issues with the undercarriage would consistently limit the He 178 from surpassing the 400mph mark). The first flight ended unceremoniously when the aircraft ingested a bird that forced a flameout of the engine. The test pilot - Flugkapitan Erich Warsitz - managed to bring his mount down safely.
Of note is that World War 2 officially began on September 1st, 1939, one week after the He 178's first flight.
Despite the seemingly ground-breaking attributes, the He 178 was more or less a conventional aircraft save for its powerplant. The fuselage was tubular in its general appearance and contoured for maximum airflow. Wings were high-mounted structures and fitted aft of the cockpit which lay at the extreme front end of the fuselage. The tail was highly traditional featuring a single vertical tail fin and a pair of horizontal tailplanes. All wing surfaces were straight in their design and curved at their tips - save for the second prototype which, though never flown under power, showcased clipped wing tips. The undercarriage was a typical "tail dragger" arrangement though retractable into awaiting wells. The pilot held generally favorable views from his uncomplicated canopy, essentially a two-piece unit with slight framing. The engine was buried in the fuselage itself, as were fuel stores, and aspirated by a nose-mounted intake to which ductwork managed airflow into the bowels of the airframe. The engine exhausted through a circular nozzle at the extreme aft of the fuselage.
As completed, the aircraft was powered by a single Heinkel HeS 3B series turbojet engine supplying approximately 926lbs to 992lbs of thrust. The airframe showcased a wingspan of 23.8 feet with a fuselage length of 24.7 feet and height to rudder top of 6 feet. Its base empty weight was 3,565lbs with a loaded weight nearing 4,400lbs. Listed cruise speed was 360 miles per hour with a top speed estimated at 435 miles per hour. Engineers believed the 530mph range entirely possible if given more time. Landings were conducted at speeds of approximately 100 miles per hour while operational range was listed at a paltry 125 miles - however for a development aircraft, this was entirely acceptable considering the infant technology in play.
The He 178 design held several notable deficiencies about her, chiefly in the position of the turbojet engine located deep within the aircraft. A long section of ductwork was required for aspirating the powerplant and this was possible through the intake at the cut-off nose. Such lengths worked at retarding the much-needed airflow and reducing engine power as a result - the He 178 yielded a poor power-to-weight ratio which limited maximum speeds. The prototype aircraft also suffered from being given short wing spans that directly limited wing area and affected stability and handling. The undercarriage proved problematic for the duration of the He 178's short career and was never fully rectified despite attempts - this also contributed to the sub-400mph speeds shown in test flights. To that end, the He 178 was a rather limited testbed and underpowered to the core, serving more as a stepping stone to more promising designs than a direct link to any operational fighter prototype.
With the German Air Ministry interest in the Heinkel approach lukewarm at best, the He 178 never materialized beyond its prototype stage. Two prototypes (He 178A and He 178B) were eventually completed and these laid the groundwork for the upcoming twin-turbojet fighter prototype He 280. The He 280 would compete (unsuccessfully) with the Messerschmitt Me 262 "Schwalbe" jet-powered fighter which went on to receive considerable fame and attention at the end of the war and in the years following.
It is interesting to note that the "failure" that was the He 178 brought about the German design practice of mounting turbojet engines in external nacelles to facilitate adjustments, repairs and replacement while also taking full advantage of no required ductwork - this in contrast to the embedded turbojet of the He 178 concept.
Production 2 Units
Heinkel AG - Germany
- X-Plane / Developmental
24.54 ft (7.48 m)
23.62 ft (7.2 m)
6.89 ft (2.1 m)
3,505 lb (1,590 kg)
4,387 lb (1,990 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Heinkel He 178 production model)
1 x Heinkel HeS 3b centrifugal-flow turbojet engine developing 990 lb of thrust.
435 mph (700 kph; 378 kts)
13,123 feet (4,000 m; 2.49 miles)
124 miles (200 km; 108 nm)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Heinkel He 178 production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Heinkel He 178 production model)
He 178 - Base Series Designation
He 178A - Initial prototype; flown on August 27th, 1939; rounded wingtips; destroyed in 1943.
He 178B - Second prototype; never flown under power; clipped wingtips; destroyed in 1945.
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