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T  A  K  E  O  F  F

The Ferry Mission to France

 

All of the project pilots (except Strobell) were given brief orientation flights in the two seater on the 9th of June.  Most of the records pertaining to the equipment found on the field had been destroyed or otherwise lost.  Since so little was known about the history of the engines and similarly critical components, this was the only formal flight training they dared to undertake. 

 

Aside from what they had managed to pick up while operating the ground trainer or practicing blind cockpit drills, the pilots were basically on their own.  Most of the men would have to experience their first solo flights in the Me 262 on the extended cross-country flight to France.

The ferry operation to get the planes out of Germany took place on the 10th of June.  The planes were lined up on the taxiway in a single file, and final check conducted early that morning.  Captain Hillis had prepared an operations plan which called for the first takeoff at around 0930 hours that morning.

For safety reasons, each takeoff time was delayed by roughly 10 minutes.  The separation was to provide the ground crews adequate time to clear the runway at the destination in the event of any mishap.   This was a legitimate precaution:  none of the men had any real experience with landing the jet, and the landing gear itself was known to be somewhat failure-prone.

As the team consisted of only eight American pilots, two cockpits would have gone unfilled without the aid of the Germans. 

Both Hofmann and Baur were retained to ferry aircraft, with Hofmann taking the two-seater trainer (later known as Willie) and Baur flying a standard fighter model (later known as Jabo Bait). 

Earlier in the week, each of the Americans had been given responsibility for a specific jet, and this was carried over when the flight assignments were made (it also was to take on a greater significance in Melun, when new markings were applied to each machine).

Lieutenant Roy W. Brown recalled his first jet flight on that day:

The aircraft lined up for the ferry flight to Melun.  Taken at Lechfeld on 10 June 1945.

Another view of the lineup at Lechfeld.

"Connie ... My Sharp Article" in the lineup at Lechfeld.  Credit: Brown

"Willie" Hofmann prepares for the ferry flight.  Credit: Brown

 

The Me 262 was smooth, quiet, and very responsive to the controls compared to the P-47 I had been flying for about a year.   I had also flown a P-40 in the States, and the Me 262 was even better than that.  

The plane was easy -- and a pleasure -- to fly.  Because of its high speed, I found myself going through my maps quickly to keep pace with the distance covered over the ground.

I glanced at the engines periodically. The engine tail pipe had a moveable cone, reducing the cross-sectional area of the exhaust gases when the engine was advanced to full power. The cone automatically moved rearwards as the RPM increased and would be extended at full power.

Another feature was the moveable leading edge of the wing. This moved forward automatically when the air speed dropped below a set speed forming a slot through which the air could flow to the top of the wing. This helped maintain improved air flow over the wing, reducing stall and landing speeds. After take-off the leading edge slid back automatically as the air speed increased.

The weather was good that day and the field at Melun was easily visible.

Bob Strobell reported a similar experience, except for one diversion: he had extended the cockpit vent by means of the small lever provided, but once at speed, he could not retract the vent.  A steady rush of icy air blasted his face for the entire trip, and it was not until he slowed for landing that we was able to retract it.

Bob Anspach echoed the sentiments of the others:

I was amazed at how quick it was and immediately noticed the smoothness of handling, compared to the P-47.  The control reaction was seemingly instant, and the rate of acceleration on takeoff was quite impressive.  It seemed that the plane just wanted to fly.  When I reduced the throttles for landing, I remember thinking "won't this thing ever slow down?"  It was truly love at first flight.

Ken Holt agreed:

When I cut power on final approach there was no drop in speed.  That sure took some getting used to!

By nightfall, the entire team had completed their ferry flight to Melun without incident.  Ten of Germany's most advanced jets were safely under guard at the French airfield at Melun, never to return to their homeland.  This was to be an intermediate stop along the way to a port at Cherbourg.

To this day, this mission remains a largely overlooked feat of incredible airmanship.  Except for Watson, Strobell and the two test pilots, this constituted the first extended flight that any of the men had ever made in a German plane, and their first solo in a jet aircraft of any kind.  Watson's pride in his team was justified, and in a dispatch to USSTAF headquarters that evening, he recommended that the team be transferred intact to the stateside flight test effort at Wright Field.

 


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