|Location:||War in the Air|
The most advanced fighter to see service during the Second World War, too few Messerschmitt Me 262s were deployed by the Luftwaffe at too late a stage to affect the course of the air war over Europe.
‘What an aircraft! It was as though the Angels were pushing!’ Luftwaffe fighter ace Generalleutnant Adolf Galland, describing his first flight in a Me 262.
Preliminary design work on what was to become the Me 262 began in 1938. Persistent problems with the turbojets intended for the aircraft delayed the project. The first flight by a Me 262 using only jet power did not take place until July 1942.
In December 1943 Hitler decreed that the Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) should only be manufactured as a fighter bomber. Senior Luftwaffe officers believed that the Me 262 was more valuable as a fighter and Hitler’s wishes were initially ignored much to his subsequent fury.
Small numbers of Me 262 fighters and fighter bombers were used operationally by the Luftwaffe from mid 1944. The Me262 was the only jet fighter to see air-to-air combat in World War Two and its appearance was a great shock to the Allies. Allied pilots found the Me 262 a formidable opponent with a greatly superior speed. Special tactics were adopted to meet the new threat. Allied fighter aircraft would patrol above known Me 262 bases. They would dive down on Me 262s when they were at their most vulnerable: during take off and landing procedures.
Continuing production shortages meant that mass production, partially by slave labour, did not take place until the final months of the war when severe fuel shortages grounded most Luftwaffe aircraft. As such, the true potential of the Me 262 was never realised. It was a significantly more advanced design than its British contemporary and many of its aerodynamic secrets were eagerly incorporated in later post-war combat aircraft.
The Me 262 on display at the RAF Museum Midlands is the A2/U1 variant. It was a Me 262 adapted as a fighter bomber, capable of carrying two bombs, and with its armament reduced from four to two machine cannons. Although Adolf Hitler preferred the Me 262 as a bomber aircraft, it was totally unsuited for this task.