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Just one week before the outbreak of World War II, Germany flew the world's first jet aircraft. That plane was the Heinkel He-178 which, had its development been pushed, might have altered the course of history.
The first successful flights of the world's first turbojet-propelled airplane took place over a German forest on August 24 and 27, 1939, with Luftwaffe Captain Erich Warsitz at the controls. The tiny Heinkel HeS38 jet engine that powered the He-178 produced only 838 pounds of static thrust. But that was enough to push small single-seat monoplane to a speed of well over 400 miles per hour. Thus, even in its earliest test flights this remarkable aircraft demonstrated performance superior to that of many operational fighters.
The Heinkel jet engine was the brainchild of a brilliant young German scientist named Pabst von Ohain, who was only 25 years old when the He-178 made aviation history. The aircraft itself was designed by Heinkel engineers, working under the personal direction of Ernst Heinkel, head of the Heinkel aircraft manufacturing company. That firm financed the development of the He-178 without either the knowledge or financial support of the Nazi government.
The 4,400-pound Heinkel He-178 was literally built around the Ohain engine. It had a barrel shaped 24½-foot-long metal fuselage,with stubby 23½-foot wooden wings mounted high on its sides. The aircraft utilized the conventional three-point retractable landing gear, rather than tricycle configuration which was later adopted for other jets.
Despite the He-178's spectacular performance, the German Air Force at first showed scant interest in the plane. It wasn't until October 1939 that high-ranking air force officers agreed to inspect it, and although the He-178 clearly had great potential, it was never produced in quantity. Slow to push development work, the German Air Force didn't have an operational jet fighter plane until August 1944, too late to have a decisive effect on the outcome of World War II.
Nevertheless. through the foresight of Ernst Heinkel and the brilliant engineering of
Pabst von Ohain, the He-178 ushered in the jet age.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
Permission was granted to ALLSTAR by The Franklin Mint to use the preceding materials.
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Updated: March 12, 2004