Heinkel He 162

The Heinkel He 162 Volksjaeger was a single engined, jet powered fighter aircraft fielded by the Luftwaffe near the end of World War II. The He 162 engaged in combat sometime in April 1945. 

Designed and built quickly, and made primarily of wood as metals were in very short supply and prioritised for other aircraft, the He 162 was nevertheless the fastest of the first generation of Axis and Allied jets. Volksjaeger was the official Luftwaffe name for the He 162. Other names given to the plane include Salamander, which was the codename of its construction program, and Spatz which was the name given to the plane by Heinkel.

Heinkel He 162
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Heinkel
Origin Germany
Country Name Origin Year
Germany 1944
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Germany View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Heinkel 170 View

When the U.S. 8th Air Force re-opened its bombing campaign on Germany in early 1944 with the Big Week offensive, the bombers returned to the skies with the long-range P-51 Mustang in escort, and now performing air supremacy offensive "fighter sweeps" well ahead of the 8th Air Force's combat box massed bomber formations, intended to clear the skies well ahead of the bombers of any Luftwaffe opposition. This changed the nature of the war in the air. Earlier in the war, German fighter units could freely attack Allied bombers, and over the previous year, the Luftwaffe had been modifying their fleet to improve their capabilities against them. The addition of heavy cannons like the 30mm calibre MK 108, and even heavier Bordkanone autoloading weapons in 37mm and 50mm calibres on their Zerstörer heavy fighters through to the time of their obsolescence, and the spring-1943 adoption of the Werfer-Granate 21 unguided rockets, gave the German single and twin-engined defensive fighters a degree of firepower never seen previously by Allied fliers. However, the extra armour added to the Zerstörer's single-engined replacements, the specially equipped Fw 190As performing the bomber destroyer role they took over from the Zerstörer heavy fighters, had the side effect of likewise reducing their performance. When the U.S. P-51 fighters arrived, the Luftwaffe's air defense force found itself hopelessly outclassed as both the Zerstörer twin-engined fighters and 30mm cannon-armed Fw 190A Sturmböcke, each in their turn, were driven from the skies over Germany by the USAAF in the first half of 1944.

By the end of April, as the P-51 escorts that formerly performed "close escort" of the USAAF's bomber combat boxes were now flying far ahead of the B-17 and B-24 formations in an air supremacy mode and aggressively seeking combat with the backbone of the Jagdwaffe (fighter force) to "clear the skies" of them, this change in USAAF tactics resulted in the German fighter forces being broken, with many of the Luftwaffe's leading aces killed in combat. Replacements were slow to arrive, leaving the Luftwaffe unable to put up much of a fight through the summer of 1944. With few planes coming up to fight, the U.S. fighters were let loose on the German airbases, railways and truck traffic. Logistics soon became a serious problem for the Luftwaffe, maintaining aircraft in fighting condition almost impossible, and having enough fuel for a complete mission profile was even more difficult, partly from the devastating effects of the Oil Campaign of World War II against Nazi petroleum industry targets.

This posed a considerable problem for the Luftwaffe. Two camps quickly developed, both demanding the immediate introduction of large numbers of jet fighter aircraft. One group, led by General der Jagdflieger ("General of Fighters") Adolf Galland, reasoned that superior numbers had to be countered with superior technology, and demanded that all possible effort be put into increasing the production of the Messerschmitt Me 262 in its A-1a fighter version, even if that meant reducing production of other aircraft in the meantime.

The second group pointed out that this would likely do little to address the problem; the Me 262 had notoriously unreliable powerplants and landing gear, and the existing logistics problems would mean there would merely be more of them on the ground waiting for parts that would never arrive, or for fuel that was not available. Instead, they suggested that a new design be built - one so inexpensive that if a machine was damaged or worn out, it could simply be discarded and replaced with a fresh plane straight off the assembly line. Thus was born the concept of the "throwaway fighter".

Galland and other Luftwaffe senior officers expressed vehement opposition to the light fighter idea, while Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Armaments Minister Albert Speer fully supported the idea. Göring and Speer got their way, and a contract tender for a single-engine jet fighter that was suited for cheap and rapid mass production was established under the name Volksjäger ("People's Fighter").

Role Fighter
Manufacturer Heinkel
Designer Heinkel
First flight 6 December 1944
Introduction 1945
Retired 1945
Status Retired
Primary user Luftwaffe
Number built ca 320


General characteristics

  • Crew: One, pilot
  • Length: 9.05 m (29 ft 8 in)
  • Wingspan: 7.2 m (23 ft 7 in)
  • Height: 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in)
  • Wing area: 14.5 m (156 ft)
  • Empty weight: 1,660 kg (3,660 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 2,800 kg (6,180 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 x BMW 003E-1 or E-2 turbojet, 7.85 kN (1,760 lbf)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 900 km/h (562 mph)
  • Range: 975 km (606 mi)
  • Service ceiling 12,000 m (39,400 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 1,405 m/min (4,615 ft/min)

Armament

  • 2 x 30 mm MK 108 cannons, 50 rounds each (He 162 A-0, A-1)
  • 2 x 20 mm MG 151 cannons, 120 rounds each (He 162 A-2)

End notes