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Heinkel He 162

He 162A-2
Crewone, pilot
Length9.05m29' 8"
Wingspan7.2m23' 7"
Height2.6m8' 6"
Wing area11.2m²120.5ft²
Empty1,663kg3,666 lb
Loaded1,758kg3,876 lb
Maximum take-off2,8056,184 lb
Engines1x BMW 003E-1 or E-2 turbojet
Power800kg1,764 lb
Maximum speed838km/h521 mph
Combat range975km606 miles
Ferry range
Service ceiling12,000m39,370ft
Rate of Climb594m/min1,950ft/min
Guns2x 20mm MG 151

The Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger was the second jet engined fighter aircraft to be fielded by the Luftwaffe in WWII. It is known primarily for a series of spectacular disasters during testing.

When the US 8th Air Force re-opened the bombing campaign on Germany in early 1944, the bombers returned to the skies along with the P-51 Mustang in escort. Within a month the Luftwaffe was broken. Poor management by Erhard Milch had led to a proliferation of largely similar planes, all of which were designs that were at least four years old and simply couldn't compete with the P-51.

The solution was the jet engine. The Messerschmitt Me 262 looked like it was untouchable, and even small numbers of these planes could be devastating to the bomber streams. But a small number was all you could get; the engines lasted less than 12 hours on average and the planes spent the majority of their time on the ground. The solution appeared to be a disposable plane, and the Volksjäger ("Peoples Fighter") project was born. The Volksjäger took some convincing before it was finally approved in late 1944.

When it was, the design was selected and approved in only three weeks, with Heinkel winning the contract over the better Arado design because they could be in production earlier. Heinkel designed a neat, sporty-looking little aircraft, with a sleek streamlined fuselage, the BMW 003 engine carried in a nacelle on the back of the aircraft, twin tailfins to allow the vertical tailplanes to clear the jet exhaust, a high-mounted straight wing with a shallow dihedral, and tricycle landing gear that retracted into the fuselage. The plane was flying in an astoundingly short period of time; the design was chosen on 25 September and first flew on December 6th, less than 90 days later.

Of course this fast turnaround also had its drawbacks. One of the planes fell apart in mid-air during a demonstration flight, when the glue holding the wings together came apart. This led to a hasty re-design of the wing, which was already gearing up for production. A bigger problem was that the plane had too much dihedral in an effort to make it easy to fly, but instead this had the negative effect of making the plane have serious dutch roll problems. There was simply no time to fix that one, and the planes went into service with various stop-gap measures that never really helped.

By that time any hope of having the aircraft in widespread use was somewhat pointless, as the war was clearly drawing to a close. Nevertheless the ambitious production program continued and 300 were complete by the war's end, with another 100 ready for delivery. Only one gruppen had completely re-formed with the He 162 in late April, and they claimed two or three planes in combat before their base was taken over by the British in early May.