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Weapons of World War Two

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe

March 1945, on the airfield at Oberammergau. Six new jet fighters Messerschmitt 262 are in takeoff phase. Their objective is a large formation of B-17 bombers that has been signaled in the vicinity by the radar localization network. The Schwalben (as they were denominated the Me 262 of the first series) take altitude and head towards the target. Soon they reach it, positioning themselves at a higher altitude and, chosen the best moment for the attack, they start a long dive passing within the Flying Fortresses. From all the attackers departs a deadly salvo of 24 air-to-air R4M rockets that descompose the enemy formation.

Then, so unexpectedly as it had started, the combat ends, and for the bewildered American pilots who remain in the air there is nothing else to do but to take account. After few seconds fourteen B-17 have been shoot down, and the attackers have escaped unscathed. Scenes like this would repeat until the last days of the war, without possibility for the Allies of examining a captured or shot down and in good condition Me 262. To better know their tremendous adversary, they would have to wait for the end of the hostilities.

The Messerschmitt 262 was a turbojet aircraft, twin-engined and of low wing, with the engines placed in wing nacelles. The landing gear was of tricycle type with a fore wheel (whereas the prototype had it placed in the rear part). The fuselage section was in the shape of triangle with rounded angles, and the structure was entirely metallic, generally of steel in the fore part, destined to withstand a higher pressure, and of aluminum and light alloys in the rest. The engines, two turbojets Junkers Jumo 109-004 with axial compressor and monophase turbine of six combustion chambers, were started by two small Diesel engines placed inside a fairing in the air intakes, and were able to provide a maximum thrust of 900 kilograms.

The usual armament were four Rheinmetall Borsig MK 108 30-millimeter fast-firing cannons, concentrated in the nose, in whose tip there was a gun camera. The electronic equipment was rich and complex. It comprised, among other elements, a transmitter/receiver and devices for radionavegation and blind flying. The aircraft destined to night fight had as well radiolocalization devices and automatic direction finders of great precision. Unfortunately, in this case the awkward radar antennas in the nose reduced the speed in at least 60 kilometers/hour, but the Me 262 was always a superb night fighter.

The main fault of this aircraft was not in its structure, but in the wrong utilization that was made of it. It is said that Hitler - but most probably the very professor Messerschmitt, motivated by self interest and prestige - insisted in using the aircraft, born as a pure fighter, as an assault bomber. This fatal mistake would cause the loss of a considerable number of aircraft, forced to decrease the speed for taking the course to launch their bombs, making themselves vulnerable to enemy fighters, and a waste of fuel and materials that Germany should not indulge in. When they were aware of the mistake and wanted to reconvert the fighter-bomber in fighter, it was too late. The aircraft which could have stopped the Allied bombers would be already only a lost occasion.

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe
Designer: Professor Willy Messerschmitt

First flight: 18 July 1942 (A-1 Schwalbe)

Wingspan: 12.65 meters

Wing area: 21.70 square meters

Length: 10.60 meters

Height: 3.85 meters

Full load/Empty weight: 5939/4418 kilograms (A-1 Schwalbe); 6010/4500 kilograms (A-2 Sturmvogel)

Payload/Crew: 1521 kilograms/1 (A-1 Schwalbe); 1510 kilograms/1 (A-2 Sturmvogel)

Engines: Two Junkers Jumo 109-004 B-1 of 900 kilograms of thrust each

Maximum speed: 866 kilometers/hour (A-1 Schwalbe); 750 kilometers/hour (A-2 Sturmvogel)

Service ceiling: 11450 meters (A-1 Schwalbe); 10025 meters (A-2 Sturmvogel)

Defensive armament: Four Rheinmetall Borsig MK 108 30-millimeter cannons

Drop armament: 500 kilograms of bombs (A-2 Sturmvogel)

Operational range: 1050 kilometers (A-1 Schwalbe)

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