Most pilots and aviation enthusiasts are aware of the Nazi role in developing jet aircraft. Both the Me 262 and Me 163 Komet are remembered as deadly fighter and interceptor aircraft, but they were just some of the many jet concepts which emerged during the war. Of all the conceptual designs, what the Luftwaffe showed a keen interest in was the idea of the jet powered bomber. What many people are likely unaware of is that many of these designs were close to being realised, and some actually flew in combat. Today, we look at the most promising world war 2 jet bombers, some of which took to the sky.

There had been many proposals regarding jet bombers, ranging from modified Me262’s designed for close air support, to an ambitious concept known as the ‘America Bomber’, which was to be able to carry 2000 pounds of explosives across the Atlantic and return home without a refuel, preferably whilst being able to fly at supersonic speeds. This ambitious idea – like many others – were simply too far fetched for the time. However, many other concepts were within reach.

Horten H.XVIII

HORTEN FLYING WING

Perhaps the most recognisable of these concepts was the Horten flying wing design. This general concept was actually associated with the America bomber proposal at one point, however various variants would be proposed to fill various other roles.

The primary flying wing model was designated Horten Ho 229. This design – which had emerged from a flying wing glider known as the Horten H.IV – would actually leave the drawing board and be developed into prototypes. Six variants of the Ho 229 were officially designed during the war, with the most well known being the V3 variant.

The Horten brothers America bomber proposal – another flying wing – drew from the Ho 229 design, upscaling it and adapting the design to allow for heavier payload capacity, increased fuel storage, and better speed. It was to designated H.XVIII, but the design would never be finalised.

But while the flying wing remains one of the best remembered German bomber concepts, there were two other designs which were far more feasible in the short term, yet to this day they remain rather obscure.

JUNKERS JU 287

The first was a design from Junkers, known as the Ju 287. A larger bomber, it would be powered by four jet engines. Two would be mounted under the wings, while two others on the forward of the fuselage.

Ju 287

One of the many unique features of the Ju 287 was its use of forward swept wings – a design concept which had seen limited experimentation prior to this. It was found that such a design actually resulted in great handling. However, the primary drawback noted by engineers was that forward swept wings had the proclivity to produce wing warping, which could occur when turning or flying at high speeds. Designers believed this problem could be overcome if the engines were mounted under the wings, thus weighing down and hopefully stabilising both wings. The projects head designer – Dr Hans Wocke – suggested the forward swept wing specifically to help with low speed handling during takeoff and landing. Early turbojets had poor responsiveness, and allied pilots knew that the best time to jump these aircraft was during takeoff and landing. Thus, increased agility at low speeds would be a major benefit.

Two Ju 287s were produced, although the project would go no further than this. Due to limitations, the aircraft would be built primarily out of existing parts. The fuselage would be taken from a Heinkel He 177, the tail from a Junkers Ju 188G-2, and the undercarriage and nosewheels taken from destroyed B-24 Liberators. Due to limitations in torsion strength in the wing, cutouts could not be made for the landing gear to be stowed. This was planned to be fixed in the future, but meant that initial prototypes had to fly with fixed landing gear – the only jet aircraft to do so. The aircraft could also be equipped with rocket propulsion to aid in takeoff, although these were known to be unreliable.

The first prototype – V1 – was initially to be powered by four Jumo 004 engines, however these were changed to the BMW 003. It would first take to the air on August 8th 1944, flown by test pilot Siegfried Holzbaur. These initial flight tests were considered successfully, with the aircraft showing impressive handling characteristics. The primary draw back was wing warping – which was expected – and was planned to be overcome in the V2 variant by moving the engines further out on the wings. Nevertheless, seventeen test flights would occur with V1, with no major incidents. In fact, despite wing warping, the pilot on one occasion tested the aircraft in a full throttle dive, achieving a speed of 660 kmh.

The second prototype – V2 – was almost completed, but lacked engines. Unlike V1, it would have six engines; four Jumo 004s and two BMW 003s. They would be mounted in triple cluster nacelles – one under each wing.

A further four prototypes were in the works, each with varying upgrades. V3 and V4 – which were 90 percent and 60 percent complete respectively – were to have new fuselages, six BMW 003 engines, and a pressurised cockpit taken from the Ju 288. V5 and V6 would have further upgrades, including ejection seats, better internal equipment, and tail armament.

In September 1944, the V1 prototype was sent to Pomerania for flow testing, however the program was shelved – alongside several other experimental programs – and resources were reallocated to what was known as the Volksjager emergency fighter program. However, the program was suddenly restarted in March 1945, with the government ordering production to begin on 100 aircraft per month. This never eventuated. Both V1 and V2 were destroyed by the Luftwaffe to avoid capture by the allies, however the other prototypes were found, along with Dr Wocke and his team. Sent to the Soviet union, their research would aid in the production of Soviet jet bombers.

 

ARADO Ar 234

However, the only jet bomber to be used in combat was the Arado Ar 234. Developed midway through the war, the conceptual design was received well by the Luftwaffe. Eight prototype aircraft were designed, with several being developed into working aircraft. Prototypes number 6 and number 8 would form the basis for the finalised design. Version 6 used four BMW 003 engines; two on each wing with separation. Version 8 on the other hand placed these four engines into two twinned nacelles.

Ar 234

With support from the Luftwaffe, development then began on the B variant, which would be used as a fast bomber to enter production in early 1944. Powered by two Jump 004 engines and capable of carrying 1500 kilograms of munitions, it was the fastest bomber available to the Luftwaffe, able to fly at 672 kmh. The initial plan was to produce 500 of these aircraft per month, though in actuality only 210 would be produced. Several of these would be modified into night fighters, equipped with Neptun radars and 20mm auto cannons, though they had limited success.

Other variants were proposed, although only one other would enter production; the C variant. This would use four BMW 003A engines – which were lighter than the Jumo 004 engines. It would also be 20 percent faster than the B variant. However, by the end of the war, most of these aircraft were incomplete; only 14 were built, and less than have of these had engines installed.

Nevertheless, from 1944 onwards, the Arado bomber would see combat. The entrance of the Ar 234 into combat marked the first time a dedicated jet bomber was used on the battlefield. The first of these aircraft to enter the war were the prototypes, which were used as reconnaissance aircraft beginning in August 1944. One would fly over England – becoming the first Luftwaffe jet to do so, while others were used to assess allied movements towards the Netherlands. Flying behind allied lines, these aircraft were immune to interception by piston aircraft, due to their altitude and speed.

The first of the B model bombers would enter service in late 1944, taking part in bombing missions in Belgium Form this point on, most Arado missions would be undertaken by bomber group KG 76. By December 1944, larger numbers of these bombers were being used against allied positions during the Ardennes Offensive, and in January 1945 they were hitting allied targets in Northern Italy and Luxembourg. It was during this time that an American P-47 was able to force down an Arado. The bomber crash landed, and would serve as the first captured example of the aircraft for the Allies.

However, the aircraft is most often remembered for its use in the bombing of the Ludendorff Bridge. Between March 7th and March 17th, Hermann Goering had ordered continuous bombing missions against the bridge in a bid to stall the allied advance. However, many of the bomber crews were new to the aircraft, and were still getting used to the handling. Whats more, striking the bridge accurately would require flying in low before attacking. As it became obvious to the allies that the Germans would strike the bridge, anti aircraft weaponry was set up across the area. From the allied capture of the bridge on March 7th through till March 17th, Arado bombers were sent in at low altitudes to strike the bridge with 1000 kilogram bombs. The heavy anti air coverage resulted in many being hit and downed, while those that made it through often failed to hit the target. Goering’s insistence on the mission resulted in the needless loss of many aircraft and crewmen.

On April 10th 1945, it was reported that several Arados were still in operating condition; two night fighters, 12 bombers, and 24 recon aircraft. However, most lacked crews, and would stay grounded due to a lack of fuel. Occasional combat missions continued sporadically until the end of the war, with several aircraft reported as downed, due to either anti air fire, or allied fighters would bounce the aircraft when they were taking off or landing.

Entering so late into the war, with Germany on the losing side, Arado pilots and ground crews had a difficult time with the aircraft. Material shortages and a lack of proper fuel mixture meant the Jumo engines were prone to failure, and it was reported that overhauls or engine swaps were necessary after just ten hours of flight. Ground crews also had to install rocket engines under the wings to shorten the lengthy takeoff distances the aircraft required. Near the end of the war, the Arado E.381 was proposed to be integrated. It would have been a parasite fighter launched from below the bomber, propelled by a rocket to intercept allied bombers, although this design was never completed.

The true effectiveness of the design is hard to gauge. By the time the design was finalised, circumstantial problems resulted in hinderances. Rather than the planned production of 500 aircraft per month, in actuality just over 200 were produced throughout the entire war due to material shortages. Apart from KG76, others operated the aircraft, including Sonderkommando Bonow – who used the night fighters – Sonderkommando Sommer – who used recon variants in Italy – and several others for recon and training.

CONCLUSION

These designs represent the earliest jet bombers to be developed into real world prototypes. Although their use was limited, they proved without a doubt that jet bombers were going to be the future. They would go on to inspire jet bomber designs after the war, marking a new era in fighter and bomber tech.