|He 162 during post-war trials, USA.
||6 December 1944
The Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger (German, "People's Fighter"), the name of the project of the Emergency Fighter Program design competition, was a German single-engine, jet-powered fighter aircraft fielded by the Luftwaffe in World War II. Designed and built quickly, and made primarily of wood as metals were in very short supply and prioritised for other aircraft, the He 162 was nevertheless the fastest of the first generation of Axis and Allied jets. Volksjäger was the Reich Air Ministry's official name for the government design program competition won by the He 162 design. Other names given to the plane include Salamander, which was the codename of its construction program, and Spatz("Sparrow"), which was the name given to the plane by Heinkel.
He 162 captured from Germany at Freeman Field, Indiana, 1945
When the U.S. 8th Air Force re-opened its bombing campaign on Germany in early 1944 with the Big Week offensive, the bombers returned to the skies with the long-range P-51 Mustang in escort, and now performing air supremacy offensive "fighter sweeps" well ahead of the 8th Air Force's combat box massed bomber formations, intended to clear the skies well ahead of the bombers of any Luftwaffe opposition. This changed the nature of the war in the air. Earlier in the war, German fighter units could freely attack Allied bombers, and over the previous year, the Luftwaffe had been modifying their fleet to improve their capabilities against them. The addition of heavy cannons like the 30mm calibre MK 108, and even heavier Bordkanoneautoloading weapons in 37mm and 50mm calibres on their Zerstörer heavy fighters through to the time of their obsolence, and the spring-1943 adoption of the Werfer-Granate 21 unguided rockets, gave the German single and twin-engined defensive fighters a degree of firepower never seen previously by Allied fliers. However, the extra armour added to the Zerstörer's single-engined replacements, the specially equipped Fw 190As performing the bomber destroyer role they took over from the Zerstörer heavy fighters, had the side effect of likewise reducing their performance. When the U.S. fighters arrived, the Luftwaffe's air defense force found itself hopelessly outclassed as both the Zerstörer twin-engined fighters and 30mm cannon-armed Fw 190A Sturmböcke, each in their turn, were driven from the skies over Germany by the USAAF in the first half of 1944 with the P-51 Mustangs' arrival.
By the end of April, as the P-51 escorts that formerly performed "close escort" of the USAAF's bomber combat boxes were now flying far ahead of the B-17 and B-24 formations in an air supremacy mode in aggressively seeking combat with the backbone of the Jagdwaffe (fighter force) to "clear the skies" of them, this change in USAAF tactics resulted in the German fighter forces being broken, with many of the Luftwaffe's leading aces killed in combat. Replacements were slow to arrive, leaving the Luftwaffe unable to put up much of a fight through the summer of 1944. With few planes coming up to fight, the U.S. fighters were let loose on the German airbases, railways and truck traffic. Logistics soon became a serious problem for the Luftwaffe, maintaining aircraft in fighting condition almost impossible, and having enough fuel for a complete mission profile was even more difficult, partly from the devastating effects of the Oil Campaign of World War II against Nazi petroleum industry targets.
This posed a considerable problem for the Luftwaffe. Two camps quickly developed, both demanding the immediate introduction of large numbers of jet fighter aircraft. One group, led by General der Jagdflieger ("General of Fighters") Adolf Galland, reasoned that superior numbers had to be countered with superior technology, and demanded that all possible effort be put into increasing the production of the Messerschmitt Me 262 in its A-1a fighter version, even if that meant reducing production of other aircraft in the meantime.
The second group pointed out that this would likely do little to address the problem; the Me 262 had notoriously unreliable powerplants and landing gear, and the existing logistics problems would mean there would merely be more of them on the ground waiting for parts that would never arrive, or for fuel that was not available. Instead, they suggested that a new design be built - one so inexpensive that if a machine was damaged or worn out, it could simply be discarded and replaced with a fresh plane straight off the assembly line. Thus was born the concept of the "throwaway fighter".
Galland and other Luftwaffe senior officers expressed vehement opposition to the light fighter idea, while Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Armaments Minister Albert Speer fully supported the idea. Göring and Speer got their way, and a contract tender for a single-engine jet fighter that was suited for cheap and rapid mass production was established under the name Volksjäger ("People's Fighter").
The official RLM Volksjäger design competition parameters specified a single-seat fighter, powered by a single BMW 003, with a slightly lower-thrust engine not in demand for either the Me 262A or the Ar 234B, already in service. The main structure of the Volksjäger competing airframe designs would use cheap and unsophisticated parts made of wood and other non-strategic materials and, more importantly, could be assembled by semi- and non-skilled labor, including slave labor. Specifications included a weight of no more than 2,000 kg (4,400 lb). with Maximum speed was specified as 750 km/h (470 mph) at sea level, operational endurance at least a half hour, and the takeoff run no more than 500 m (1,640 ft). Armament was specified as either two 20 mm (0.79 in) MG 151/20 cannons with 100 rounds each, or two 30 mm (1.2 in) MK 108 cannons with 50 rounds each. The Volksjägerneeded to be easy to fly. Some suggested even glider or student pilots should be able to fly the jet effectively in combat, and indeed had the Volksjäger gone into full production, that is precisely what would have happened. After the war, Ernst Heinkel would say, "[The] unrealistic notion that this plane should be a 'people's fighter,' in which the Hitler Youth, after a short training regimen with clipped-wing two-seater gliders like the DFS Stummel-Habicht, could fly for the defense of Germany, displayed the unbalanced fanaticism of those days." The clipped-wingspan DFS Habicht models had varying wingspans of both 8 m (26 ft 3 in) or 6 m (19 ft 8 in), and were used also to prepare more experienced Luftwaffe pilots for the dangerous Me 163B — the same sort of training approach would also be used for the Hitler Youth aviators chosen to fly the jet-powered Volksjäger.
The requirement was issued 10 September 1944, with basic designs to be returned within 10 days and to start large-scale production by 1 January 1945. Because the winner of the new lightweight fighter design competition would be building huge numbers of the planes, nearly every German aircraft manufacturer expressed interest in the project, such as Blohm + Voss, and Focke-Wulf, whose Volksflugzeug design contender, likewise meant for BMW 003 turbojet power bore a resemblance to their slightly later Ta 183 jet fighter design. However, Heinkel had already been working on a series of "paper projects" for light single-engine fighters over the last year under the designation P.1073, with most design work being completed by Professor Benz, and had gone so far as to build and test several models and conduct some wind tunnel testing.
Although some of the competing designs were technically superior (in particular Blohm + Voss's P.211 submission), with Heinkel's head start the outcome was largely a foregone conclusion. The results of the competition were announced in October 1944, only three weeks after being announced, and to no one's surprise, the Heinkel entry was selected for production. In order to confuse Allied intelligence, the RLM chose to reuse the 8-162 designation (formerly that of a Messerschmitt fast bomber) rather than the other considered designation He 500.
underground production line for the He 162A was captured in April 1945