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Under the pressures of war, many proven aircraft designs underwent a continual process of variation. At a somewhat frantic pace, significant resources were thrown at attempts to out-class enemy aircraft with all sorts of novel design concepts for better speed, maneuverability and weapon systems. In this race the Messerschmitt Me 262 was a proven airframe that lent itself to many variations – some remained on the drawing board while others pushed the limits of aircraft design to the limits of the day.

The Messerschmitt Me 262 is easily recognised as one of the preeminent jet fighters of World War Two. While many are familiar with the general design of the Me 262, there were actually many variants of the aircraft produced throughout the course of the war. These versions sought to turn the airframe into everything from a bomber, to a night fighter, and an intercepter.

In its early planning stages, researchers proposed six variants of the 262: a fighter (or Jäger) which had two derivative variants; the rocket powered intercepter which had three derivatives; a bomber with three derivatives; a reconnaissance aircraft with three derivatives; a trainer version; and an anti-tank attack aircraft known as ‘Panzerflugzeug’ which had two derivatives.

Many of these hypothetical designs were never realised as production aircraft. During development, twelve prototypes of the Me 262 were built. Each prototype varied slightly, with different engines, and a slightly different designation – initially P.1065, and later Me 262 – each with a ‘V’ or variant number behind the designation.

ME 262 A MODEL

During the testing period, 23 pre-production 262s were ordered. These were designated Me262A-0, and saw limited use in 1944 as an evaluation platform for pilots. Since many of the pilots were pleased with the variant, it entered production.

The first production model would be designed Me262A-1a, Schwalbe – or ‘Swallow’. Powered by two Jumo 004 engines and armed with four 30mm MK 108 cannons in the nose, A-1a was a fighter above all else, yet from it several other variants would emerge.

A-1a/U1
The first was the A-1a/U1, heavily armed with two 20mm MG151 cannons, two 30mm MK103 cannons, and two 30mm MK108 cannons. Only one was ever produced.

A-1a/U2
Then, the A-1a/U2 was produced. Again, only one was ever made. The U2 was designed as a testbed for an Me262 night fighter program. It featured a 90Mhz Lichtenstein SN-2 radar transceiver and a Hirschgeweih antenna array on the nose.

A-1a/U3
Following this, the A-1a/U3 was produced in small numbers. The U3 was a reconnaissance aircraft, which could be fitted with various types of cameras, often the RB 20/30. These were often unarmed, although some retained a single 30mm nose cannon.

A-1a/U4
The A-1a/U4 was produced shortly after. This is likely the most recognisable of the Swallow variants. Known as the ‘Pulkzerstorer’, it was designed specifically as a bomber destroyer designed to take down bombers like the B-17s. This would be achieved with the use of a 50mm autocannon, which in theory would make quick work of heavy bombers. The Rheinmetal BK5 was used as the 50mm autocannon, but later the MK214 would also be tested on the aircraft.

A-1a/U5
Along similar lines, the next variant – the A-1a/U5 – also made use of heavier armament. The U5 prototype was armed with six MK108 30mm cannons in the nose, although it is unclear whether it was intended to be a heavily armed fighter, or a bomber intercepter. Supposedly, at least one of these U5 variants entered full service during the war.

Another odd variant, was known to exist. Known as ‘Green 3’ – it operated with the squadron JG 7, and was modified to carry two BR-21 air to air mortar tubes. This aircraft was likely field modified and thus had no designation beyond A-1a.

A-1b The final variant of the Swallow was the A-1b, distinguished from its earlier variants by a new engine – the BMW 003A – yet only three would be produced.

ME 262 A-2 STURMVOGEL

Following the success of the A-1 Swallow and its sub variants, a new type of Me 262 would enter the war. This would be designated Me 262A-2, known as the Sturmvogel, or Stormbird. This version would go on to become the most widely recognised and most well remembered version of the Me262. Designed as a multirole aircraft with a focus on ground attack, the Stormbird was fitted with two bomb racks under the fuselage, designed to carry two 250kg bombs, although two 500kg bombs could reportedly be fitted as well. It would also feature two cannons, rather than four or six, in order to retain proper balance with the aircraft, which would be more important given its increased payload. From this base model, two variants would be produced.

A-2a/U1
The A-2a/U1 reminded relatively the same as the original, but featured an advanced bomb site to aid with ground attack missions. Only one was built.

A-2a/U2
Then the A-2a/U2 was designed. This model was particularly unique, being designed specifically for bombing missions. It featured a redesigned nose which was glazed, allowing a bombardier to sit in the front and line up targets. Not much information exists about its operations.

A-3a
Three other A-model Me262s would be designed following this. The first – the A-3a – was specifically designed as a ground attack aircraft intended to operate at low levels, however a working variant was never produced. It would have featured improved armour, more fuel, ammunition, and better intakes.

A-4a
The A-4a followed this, designed as a high speed recon aircraft. It may have operated in a limited capacity, however its primary drawback was a lack of armament.

A-5a
In response, the A-5a was developed, which featured two 30mm MK108 cannons and drop tanks. This version would see use during the end of the war, with small numbers operating across the front.

B-1a
In order to train pilots on the Me262, there existed the B-1a model. This model was based off of the A-1a, but featured a larger cockpit to accomodate two seats, alongside dual controls and the ability to attack fuel tanks. Fifteen of these aircraft are known to have been produced.

B-1a/U1
Some of these were converted into the B-1a/U1, which took the two seat configuration for use as a night fighter. It was equipped with a FuG 218 Neptun radar, and an Antler antenna array on the nose, alongside two MK108 cannons and two MG151s. These aircraft were fast, but encountered problems when the antenna array was found to produce drag.

B-2a
This directly led to the development of the B-2a, a model specifically designed for the night fighter role. With a slightly stretched fuselage and larger fuel capacity, the B-2a would feature a FuG 240 radar with an internal antenna, reducing the problem with drag. The aircraft would also feature two MK108 cannons behind the cockpit, facing in an upwards configuration to target aircraft above. Supposedly, one such model did was produced before the end of the war.

ME 262 C

The final major model of the Me 262 appeared near the end of the war. This was the C model, proposed specifically as a defensive aircraft for Germany. Several versions would be produced from this model, all with the goal of developing alternative power plants for increased speed.

C-1a
The first was the C-1a, which remained fairly similar to the A-1a, but featured a rocket engine mounted in the tail to increase speed of takeoff and intercept. One was produced as a test aircraft, and is said to have shot down an American P47 Thunderbolt during a test flight.

C-2b
The C-2b followed shortly after. It was converted from a A-1a model, then fitted with a mixed power turbojet, which combined a BMW 003A turbojet with a BMW 109-718 rocket. The outcome of this is uncertain.

C-3
Then came the C-3 variant, which existed in two forms. The first – simply known as the C-3 – was to be powered by two Walter HWK RII-211 rocket engines in place of turbojets, whilst the second form – known as the C-3a – was to retain its two turbojet engines, but be fitted with a Walter HWK 109-509s-2 rocket under the fuselage, which could momentarily increase speed. This latter version was captured in a factory at Jenbach when the allies arrived in April 1945.

OTHER VARIANTS

Beyond the C model, several other odd variants of the Me262 were proposed before the end of the war.

Some of the standout variants include the W-1 and W-3, which were to have their turbojets taken out and replaced by pulse jets. The W-1 was to feature the Argus As014 pulse jet, whilst the W-3 would feature the As044 pulse jet with large, square intakes. There is uncertainty surrounding how far these proposals got.

Then following this, a ramjet version was proposed. This was designated Me262 Lorin, since it was to have two Lorin ramjets placed above the two turbojets on the wings, creating a four-engined aircraft. The operational range of such an aircraft would be decreased by 80%, however it would have increased the speed and performance of the aircraft massively.

During this period, Me 262s were also used for an interesting side project. This project was to research a flying rig known as the Deichselschlepp. This rig was to be used as either a refuelling pod or a 1000 kilogram bomb. The design was simple in theory; the rig was winged to allow for flight, and was attached to the tow aircraft using a hollow beam with articulating points. To take off, a two wheeled dolly was placed under the rig. As the aircraft sped up, the rig would take flight. Two explosive bolts would cause the dolly to seperate from the rig, and flight would be achieved. When used as a bomb, the pilot could aim using the standard REVI gunsight. Going into a shallow dive, another explosive bolt would cause the bomb to release and glide to its target. When put into action, the test success varied; the test pilot – Gerd Lindner – had success when using a 500kg variant of the bomb, but when a 1000kg version was tested, it was found to oscillate violently. In one case he had to eject, and in another he had to land with the bomb still attached. However, Lindner believed that with more time and testing the project would have been a success.

Another strange test took place some time during the development of the Me.1101 jet program. According to what information is available, an Me262 was fitted with a long engine intake on one of its wings. This intake was supposedly part of a research project aimed at developing the engine for the P.1101 program.

Before the end of the war, another project was undertaken, known as Mistel. This saw large drone craft, either powered or unpowered, attached to a piloted aircraft. These drones were unguided, and were packed full of explosives. Roughly 250 aircraft were tested in this configuration, including several Me262s. However, there is no recorded instance of these Me262 Mistels ever taking to the skies.

The final variants of the Me262 were actually produced after the end of the war. The Czech aircraft manufacturing company Avia had leftover components from Germany aircraft, and sought to develop these for use in their own air force. The Me 262 was designed into three versions by the Czechs using the locally built Jumo 004 engine known as the Avia M-04. These aircraft were the single seater S.92 – of which nine were produced – the two seat trainer CS.92 – of which three were produced – and the experimental S.92-7, which was powered by the experimental BMW 003 engines. All of these aircraft were phased out by the 1950s.

Thus, the Me262 had a wider combat history than most would realise. Although many of its variants were experimental and saw limited combat use, it proved that the platform was more versatile than expected, despite being essentially the first of its kind. This would lay the groundwork for many future fighters developed after the war.