The Heinkel He 162 Spatz, better known as the Volksjäger, or People's Fighter, was a single-engined jet fighter went from a basic design to its maiden flight in three months at the end of 1944, but that had barely entered service before the end of the Second World War.
The concept of the Volksjäger, or people's fighter, emerged after a major reorganisation of the German Air Ministry on 1 August 1944. On that date control of all departments that were connected with the design and production of aircraft was transferred to Albert Speer and the Ministry for Armament and Ammunition (R.f.Ruk.). This included the technical department, under the command of Karl Otto Saur.
By the summer of 1944 the German war economy was running desperately short of many crucial building materials. At the same time low flying Allied fighter bombers were beginning to roam across Germany, and the beleaguered Luftwaffe was struggling to find a solution. It was suggested that the answer would be to produce a light-weight jet fighter that would use as few strategic materials as possible, but still be easy to mass produce. The original idea may have come from General-Oberst Keller, head of the National Socialist Flying Corps, Generaldirektor Frydag, head of the main commission for airframes (this claim was made after the war by Saur but denied by Fryday), or from Saur himself. Saur certainly supported the idea, although other senior figures, amongst them Adolf Galland, were firmed opposed to it as a waste of effort.
The formal specification for the new aircraft called for an aircraft weighing 4,400lb, powered by a BMW 003 turbojet, with a top speed of 750kph (457mph) at sea level, a takeoff distance of under 1,604ft, an endurance of 30 minutes and an armament of two cannons - either the 20mm MG 151/20 or 30mm MK 108. This specification was issued to Arado, Blohm und Voss, Fieseler, Focke Wulf, Junkers and Messerschmitt on 10 September, and to Heinkel on 7 September. The companies were given three to five days to produce their basic designs.
Right from the start Heinkel had two advantages - they were the only company that accepted the challenge to have produced a jet powered aircraft, having been responsible for the world's first jet aircraft, the He 178, and the first jet aircraft to be designed as an operational fighter, the twin-engined He 280. They had then moved onto the Heinkel P.1072, a design for a high speed jet fighter, and many elements from this later aircraft would be used on the He 162.
Arado, Blohm und Voss, Focke-Wulf, Heinkel and Junkers were all able to respond within the timeline (Focke-Wulf even produced two designs). On 15 September the six designs were examined at the Air Ministry, and all but the Heinkel and Blohm und Voss projects were dismissed. After two more conferences, on 23 September Heinkel were awarded the contract (although work on the Blohm und Voss project continued until the end of the month).
The original design for the Heinkel P.1073 was for a low-wing monoplane, with conventional straight wings and a twin fin and rudder tail. The turbojet was to be carried in a nacelle mounted above the fuselage, partly to simplify construction and partly to avoid damage to the engine in a belly landing.
The design team, led by Siegfried Günther and Karl Schwärzler, worked non-stop, and detailed drawings were ready by 5 November. The V1 prototype was on the stocks by 17 November, and it was ready for its maiden flight on 6 December.
This first flight was a success. Heinkel's chief test pilot, Flugkapitän Gotthold Peter, reported that the engine worked beautifully. The aircraft had a tendency to turn to port, and defective glue caused the undercarriage door to break away, but these were minor problems.
Four days later the He 162 was show to a group of senior German Air Ministry, Luftwaffe and Nazi figures. This time a far more serious flaw was discovered. During a high speed run over the airfield the leading edge of the starboard wing broke away. The aircraft went into a roll, the aileron was ripped away, and the aircraft crashed beyond the airfield boundary, killing Peter.
This disaster wasn't allowed to slow down work on the aircraft. A speed limit of 311mph was imposed, and new stronger wings were designed. In the meantime the V2 made its maiden flight, on 22 December, with Carl Francke, a director of Heinkel, at the controls. It was followed by the M3 and M4 (M numbers having replaced V numbers late in 1944). These aircraft had a small downward hanging tip added to the wings, in a successful attempt to improve lateral stability. They were followed by a large number of prototypes, which were developed alongside the production aircraft..
Heinkel originally wanted to call the aircraft the He 500, but in 1944 the German Air Ministry wanted to reuse lower numbers that had either never been allocated, or that had been given to abandoned projects, in an attempt to confuse Allied intelligence. The code 8-162 had originally been given to the Messerschmitt Bf 162 'Jaguar', but this project had been abandoned in 1937, and so the number was given to the new Heinkel aircraft.
The production version of the He 162 was a high wing monoplane with a well streamlined fuselage. The wings had a slight dihedral (rising up towards the ends), with 'Lippish ears' on the ends. These were small downward hanging tips that were designed to improve lateral stability. The wings had a straight leading edge, and tapered trailing edge. The tail carried twin rudders. The aircraft used tricycle landing gear, with the nose wheel retracting backwards and the main wheels retracting inwards. The cockpit had a recognisably modern canopy, with a fixed windshield at the front, and a hinged rear section that opened up and to the back. The He 162 was the first production combat aircraft to be equipped with an ejector seat.
A total of four prototypes and thirty-one A-0 pre-production aircraft were built. The pre-production aircraft were also given Versuchs numbers, starting with V5, and going up to V36/ A-031 (V13 wasn't given an A-0 number). Most of the aircraft also had production numbers. At the end of December 1944 the V numbers were replaced with Muster, or model numbers, so the V5 became M5. In the following list we give V number, M number, production number and A-0 number.
Many Heinkel records were destroyed towards the end of the war, and as a result there is much confusion as to the details of the various prototype aircraft. Here we will record every alternative that we have found.
V1/ M1/ 200001
The V1 was the first prototype. It made its maiden flight on 6 December 1944, and was then destroyed during an official showing of the aircraft on 10 December, killing the test pilot.
V2/ M2/ 200002
The second prototype made its maiden flight on 22 December 1944, and was used for test flights before becoming a static test bed during 1945.
V3/ M3/ 200003
The V3 was given larger tail surfaces and anhedral wing tips (sloping downwards), as part of attempts to improve the stability of the design. It made its maiden flight on 16 January 1945, and was last mentioned a month later, on 18 February.
V4/ M4/ 200004
V4 was similar to V3. It made its maiden flight on 16 January 1945, and was also used for stability tests, before crashing on 9 February.
V5/ M5/ 200005/ A-01
V5 was the first of the pre-production series. It was completed by the end of December 1944, but never flew and was used as a static test bed.
V6/ M6/ 200006/ A-02
V6 made its maiden flight on 23 January 1945. It was used for armament trials, before crashing on 3 February.
V7/ M7/ 200007/ A-03
V7 was the prototype for the A-1 series. It was unarmed, and made its maiden flight on 25 January 1945. It was later used to test the parachute brake, before being damaged on 2 March.
V8/ M8/ 200008/ A-04
The V8 was given an improved undercarriage, and was the first aircraft to be armed with two MG 151/20 cannon. It made its maiden flight in February 1945, and crashed on 12 March.
V9/ M9/ 200009/ A-05
V9 was either similar to V8, or was the prototype for the two-seat trainer.
V10/ M10/ 200010/ A-06
V11/ M11/ 220017/ A-07
The V11 was used to test the Junkers Jumo 004B turbojet. It was also used for tests with the MK 108 cannon. It was one of a number of aircraft destroyed on 1 April 1945.
V12/ M12/ 220018/ A-08
V12 used the Jumo 00B engine but was armed with the MG 151.
Some sources state that the designation V13 was never allocated. Others state that it was given to an airframe that was to have been used with the Heinkel He S11 engine, but that was never completed because of a lack of engines.
V14/ M14/ A-09
The V14 was used as a test airframe, possibly because it too was to be powered by the S11 engine.
V15/ M15/ A-010
V16/ M16/ 220019/ A-011
The V16 and V17 were either prototypes for the two seat He 162S trainer, or prototypes powered by the Heinkel He S11 that were not completed until April 1945. Other sources consider V9 and V10 to have been the two-seat trainer prototypes.
V17/ M17/ 220020/ A-012
See V16. Some sources allocate the same production number to the V32.
V18/ M18/ 220001/ A-013
The V18 was the first aircraft to be produced in the 'Languste' factory at Hinterbrühl. It made its maiden flight on 24 January 1945, and was used for endurance flight trials. It may have been the first aircraft to be given the BMW 003E-1 engine, making it the prototype for the A-2 series.
V19/ M19/ 220002/ A-014
V19 made its maiden flight on 28 January 1945. It was used for flight trials, before crashing on 14 March 1945.
V20/ M20/ 220003/ A-015
V20 was given a new experimental undercarriage. It made its maiden flight on 10 February 1945, and survived the war. It was at Munich on 1 May 1945.
V21/ M21/ 220004/ A-016
V21 was used for firing trials with the MG 151/20 machine gun. It made its maiden flight on 22 February 1945 and was damaged on 7 March.
V22/ M22/ 220005/ A-017
V22 was given a modified wing root in an attempt to prevent tip-stalling (where the wing tips lose lift before the rest of the wing, making the aircraft difficult to control). On the standard He 162 there was a sharp angle between the wing and the fuselage, which caused part of the problem. On the V22 a smooth fairing was used to cover this gap. The aircraft made its maiden flight on 25 February 1945, and was damaged on 4 March.
V23/ M23/ 220006/ A-018
The V23 was similar to the V22. It made its maiden flight either on 27 February or 19 March 1945, and survived the war.
V24/ M24/ 220007/ A-019
V24 made its maiden flight on 20 March 1945. It was used for flight trials, before possibly being destroyed by enemy action later in the month.
V25/M25/ 220008/ A-020
V25 had a longer fuselage, and may have been a prototype for an A-6 production version. It made its maiden flight on 17 February, and crashed on 2 March.
V26/ M26/ 220009/ A-021
V26 had the same long fuselage as V25. It made its maiden flight on 17 February 1945, and was damaged on 12 March.
V27/ M27/ 220010/ A-022
V27 was similar to V26. It made its maiden flight on 1 February 1945.
V28/ M28/ 220011/ A-023
Some sources describe V28 as having been similar to V26, and having made its maiden flight on 18 February 1945. Others state that it was a reserve aircraft that never flew.
V29/ M29/ 220012/ A-024
All sources agree that one of V29, V30 and V31 was a weapons test aircraft and another was used to test a new gun sight. However they don't agree on which two. In some sources V29 was similar to V26, and made its maiden flight on 19 February 1945. In others it was an armaments test aircraft.
V30/ M30/ 220013/ A-025
V29 was either a weapons test bed or was used the test the EZ 42 gun sight. In either case it made its maiden flight on 24 February 1945.
V31/ M31/ 220014/ A-026
Those sources that see V29 as a weapons test bed allocate the EZ 42 trials to V31, with a maiden flight on 24 February 1945.
V32/ M32/ 220020/ A-027 to V36/ M36/ 220024/ A-031
No specific details have been found for these aircraft.
Sources differ on the details of the production versions of the He 162. All agree that the He 162A-2 was armed with two 20mm MG 151 cannon, and that one version was to be armed with two 30mm MK 108 cannon, but while most sources state that this was the A-3, others give it the designation A-1. Here we will follow the first suggestion
He 162 A-1
The He 162A-1 was powered by the BMW 003A-1 engine, and was the earliest production version of the aircraft. It was soon superseded by the A-2.
He 162 A-2
The A-2 became the standard production version of the aircraft. It was powered by the BMW 003A-3 engine, and armed with two 20mm MG 151 cannon each with 120 rounds.
He 162 A-3
The A-3 was a design for a version of the He 162 that would have been armed with two 30mm Mk 108 cannon, each with 50 rounds. This cannon put an unacceptable strain on the standard He 162 fuselage, and the A-3 may have been a design with a stronger fuselage designed to counter this.
The He 162S was a tandem two-seat training aircraft. Two prototypes were produced, and a third aircraft may have been produced. The first was ready to fly on 28 March 1945, but a few days later the training programme was scrapped and the aircraft were destroyed.
The destruction of many Heinkel records towards the end of the war means that many details of the He 162 programme are now obscure. The following list includes all proposed versions that we have found mentioned.
The A-6 was to have a stronger fuselage, extended from 29ft 8in to 30ft 1in. V25-V28 were built with the longer fuselage, possibly as prototypes for this series.
The A-8 was to have been powered by the Junkers Jumo 004D-4 turboket, and given larger fuel tanks to increase its endurance. It had an estimated maximum speed of 551mph.
The A-9 was to have been a version of the A-2 with a butterfly tail assembly, as tested on the He 280 V7 and V8. The butterfly tail replaced the horizontal surface and twin rudders of the standard He 162 with two small wings, mounted in a 'vee' shape, and with control surfaces on the trailing edge.
The A-14 was probably a test-bed for the planned C-1 and D-1 versions. A partially completed prototype was captured by the Allies, and could have taken either swept back or swept forward wings.
B-1 and B-2
In November 1944 the German Air Ministry issued a specification for an even simpler fighter, to be powered by the Argus impulse duct engine, as used on the V-1. Heinkel responded with two designs - the B-1, which would have been powered by one Argus As 014 engine and the B-2, with one As 044 engine. The Argus engine couldn't provide any power until the aircraft was moving at speed, and so the He 162B would have had to be launched either by catapults or rockets. The project was soon abandoned.
The C-1 would have used swept-forward wings and the butterfly tail, and would have been powered by the HeS 011 engine. It was suggested in December 1944, and work may have begun on a test bed, the A-14.
The D-1 was proposed at the same time as the C-1, and would have been given swept back wings, the butterfly tail and the HeS 011 engine. The outer panels of the wings may have been angled downwards. As with the C-1 the A-14 may have been a test bed for this design.
The production programme, with the codename 'Salamander', was managed by the Baugruppe Schlempp, led by Heinrich Lübke. The He 162 was written into a series of German fighter programmes, starting with programme 226 of 23 September 1944. This called for 1,000 aircraft to be complete by the end of April 1945, and for production to rise to 2,000 per month by the end of May. This was soon replaced by programme 227, of 15 December, which ended or scaled down production of many night fighter and bomber types, and of the Me 163, and focused efforts on the Me 262 and He 162. During 1945 this was replaced by a series of new programmes, each of which scaled down plans.
Completed aircraft were to be built at four main plants. Heinkel controlled two - Heinkel North at Rostock and the 'Languste' plant at Hinterbrühl near Vienna. Junkers were also to produce the aircraft at Bernberg, but the largest plant was to be part of the Mittelwerk GmbH complex at Nordhausen. Both the Languste and Mittelwerk plants relied heavily on slave labour.
A huge number of smaller factories were to produce components for the He 162. Wooden components were to be produced by small firms combined into three larger groups - Wätcher at Neustadt/ Orla; Reparaturwerk Erfurt at Erfurt and Organization Mai at Stuttgart. Quality control was poor, and many of the parts produced by these organisations had to be discarded.
Heinkel South, Vienna-Schwechat (production block 200, aircraft 200001-200010)
The first ten prototype aircraft were produced at Heinkel's Schwechat plant, near Vienna. Work then moved to the new 'Languste' plant at Hinterbrühl, near the city.
'Languste' at Hinterbrühl near Vienna (production block 220, aircraft 220001-220086)
Heinkel's second plant was built into a former chalk mine at Hinterbrühl near Vienna. This was an underground factory using slave labour, and conditions were brutal. About twenty prototypes and forty production aircraft were produced in the factory, which had a target of 1,000 aircraft per month. Production came to an end in April as the Allies approached Vienna.
Heinkel North, Rostock (production block 120, aircraft 120001-120100 and 120221-120240)
The most production factory was Heinkel North, at Rostock. This plant was expected to produce 1,000 aircraft per month, but by the time production stopped on 2 May had only completed around 120.
Junkers at Bernburg (production block 300, aircraft 300001-300027)
Junkers at Bernburg near Dessau were also expected to produce 1,000 He 162s per month (alongside the Me 163 and Ju 248). The first Junkers built A-2 made its maiden flight on 24 March 1945, but work stopped soon after this, and less than thirty aircraft were completed.
Mittelwerk GmbH complex at Nordhausen (production block 310, aircraft 310001-310018)
The giant Mittelwerk plant at Nordhausen was a key centre of the German military production towards the end of the war. Like 'Languste' it relied on slave labour, and was to have been a centre of V-1, V-2, He 162 and BMW engine production. The Mittelwerk plant was expected to produce 2,000 aircraft per month, but by the time production ended on 10 April only eighteen had been built.
The first unit to be equipped with the He 162 was Erprobungskommando 162, commanded by the fighter ace Oblt Heinz Bär (220 victories). This unit was formed in January 1945 at Rechlin to conduct service tests with the new aircraft. By May this unit moved to Salzburg, where it joined Adolf Galland's JV 44, an elite fighter unit equipped with the Me 262, but even after this move the unit doesn't appear to have gone operational. The combined units surrendered on 3 May.
The first regular combat unit to receive the aircraft was I/JG 1, which began to convert to the He 162 at Ludwigslust on 8 April. By the end of the month it had moved to Leck. II/JG 1 moved to Marienehe to convert to the He 162 on 8 April, but within a month the advancing Russians forced the unit to move to Leck, arriving on 3 May. On the following day I and II/JG 1, with 50 aircraft, were merged into I (Einsatzgruppe)/ JG 1. Four days the combined unit surrendered to the Allies.
As an operational aircraft the He 162 was a complete and utter failure. After all of the effort involved in its design and production only a handful of aircraft were ever used in combat, and only one combat victory was recorded, on 4 May, when Lt. Schmitt claimed a Typhoon. More He 162s were lost in accidents, and at one or possibly two were shot down - one by a Hawker Tempest of No.3 Squadron on 21 April, and a possible second by a F-6 (P-51 reconnaissance aircraft). Even if the He 162 had come into service earlier and in large numbers, it needed careful handling, and would only have been really effective in the hands of an expert pilot. Given that it was designed to be flown by partially trained novices this can only be seen as a serious failure. In the end all of those voices in Germany that have believed that the entire He 162 programme was a waste of effort were proved correct.
Engine: BMW 003E-1 axial-flow turbojet
Power: 1,763lb thrust at take-off, 2,028lb for 30 second bursts
Wing span: 23.6ft
Length: 29ft 8in
Height: 8ft 6in
Empty weight: 3,666lb
Loaded weight: 6,184lb
Max Speed (normal): 490mph at sea level, 520mph at 19,685ft
Max Speed (full thrust): 553mph at sea level, 562mph at 19,685ft
Climb rate: 3,780ft per minute or 4,613ft per minute with maximum power
Service Ceiling: 39,400ft
Range: 385 miles at full throttle, 369 miles with six 30-second bursts
Armament: Two 20mm MG 151 cannon each with 120 rounds