Me 262 Project: Resurrecting The First Jet Fighter
By James Grahame
The German Messerschmitt 262 was the first combat jet fighter. It first flew against the Allies in August of 1944, eventually racking up 509 claimed kills. The project actually pre-dates the outbreak of WWII, with the original plans drawn up in April 1939. Unfortunately for the Luftwaffe, the aircraft was delayed by problems its state-of-the-art jet engines and material shortages.
Only about 10 of these historical machines still exist in aviation museums. None are airworthy, nor would it be wise to risk attempting to restore and fly such a rare machine. For many years, it seemed that the world would never again see a flying Me 262.
Luckily, a group of American aviation fanatics had other plans. The Me 262 project was founded in 1993 with the aim of building a new series limited to five Me 262 aircraft. So far, the team has completed and flown two aircraft and a third is nearing completion at their Paine Field headquarters in Washington State.
The new Me 262 was designed to be as faithful as possible to the original. The most significant change was the substitution of twin General Electric J-85 engines (as used in the T-38 Talon) in place of the failure-prone Junkers Jumo 004 powerplants, which had an engine life of only 10 to 25 hours. To make the plane appear as authentic as possible, the J-85s are built into castings of original Jumos. This helps to maintain appropriate weight and balance in the engine nacelles.
Theoretically, the modern engines should allow the Me 262 to fly faster than any previous generation of the aircraft, but the airframe simply wasn't designed for such high speeds. As a result, the design team placed a placarded airspeed limitation of 500 mph on the aircraft. The J-85 is also 40% more efficient than the original engine, giving the new Me 262 a range of approximately 1,100 miles.
One other relatively small change was made to the landing gear, since it was in everyone's best interest to make it as reliable as possible. Apart from that, these machines are as close as you'll ever get to seeing the real thing take flight, right down to the four fearsome nose-mounted Mk 108 cannons. One aircraft is currently operational in the USA, with a second registered in Germany.