Heinkel He 162

A product of desperation, the Heinkel He 162 Salamander, also known as the Volksjäger (People’s fighter), recorded its maiden flight on 6 December 1944, just three months after the September 1944 specification for a cheap jet fighter was issued and only 38 days after design drawings were submitted by the factory. The all-wood aircraft was intended to be produced in massive numbers and flown by relatively inexperienced pilots. As it turned out, flying any jet fighter was something best left to the experts, not to mention something like the He 162 which had a number of severe problems requiring a deft hand on the controls. In tight turns parts tended to fly off and the aircraft would spin out of control, and the engine was prone to flame-outs. In the three weeks from April 13th to the end of the war 13 aircraft and 10 pilots were lost, only two or three in combat. Even so, when everything worked it was a delight to fly and was considered the best jet of the war as a gun platform with no directional snaking.

Deliveries to the Luftwaffe commenced mid-April 1945 with the first victory, and the first loss, occurring on the 19th. However, many more losses were caused by flying accidents as unfamiliar pilots attempted to master the jet. Heinkel’s own Test pilot Flugkapitan Peter being one of those was killed whilst testing the He 162 in December 1944.

One Gruppe of three squadrons (1/JG 1) equipped with some fifty He 162s was formed at Leck in Schleswig-Holstein on the 4th May 1945, but British forces occupied the airfield on the 8th of May and accepted the unit’s surrender.

By the end of the war around 116 machines had been completed and another 800 were under construction. A remarkable achievement (The fantastic quantities ordered: 1000 per month, rising to 4000 per month could never have been achieved) considering the chaotic conditions of the Third Reich’s last days.

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