Military Aviation

The story of the Messerschmitt Me 262 three-seater night fighter that never was

The Me 262-based three-seater was an attempt to meet the Luftwaffe advanced night fighter competition aimed to develop a plane for the fight against Mosquito night fighter aircraft.

Developed from a 1938 design by the Messerschmitt company, the Me 262 Schwalbe was the world’s first operational turbojet aircraft. First flown under jet power on Jul. 18, 1942, it proved much faster than conventional airplanes. 

On Jul. 25, 1944, an Me 262 became the first jet airplane used in combat when it attacked a British photo-reconnaissance Mosquito flying over Munich.

In January 1945, Jagdgeschwader 7 (JG 7) was formed, followed by Lieutenant General Adolf Galland‘s Jadgverband 44. Though only of squadron size, Galland’s unit was comprised of many of the Luftwaffe’s top aces.

As a fighter, the German jet scored heavily against Allied bomber formations: on Mar. 18, 1945, Me 262s tore into a U.S. bomber formation, downing 12 bombers to the loss of just three jets. 

The day before Messerschmitt produced two separate night fighter descriptions within the frame of the Luftwaffe advanced night fighter competition aimed to develop a plane for the fight against Mosquito night fighter aircraft. As explained by Dan Sharp in his book Secret Projects of the Luftwaffe Volume 1 Jet Fighters 1939-1945, the first was for a two-seater (pilot and navigator) Me 262 B2 powered by HeS 011 engines and the second was for an Me 262-based three-seater (pilot, radio operator and navigator who had to be “as close together as possible without separating components”).

While the former was intended to extend the longevity of the nearly-in-production Me 262 B2 night fighter by swapping its Jumo 004 Bs for more powerful HeS 011s – plus a stronger undercarriage so that heavier weapons and/or more fuel could be carried – the latter was an attempt to meet the latest night fighter requirement. The introduction to its description said: “Based on the technical guidelines for a bad-weather and night fighter from Feb. 27, 1945, Messerschmitt AG suggests a further development of the previous night fighter. The advantage of this design is the use of large components of the Me 262, which means the least effort in testing and device capacity.

“The tip of the fuselage with nosewheel is taken over by the night fighter [the Me 262 B2], the end of the fuselage, the tail boom, the outer wings, the two main fuel tanks, the 600-litre additional tank and the pressure trough with equipment for the pilot correspond to the Me 262 A1.

“To achieve the required maximum speed, HeS 011 engines were provided in conjunction with a swept wing with a 3° sweep. The wing area was enlarged to 28m2 using a new middle section and the 262 outer wings.

‘The engines are installed centrally in the wing. Because of the simple structure and because test results with HG II are available in a short time, the engines can be installed under the wing. The accommodation of the third man is made possible by a renewed fuselage extension (total 2m) compared to the normal fighter. The fuel supply of 3,200 litres accommodated in the airframe corresponds to a flight duration of 2.5 hours at a height of 10km.

‘With 2 x 600-litre fixed external tanks, the flight time can be increased to 3.4 hours at a height of 10km. The requirements regarding armament can be regarded as fulfilled by using the previously developed Me 262 armaments, insofar as they can be used with the aiming device, and by two MK 108 as inclined armament. A rear armament was initially dispensed with. However, this can be installed in principle, but at the expense of fuel.

“The electronic equipment complies with the guidelines which correspond to the equipment previously intended for the two-seat night fighter Me 262.”

Drawings included with the report partially showed two variants of the three-seater – one with the engines buried in the wingroots and the other with them in the more familiar under-wing position – but there was no full three-view nor were precise dimensions for the design included with the description. As such, it would appear to have been rejected before the final selection phase of the competition.

Secret Projects of the Luftwaffe Volume 1 Jet Fighters 1939-1945 is published by Mortons Books and is available to order here. Save 10% on all books with exclusive promotional code ‘AVGEEK10’!

Photo credit: Modeling Madness

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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