75-year Jubilee: First flight with jet engines
On July 18 1942 the first operational mass-production jet-engine fighter plane took off – the Me 262. An exact copy of the original is now on show in the Messerschmitt Museum of Flight at the Airbus facility in the Bavarian town of Manching.
In 1942, this aircraft was forward-looking high technology. Firstly, due to the aircraft concept itself and secondly, due to the new jet engines that had been developed in parallel with the aircraft and were production-ready. By the middle of 1932, discussions and developments had taken place concerning a new form of propulsion without piston engines and propellers, and also around an aerodynamically optimized aircraft frame with the goal of achieving higher inflight speeds.
On July 18, 1942, as Fritz Wendel, an experienced test pilot, first undertook several fast taxiing maneuvers and was preparing to take off at around 180 km/h, things did not go as well as expected. Wendel came to the conclusion that the missing propeller backwash, in conjunction with the large takeoff incidence angle, prevented effective airflow to the elevator behind the wing. Calling on all of his experience, he very briefly applied the brakes just before liftoff, thus lifting the tail into its flying position and bringing elevator pressure and effect into play. The plane took off successfully, landing without incident some 12 minutes later.
An important step towards today’s jet fighter had been taken. All of the development and design results that culminated in the first flights, as well as the following research and test flight results, continue to shape aviation today.
As well as non-flying original Me 262s in museums, three copies capable of flying have been built: two of these are in privately-owned hands in the USA, while the third flight-capable Me 262 is flown from, and on show in, the Messerschmitt Museum of Flight in Manching.
Team / Messerschmitt Museum of Flight
Picture by Markus Zinner