Aviation History

Volksjäger: the story of the Heinkel He 162, the Nazi wooden jet fighter

The Heinkel He162 was one of Nazi Germany’s last ditch attempts to win back the control of the skies with a cheap jet fighter capable of being flown by almost anyone.

The Heinkel He 162 was one of Nazi Germany’s last ditch attempts to win back the control of the skies with a cheap jet fighter capable of being flown by almost anyone. Like all the other weapons it came too late to have any effect on the outcome of the war.

According to the Royal Air Force Museum website, by September 1944 the Western Allies and the Russians were closing in on the borders of German homeland and in a desperate attempt to reverse their defeats the Germans began a frantic search for a war-winning ‘wonder weapon‘.

The German aircraft industry produced a number of designs including the popularly known ‘ Volksjäger ‘ (People’s Fighter), the He 162 jet fighter. Using a high proportion of wood in its construction due to shortages of light alloys, it was designed for mass production by semi-skilled labour at a number of dispersed sites.

In such a desperate period it took just sixty nine days from the start of design work to its first flight. As might be expected from such a hurried design the aircraft had unpleasant flying characteristics.

Very few He 162s were ever encountered in combat. Deliveries began to Luftwaffe units in February 1945 but only two victories were claimed for the type during its short service life and both were unconfirmed.

Although plans existed for a monthly production of 4,000, less than 200 were actually delivered to the German Air Force by the end of the war.

Noteworthy a pulsejet project was devised by Heinkel as a continuation of He 162 development was outlined in a report” published on Mar. 30, 1945 — two days before the Soviet army began their offensive against Vienna where Heinkel’s design staff were based. Given the mention of an He 162 powered by pulsejets in connection with Junkers EF 126 ‘Elli’ in January however, it would appear that the project had been under way for several months beforehand.

The short description, that is featured in Dan Sharp’s book Secret Projects of the Luftwaffe Volume 1 Jet Fighters 1939-1945, stated: “The occasion for investigation of the 162 with Argus tubes was the considerably lower cost of producing the Argus tubes in comparison with the turbojet power unit. The drawbacks are the great fuel consumption, low altitude output and the necessity for supplementary starting aid. The velocities at lower altitudes, however, are only slightly inferior to the value attainable with turbojet units.

“We have the choice between different-size Argus tubes, the As 014 tube with 335kg static thrust and the As 044 with 500kg static thrust. We investigated the employment of two As 014 tubes above the fuselage, and also of one As 044 tube similarly placed. In contrast with report 114/44, we are nevertheless suggesting the installation of one As 044 tube, owing to the increased thrust which has meanwhile been developed. The arrangement with one tube gives a considerably better rear field of view than with two tubes. For the installation of two strong As 044 tubes, allowing for at least 20 min duration of full-throttle flight at ground level, the body of 162 is too small (approximately 2.2 tons of fuel are required).

“As a result of the pronounced falling-off in the power unit’s thrust with altitude (more than with air density) the maximum speed is attained at ground level. For the same reason flight performance is poor at greater altitudes, so that operational flight can only be considered at low altitudes. Take-off must be effected by having recourse to auxiliary starting aid. If the take-off position is not to be betrayed by the smoke of the starting rockets it will necessary to employ a catapulting device. The amount of fuel required may be completely housed in the fuselage and wing, making external tanks superfluous. The supply of auxiliary power for the radio, fuel and hydraulic systems, is provided by a generating set on board the aircraft.”

Two drawings were appended to the report: 162.01-43 and 162.01-44, both dated Mar. 30, 1945. The former showed the He 162 with the large As 044 mounted on its back while the latter showed the aircraft with a pair of As 014s side by side on its back.

Armament was a pair of MK 108s in each case but a third, unnumbered, drawing exists showing the As 044 design equipped with a pair of much longer-barrelled weapons —possibly MK 103s — with their barrels protruding from the sides of the aircraft’s fuselage.

It is unclear why Heinkel bothered with this project since the vibrations produced by the Argus pulsejets were seemingly incurable.

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: Top image unknown and Toshonenov own work via Wikipedia

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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