The Messerschmitt Me 261 was a project aircraft of the Germans prior to, and during, World War 2 (1939-1945). It was originally drawn up as a record-setting, propaganda-laced platform intended to deliver the Olympic torch from Germany to Japan. However, the arrival of the Second World War soon derailed the Me 261 project as an aviation marvel for it was relegated to an extended testing phase and used, for a limited time, in Luftwaffe service as a long-range reconnaissance platform. Only three examples were built - V1, V2, and V3 - and none survived the end of the war.
The Me 261 became known, unofficially, as the "Adolfine" in honor of the Fuhrer (Adolf Hitler).
The Me 261 was born from a 1937 design study handled by Messerschmitt and known as "Projekt P.1064". It was based in the smaller two-crew, twin-engine BF 110 which was put into production for the Luftwaffe in time for World War 2. The new, reimagined high-speed performer managed to retain much of the form of the BF 110 including the basic design arrangement and split vertical tail fins. The Me 261, however, incorporated unique qualities to make it a viable fast aircraft including noticeable streamlining, powerful engines, and a low-profile design.
The Me 261 was given "wet wings" in which the wing mainplanes were used to hold the aircraft's fuel stores - freeing the fuselage for more crew space and mission equipment. The mainplanes were also nearly as deep as the fuselage itself, particularly at the wing roots, yet managed to maintain the aircraft's pleasing, slim appearance when viewed in the side profile. Power for the aircraft was to come from a pair of engines held outboard of the fuselage and, to maximize output, coupled Daimler-Benz DB601 series liquid-cooled inline piston engines (of 2,700 horsepower output each) were selected. In their "paired" state, these power units became the "DB606". The same engines were used in the Heinkel He 119 project (just eight aircraft being built) and the He 177 strategic bomber (which proved troublesome in development despite 1,169 being produced during World War 2). In this fashion, the Me 261 was essentially being driven by four total engines though held in only two nacelles. The propeller units in play were four-bladed assemblies and the counter-rotation of the blades was useful in naturally cancelling out torque effects (a natural pull to one side) encountered when running just a single engine.
Unlike other aircraft of the period, engineers settled on a retractable, wheeled tricycle undercarriage arrangement that included the usual nose leg and a pair of main members (these one under each nacelle).
Production of a trio of prototypes was started by Messerschmitt in early-1939. However, progress of the project was derailed by the arrival of war with the German invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939. This soon led to the Olympics of 1940 being cancelled as a result and the need to further the Me 261 as a record-setter waned while the war drew to become a slugfest for Germany and its neighbors. Its fortunes changed some by the middle of 1940 for thought had now turned to finishing the still-in-development Messerschmitt design as a long-range fast-reconnaissance platform. Work was restarted with the new goal in mind before the fall.
On December 23rd, 1940, the first prototype, V1, was completed and flown for the first time by Messerschmitt. The second prototype followed into the air in early-1941 and this example was flight-tested into 1943. The V3, adding two additional crewmembers and switching to paired DB605 engines (collectively becoming the "DB610" power unit), was test-flown for the first time on April 16th, 1943. This example managed an endurance of 2,800 miles in ten hours during one test which made it an unofficial endurance record at the time (never verified internationally due to the war).
Specifications surrounding the V3 included an overall length of 54.8 feet, a wingspan of 88.1 feet, and a height of 15.5 feet. Its flight crew numbered seven total personnel. The Daimler-Benz DB610A/B 24-cylinder inverted-Vee engines gave 2,900 horsepower output and propelled the airframe to a maximum speed of 385 miles per hour out to a range of 6,850 miles. Its service ceiling was recorded at 27,100 feet.
Both the V1 and V2 prototypes ended their days on the scrap heap for, in 1944, both were damaged by Allied aerial bombs during a raid on the Luftwaffe base at Lechfeld where they were parked. The V3 crash-landed in July of 1943 when its portside leg suffered a hydraulics failure upon landing but was repaired at Oranienburg. This specimen was reportedly used in action for a short time by the desperate Luftwaffe in the long-range reconnaissance role - though presumed scrapped before the end of the war which arrived in 1945.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
54.7 ft (16.68 m)
88.1 ft (26.86 m)
15.5 ft (4.71 m)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Messerschmitt Me 261 V3 production variant)
2 x Daimler-Benz DB610A/B 24-cylinder inverted Vee engines (2 x coupled DB605 units) developing 2,900 horsepower each.
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