The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (English: "Swallow") of Nazi Germany was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began, but engine problems and top-level interference prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944. Compared with Allied fighters of its day, including the British jet-powered Gloster Meteor, it was much faster and better armed. One of the most advanced aviation designs in operational use during World War II, the Me 262 was used in a variety of roles, including light bomber, reconnaissance and even experimental night fighter versions.
Me 262 pilots claimed a total of 542 Allied kills (although higher claims are sometimes made).[Notes 1] The Allies countered its potential effectiveness in the air by attacking the aircraft on the ground and while taking off or landing. Engine reliability problems and attacks by Allied forces on fuel supplies during the deteriorating late-war situation also reduced the effectiveness of the aircraft as a fighting force. In the end, the Me 262 had a negligible impact on the course of the war as a result of its late introduction and the consequently small numbers that were deployed in operational service.
The Me 262 was often mistaken by observers for the Gloster Meteor, the first allied jet fighter aircraft, due to similarities in their appearance, leading to numerous friendly fire incidents on both sides. While German use of the aircraft ended with the close of the Second World War, a small number were operated by the Czechoslovak Air Force until 1951. Captured Me 262 were studied and flight tested by the major powers, and ultimately influenced the designs of a number of post-war aircraft such as the North American F-86 Sabre and Boeing B-47 Stratojet. A number of aircraft have survived on static display in museums, and there have also been several privately-built flying recreations.
Design and development
Several years before World War II, the Germans foresaw the great potential for aircraft that used the jet engine, constructed by Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain in 1936. After the successful test flights of the first jet of the world, the Heinkel He 178, they adopted the jet engine for an advanced fighter aircraft. As a result, the Me 262 was already under development as Projekt 1065 (P.1065) before the start of World War II.