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- The Arado Ar 234 was the world's first operational jet-powered bomber, built by the German Arado company in the closing stages of World War II. Produced in very limited numbers, it was used almost entirely in the reconnaissance role, but in its few uses as a bomber it proved to be nearly impossible to intercept. It was the last Luftwaffe aircraft to fly over England during the war, in April 1945.
The Ar 234 was commonly known as Blitz ("lightning"), although this name refers only to the B-2 bomber variant, and it is not clear whether it derived from the informal term Blitz-Bomber (roughly, "very fast bomber") or was ever formally applied. The alternate name Hecht ("pike") is derived from one of the units equipped with this aircraft, the Sonderkommando Hecht.
In the autumn of 1940, the RLM offered a tender for a jet-powered high-speed reconnaissance aircraft with a range of 2,156 km (1,340 mi). Arado was the only company to respond, offering their E.370 project, led by Professor Walter Blume. This was a high-wing conventional-looking design with a Junkers Jumo 004 engine under each wing. The projected weight for the aircraft was approximately 8,000 kg (17,600 lb). In order to reduce the weight of the aircraft and maximize the internal fuel, Arado did not use the typical retractable landing gear; instead, the aircraft was to take off from a jettisonable three-wheeled, nosegear-style trolley and land on three retractable skids, one under the central section of the fuselage, and one under each engine nacelle. Arado estimated a maximum speed of 780 km/h (490 mph) at 6,000 m (19,690 ft), an operating altitude of 11,000 m (36,100 ft) and a range of 1,995 km (1,240 mi). The range was short of the RLM request, but they liked the design and ordered two prototypes as the Ar 234. These were largely complete before the end of 1941, but the Jumo 004 engines were not ready, and would not be ready until February 1943. When they did arrive they were considered unreliable by Junkers for in-flight use and were only cleared for static and taxi tests. Flight-qualified engines were finally delivered that spring, and the Ar 234 V1 made its first flight on 15 June 1943 at Rheine Airfield.
By September, four prototypes were flying. The second prototype, Arado Ar 234 V2, crashed 2 October 1943 at Rheine near Münster after suffering a fire in its port wing, failure of both engines and various instrumentation failures, the aircraft diving into the ground from 4,000 feet (1,200 m), killing pilot Flugkapitän Selle. The eight prototype aircraft were fitted with the original arrangement of trolley-and-skid landing gear, intended for the planned operational, but never-produced Ar 234A version.
The sixth and eighth of the series were powered with four BMW 003 jet engines instead of two Jumo 004s, the sixth having four engines housed in individual nacelles, and the eighth flown with two pairs of BMW 003s installed within "twinned" nacelles underneath either wing. These were the first four-engine jet aircraft to fly. The Ar 234 V7 prototype made history on 2 August 1944 as the first jet aircraft ever to fly a reconnaissance mission.
Arado Ar 234 B-2 "Blitz"Edit
|Arado Ar 234 B-2|
|General Historical Information|
|Place of origin||Germany|
|General Ingame Information|
|Guns||2x 15 mm MG 151/20 (back firing)|
|Bombs||2x 1000 kg bombs|
The RLM had already seen the promise of the design and in July had asked Arado to supply two prototypes of a Schnellbomber ("fast bomber") version as the Ar 234B. Since the aircraft was very slender and entirely filled with fuel tanks, there was no room for an internal bomb bay and the bombload had to be carried on external racks. The added weight and drag of a full bombload reduced the speed, so two 20 mm fixed-mount, rearwards aimed MG 151 cannons were added in a remotely controlled tail position to give some measure of defence. Since the cockpit was directly in front of the fuselage, the pilot had no direct view to the rear, so the guns were aimed through a periscope, derived from the type used on German World War II tanks, mounted on the cockpit roof. The system was generally considered useless, and many pilots had the guns removed to save weight. The external bombload, and the presence of inactive aircraft littering the landing field after their missions were completed (as with the similarly dolly/skid-geared Messerschmitt Me 163) made the skid-landing system impractical, so the B version was modified to have tricycle landing gear. The ninth prototype, marked with the Stammkennzeichen (radio code letters) PH+SQ, was the first Ar 234B, and flew on 10 March 1944. The B models were slightly wider at the mid-fuselage to house the main landing gear, with a fuel tank present in the mid-fuselage location on the eight earlier trolley/skid equipped prototype aircraft having to be deleted for the retracted main gear's accommodation, and with full bombload, the aircraft could only reach 668 km/h (415 mph) at altitude. This was still better than any bomber the Luftwaffe had at the time, and made it the only bomber with any hope of surviving the massive Allied air forces. The normal bombload consisted of two 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs suspended from the engines or one large 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bomb semi-recessed in the underside of the fuselage with maximum bombload being 1,500 kg (3,310 lb). If the war had continued it is possible that the aircraft would have been converted to use the Fritz X guided bombs or Henschel Hs 293 air-to-surface missiles. Production lines were already being set up, and 20 B-0 pre-production aircraft were delivered by the end of June. Later production was slow, however, as the Arado plants were given the task of producing planes from other bombed-out factories hit during the Big Week, and the ongoing license-building and nascent phasing-out of Heinkel's heavy He 177 bomber. Meanwhile, several of the prototypes were sent forward in the reconnaissance role. In most cases, it appears they were never even detected, cruising at about 740 km/h (460 mph) at over 9,100 m (29,900 ft), with the seventh prototype achieving the first-ever wartime reconnaissance mission over the United Kingdom by a Luftwaffe-used jet aircraft. The few 234Bs entered service in the fall and impressed their pilots. They were fairly fast and completely aerobatic. The long takeoff runs led to several accidents; a search for a solution led to improved training as well as the use of rocket-assisted takeoff. The engines were always the real problem; they suffered constant flameouts and required overhaul or replacement after about 10 hours of operation. The most notable use of the Ar 234 in the bomber role was the attempt to destroy the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. Between 7 March, when it was captured by the Allies, and 17 March, when it finally collapsed, the bridge was continually attacked by Ar 234s of III/KG 76 carrying 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bombs. The aircraft continued to fight in a scattered fashion until Germany surrendered on 8 May 1945. Some were shot down in air combat, destroyed by flak, or "bounced" by Allied fighters during takeoff or on the landing approach, as was already happening to Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters. Most simply sat on the airfields awaiting fuel that never arrived. Overall from the summer of 1944 until the end of the war a total of 210 aircraft were built. In February 1945, production was switched to the C variant. It was hoped that by November 1945 production would reach 500 per month.
- Ar 234B-0 : 20 pre-production aircraft.
- Ar 234B-1 : Reconnaissance version, equipped with two Rb 50/30 or Rb 75/30 cameras.
- Ar 234B-2 : Bomber version, with a maximum bombload of 2,000 kg (4,410 lb).
Ar 234 B-2/N "Nachtigall"Edit
In addition, a handful of B-2 airframes were adapted for the night-fighting role. These so-called Nachtigall (Nightingale) aircraft were fitted with FuG 218 "Neptun" VHF-band radar and carried a pair of forward-firing MG 151/20 autocannon within a Magirusbombe conformal gun pod on the ventral fuselage hardpoint. A second crewmember, who operated the radar systems, was accommodated in a very cramped compartment in the rear fuselage. Two of these jury-rigged night fighters served with Kommando Bonow, an experimental test unit attached to Luftflotte Reich. Operations commenced with the pair of 234s in March 1945, but Bonow's team soon found the aircraft to be unsuited for night fighting and no kills were recorded during the unit's very brief life.