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Heinkel He 219
Description
Role Night-fighter
Crew 2
First Flight November 6, 1942
Entered Service 1943
Manufacturer Heinkel
Dimensions
Length 15.6 m 51 ft 0 in
Wingspan 18.5 m 60 ft 8 in
Height 4.4 m 14 ft 5 in
Wing Area 44.4 m² 478 ft²
Weights
Empty 0 kg 0 lb
Loaded 13,560 kg 29,900 lb
Maximum takeoff kg lb
Powerplant
Engine 2 × Daimler-Benz DB 603A
Power (each) 1,287 kW 1,750 hp
Performance
Maximum speed 619 km/h @ 6,400 m 385 mph @ 21,000 ft
Combat range 1,540 km 960 miles
Ferry range 2,148 km 1,335 miles
Service ceiling 9,300 m 30,500 ft
Rate of climb m/min ft/min
Wing loading 305.4 kg/m² 62.6 lb/ft²
Power/Mass 193 W/kg 0.117 hp/lb
Armament
Guns 4 × MG 151/20 20 mm cannon
2 × MK 108 30 mm cannon
2 × MK 108 (Schräge Musik)

The Heinkel He 219 Uhu (Owl) was a famous night fighter used late in World War II by the Luftwaffe. The plane had been requested in 1942 and eventually developed into a superb aircraft that many speculate would have had a huge effect on RAF night bombing plans. In the end however, very few ever saw service due to a political battle between Josef Kammhuber, General of the Night Fighters, Ernst Heinkel, the constructor, Erhard Milch, responsible for aircraft construction in the Reichsluftfahrtministerium and most importantly the aircraft itself which was said to be one of the most expensive planes to construct that the Luftwaffe flew.

When Robert Lusser returned to Heinkel from Messerschmitt, he immediately began work on a new high speed bomber project called P.1055. This was an advanced design with a pressurized cockpit, twin ejection seats, the first to be used in any combat aircraft, nose wheel landing gear, and remote control defensive guns like the Messerschmitt Me 210's. It was to be powered by two DB 610 "coupled" engines with 2,950 hp each, giving it excellent performance around 750 km/h (465 mph) and a 4000 km range with a 2000 kg bombload.

The RLM rejected the design in August 1940 as being too complex and risky. Lusser quickly offered four versions of the plane with various wingspans and engines in order to balance the performance and risk. At the same time he offered the P.1056 dedicated nightfighter with four 20 mm cannons in the wings and fuselage. The RLM rejected all of these on the same grounds in 1941. Heinkel was furious and fired Lusser on the spot.

But about the same time as Lusser was designing the P.1055, Kammhuber had started looking for a dedicated aircraft for his rapidly growing night fighter force. Heinkel quickly re-designed P.1055 for this role as the P.1060. This design was similar in layout but somewhat smaller, and powered by the smaller and simpler DB 603 engine. This engine wasn't known for its altitude performance, which was a problem for this design with its short wings, but Daimler offered a new "G" version that addressed that issue. Heinkel was sure he had a winner and sent the design off to the RLM in January 1942 while he funded the first prototype out of pocket. Nevertheless the RLM again rejected the plane in favour of new Junkers Ju 88 and Messerschmitt Me 210 based designs.

Construction of the prototype started in February, but suffered a serious setback in March, when Daimler said that the DB603G would not be ready in time. Instead they would deliver a 603A with a new gear ratio to the props, with the new designation, 603C. Even these took until August to arrive, thus the prototype didn't fly until the 6th of November 1942. When Kammhuber saw the prototype on the 19th he was so impressed he immediately ordered it into production over Milch's objections. Milch was furious as he had rejected the plane in January.

Several stability problems cropped up but Heinkel awarded cash prize to the engineers if they could be fixed quickly, and they were. Another set of changes involved the rear defensive guns which were found to be ineffective for serveral reasons and thus removed. The forward firing armament was upgraded to two 20 mm guns in the wing roots and four more guns or cannons mounted in the ventral tray. Production prototypes were then ordered as the He 219 A-0 (V-series planes) and quickly progressed to the point where V7, 8 and 9 were handed over to operational units in June '43 for testing.

The He 219 immediately found success as a night fighter: On the night of 11-12 June 1943 on its very first use in combat Werner Streib flew the V9 and shot down five bombers in a single mission. In the next ten days the three planes would shoot down a total of twenty RAF planes, including six of the previously untouchable de Havilland Mosquito fighter/bombers. Kammhuber was beside himself and continued to press for immediate production.

Production finally got underway with the He 219 A-2 model which included a longer engine nacelle containing an extra fuel tank, and typically included the R1 kit with two MK 108's 30 mm cannons installed as Schräge Musik. But production problems due to continued allied bombing meant the A-2/R1 did not reach Luftwaffe units until October 1943. The first 10 to 15 planes were delivered with the FuG 212 (Lichtenstein C-1) radar.

Milch repeatedly tried to have the program killed, and in the process Kammhuber was shoved from his office. Production actually ended for a time, but then restarted because the new Junkers Ju 388's were taking too long to get into service. Only 206 He-219's had been produced in the previous 15 months. Soon A5 began production and was the first major He-219 to enter production. The A5 featured an updated, longer wavelength Telefunken FuG-229 SN-2 radar system which had a reduced range from the SN-1, but was less vunlerable to chaff jamming and improved its accuracy and resolution considerably.

In order to combat the Mosquito, the He-219 had all excess weight removed via removal of some weapons and radio systems and was able to attain a speed of 404 mph (650 km/h). This version was given the designation A-6.

The next major production version was the A-7. The A-7 was outfitted with two 30 mm Rheinmetall MK-108s in the wing roots, two 30 mm Rheinmetall MK-103s and two 20 mm Mauser MK-151/20s in a ventral tray, and two MK-108s in a "Schrage Musik" installation. Later revisions of the A7 (the A7/R5) was fitted with the new Jumo 222A/B 2500 hp engines which allowed the He-219 to reach 435 mph (700 km/h)

The plane was a capable fighter, allowing the pilots a large degree of autonomy. Ground control simply got them into the right area and then the pilots took over and hunted down the bombers on their own – the SN-2's 4 km range was longer than the distance between the bombers. The performance of the plane wasn't great – about 580 km/h, or 360 mph – but it was enough of an advance over the Messerschmitt Bf 110's and Junkers Ju 88G's that the plane could chase down several bombers per sortie.

The He 219 gained an almost mythical reputation. However the plane was clearly underpowered and certainly not the Mosquito killer it's generally known as. Nevertheless it's equally clear that the plane should have been allowed to continue to be produced, and a night fighter wing armed with this plane instead of their motley collection of outdated heavy fighters and converted medium bombers would have been considerably stronger opposition for the RAF.

Survivors

Starting June 16, 1945, the U.S. Army Air Force Intelligence Service as part of "Operation LUSTY" took control of three He-219s at Grove, in South Jutland, Germany, base of the 1st Nightfighter Squadron when the war ended. These aircraft were made flight-worthy by "Watson's Wizzers" and flown to Cherbourg, France. He-219A-2, werk nummer 290202, was shipped to the United States with 21 other captured German aircraft on board the British aircraft carrier HMS Reaper and were reassembled at Ford Field, Newark, New Jersey. Werk nummer 290202 was assigned foreign equiptment number FE-614, and later T2-614. It was flown to Freeman Field, Indiana for flight testing, along with a second of the three He 219's. The second aircraft being an He 219 A-5, werk nummer 290060,and registered with foreign equiptment number FE-612. Following testing it was then moved in [1946]] to Orchard Place Airport, Park Ridge, Illinois. It was stored in a vacant aircraft factory and then transferred to the Smithsonian's National Air Museum on January 3, 1949. Finally the He-219 was crated and shipped to the Smithsonian's Silver Hill, MD., storage facility in early 1955. The He 219A-2 is currently undergoing restoration in the collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., USA. Recently the fuselage has been put on display, however the wings have not yet been moved out onto the display floor.

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Designation series

Do 216 - Do 217 - Hs 217 - He 219 - He 220 - BV 222 - FA 223

Related lists

List of military aircraft of Germany