70 Years ago today, the unique Heinkel He162 jet fighter first flew in the hands of test pilot Gotthard Peter.
The HE162 Salamander was a single seat, single engine jet fighter. It was designed to be quick and easy to produce as well as being more reliable and cost effective than the Me262. The aircraft formed part of the Luftwaffes overall plan to counteract the allies large number of aircraft by having stronger aircraft themselves.
The 162, or “VolksJager” (Peoples fighter), as it was also known came about in an impressively short time. Only three months passed between the design being commissioned on the 10th September 1944 and the first flight on the 6th December.
This fast-track design system meant that the factory took out very little formal flight-testing. The flight-testing stage was not without its problems however, with a number of structural problems leading to loss of aircraft and lives. During one demonstration flight the 162 claimed test pilot Gotthard Peters life when an aileron became detached during a high speed run.
During January 1945 aircraft were sent out to assessment units, which carried out the remainder of the flight testing. Though it was intiallay proposed that the Volksjager would be flown by the Hitler Youth, this early jet fighter was clearly too complicated. It was even a challenge for the most experienced test pilots in its early days.
The main squadron that the 162 saw service with was I/JG 1, which was only fully formed on the 3rd May, ultimately too late to make an impact, with Germany surrendering on the 8th of that month.
Though the aircraft saw limited success in service, with a number of kills to its credit, the flaws found in the early test flights still lingered. The rushed production schedule led to a number of handling problems, not helped by a limited range of only thirty minutes.
Much like the 262 the Heinkel became vulnerable in the landing phase and a number were lost during emergency landings after the aircraft ran out of fuel.
Following the war a number of the 162s were captured by the allies and returned to Britain and America for evaluation flights. Eric “Winkle” Brown was one of the evaluation pilots at Farnborough. In an article he wrote for Air Enthusiast in 1972 Brown described his first thoughts on the jet.
“An exciting looking aeroplane, though not exactly beautiful…its narrow track undercarriage is bound to make it a handful in a crosswind, an oversized V1 on wheels.”
One of Eric Brown’s main concerns of the aircraft were the rudders, which started to buffet whenever they moved past ¾ of their movement, Brown referred to this as a “loud and clear danger signal“. A signal that another British test pilot ignored at a display on the 9th November 1945, which sadly led to the rudder coming off and a fatal accident.
Brown closed his thoughts on the aircraft saying that he believed if the war had lasted a few more months and some of the problems has been ironed out the HE162 could have seen sensational results.
There are 7 of these unique jets remaining, two of which are in British museums, one is at Duxford and the other at the Royal Air Force museum at Hendon. I was lucky enough to get a rare view inside the cockpit of the Hendon example, which allowed a unique view of the interior of the aircraft.
The HE162 forms an interesting part of aviation history that could have made much more of an impression had it had more time.