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July 18, 1942 – The First Operational Jet Fighter

Posted July 18, 2007 2:31 PM by Steve Melito

Sixty-five years ago today, test pilot Fritz Wendel flew the world's first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. On July 18, 1942, Wendel boarded a prototype plane before a small crowd at an airport in Leipheim, Germany. Using only the Messerschmitt Me 262's jet engines, Wendel brought the aircraft to full power and released the brakes. The plane rolled forward, accelerated to the end of the runway, and climbed into the clouds. Later, jet-engine designer Anselm Franz would recall that as he looked towards the sky, he saw that the Jet Age was born.

Anselm Franz's vision was shared by Willy Messerschmitt, the legendary German aircraft designer whose company had long built piston-powered planes for the Nazi Luftwaffe. Although Messerschmitt's jet fighters failed to alter the course of World War II, the success of his third Me 262 airframe marked an important victory. During two previous test flights, Messerschmitt Me 262 prototypes had been fitted with BMW 003 turbojets which failed in midair. Fortunately for test pilot Fritz Wendel, the Junker Jumo 004 jet engines on Messerschmitt's third airframe emphasized reliability over maximum achievable performance.

Although the Junker Jumbo 004 wasn't the world's first turbojet, Anselm Franz's design was the first jet engine to enter mass production. Despite acute material shortages and the large-scale destruction of Germany's manufacturing base, almost 6,000 Junker Jumos were built by the end of World War II. When nickel, cobalt and molybdenum fell in short supply, Anselm Franz modified his original 00A design to use aluminum-coated mild steel. Consequently, the first production model of the Junker Jumbo 004B weighed 220 pounds less than the 004A jet engines that had powered Fritz Wendel on his historic flight. Later, as Allied bombing raids destroyed Germany's remaining industrial might, Franz modified his turbine design again. This time, he used deep-drawn hollow blades that were easier to produce than solid ones.

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messerschmitt_Me-262

https://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bljjetenginehistory.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_engine

https://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bljetengine.htm#whittle

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#1

Re: July 18, 1942 – The First Operational Jet Fighter

07/19/2007 10:45 AM

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the test pilots on the 262. The prototype was a tail-dragger with a Jumo recip engine installed in the nose as a safety measure because the jet engines were extremely unreliable at that time and considered high risk. After several flights with the "safety engine", it was removed for pure-jet flight. On the first flight, the pilot (sorry, I can't remember his name) accelerated to takeoff speed and was unable to raise the tail. Continuing to accelerate very slowly, he wasn't sure it would get airborne, so he decided to abort and when he hit the brakes, the tail lifted. At that time, being short of remaining runway, he believed flight was the better option so he firewalled the throttles and lifted off. After the flight, they determined the tail-dragging horizontal was in the wash of the wing and without the propwash of the Jumo, it could not generate sufficient lift to raise the tail for takeoff. They made several flights using the "tap-brakes-at-takeoff-speed" technique before it was converted to tricycle landing gear.

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Guru

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#2
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Re: July 18, 1942 – The First Operational Jet Fighter

07/19/2007 9:12 PM

It makes all the sense in the world. This too is the exact account the British gave for their decision for installing tricycle carriage arrangement on their 'Meteor" (Gloster, 1943)

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#3
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Re: July 18, 1942 – The First Operational Jet Fighter

07/20/2007 11:51 AM

Thanks for that story, Superheat. The test pilot you spoke with may have been Fritz Wendel himself!

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Guru

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#4
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Re: July 18, 1942 – The First Operational Jet Fighter

07/21/2007 2:02 AM
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