Nothing accelerates the pace of technical innovation like a war. World War II sparked tremendous advances in aviation technology. In the beginning of the war, some combat aircraft were still made with large amounts of wood and canvas. By the end of the war, sleek aluminum-skinned aircraft ruled the skies. Speeds and flight altitudes increased. World War II marked the beginning of the jet era. As the war was drawing to a close, jet and rocket-powered aircraft made it off of the drawing boards and into the sky. A rocket-powered aircraft even broke 600 miles per hour.
Speed is one key indicator of aviation progress. By the end of the war three jets and one rocket plane were setting new speed records. Here are the top 4 jet aircraft of World War II:
Gloster G-41 Meteor – 477 miles per hour. The Gloster Meteor was Great Britain’s first fighter jet. Only a small group of about twenty aircraft saw combat late in the second world war. However, they never got to fight against the legendary Me-262 or any any other aircraft. They were confined to strafing attacks. Due to problems with buffeting at speed, the Meteor was limited to about 415 miles per hour.
He-162 Volksjager – 522 miles per hour. Late in the war, Adolf Hitler envisioned Project Swallow. His goal was to produce swarms of inexpensive jet fighters that the dictator’s Hitler Youth would use to sweep allied bombers from the sky. According to militaryfactory.com, only 200 were ever deployed. The aircraft had a simple design where the jet engine was simply mounted on top of the airframe behind the cockpit. However, while not nearly as sleek as the Me-262, the crude He-162 was capable of 522 miles per hour.
Me-262 Schwalbe (Swallow) – 540 miles per hour. Designed in 1938, the Me-262A Schwalbe took to the skies on July 18, 1942 under jet power. The Me-262 was the first turbojet-powered aircraft in the world and was capable of 540 miles per hour. It inflicted heavy losses against allied bombers. However, only 300 made it into combat. Fortunately, many more were destroyed on the ground by bombers or never made it to airfields due to engine development delays and because Nazi Germany’s infrastructure was shattered by bombing.
Me-163 Komet – 621 miles per hour – The Me-163 Komet was a dangerous and daring attempt at creating a rocket-propelled fighter. It was fueled by dangerously explosive and corrosive rocket fuel and didn’t even have landing gear. The aircraft was launched from a trolley and glided in for a landing on a wooden skid. However, it had a 30 millimeter cannon and later rockets that could make short work of an allied bomber. The Komet would streak up at 596 miles per hour like a missile, attack, and then return home to glide to a landing. The top speed of the Komet was 621 miles per hour, but it became uncontrollable at that speed. According to plane-crazy.net, the Germans downed 9 allied aircraft and lost 14 Komets in combat.
While jet-powered fighters didn’t have much influence on the course of the second world war, they paved the way for the development of future jet powered aircraft. While rocket power was a little crazy for air combat, the Me-162 Komet concept was the first step towards aircraft like the American X-1 and X-15 experimental rocket aircraft that shattered the sound barrier.
“Factsheet: Messerschmitt Me-262A Schwalbe.” National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
Airvectors.net “The Gloster Meteor.”
Militaryfactory.com. “He-162 Volksjager (People’s Fighter)”
Plane-crazy.net “The Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet”