|Surviving samples of the world's first operational jet fighter are rare
enough; of over 1500 Messerchmitt Me 262s produced there are only
eight aircraft left today, or ten if you count the two post-war Avia S-92s. One of the
survivors was presented on these pages before (see
our previous feature Me
262 in Detail), but now is the time for a true rarity - the
world's only existing Me 262 night fighter from the South African National Museum of Military History in
The production two-seater variant of the Messerschmitt's jet fighter, called Me 262B-1, was devised solely for conversion training purposes. For a fighter pilot accustomed with the piston-engined aircraft the Me 262 was a vehicle of a different age. The tricycle undercarriage, twin engines, completely new type of propulsion notwithstanding the temperamental throttle control - all contributed to the need of conversion trainer with instructor in the rear cockpit. As was the accustomed practice, two-seater machines were not to be built new but converted from fighter models. About 120 machines of this variant were finished during 1944 and 1945.
Initially, the idea of a night-fighter 262 was developed independently by Messerschmitt as the Me 262B-2. It was to have a longer fuselage accommodating the two crew, internal fuel tanks with the capacity comparable to that of a single-seat variant, and a Berlin radar antenna hidden inside the modified nose cone. However, by the end of 1944 the war situation deteriorated so rapidly that it was realized that an interim solution must be found before the B-2 could reach production status.
Thus some of the existing trainer machines were converted once again to interim model nightfighters becoming Me 262B-1a/U1. The conversion comprised a FuG218 radar with operator occupying the rear cockpit. Before the collapse of German defences, only a handful of this type reached operational use with a single unit, 10./NJG11 at Magdeburg.
The hero of our story started its career as Werknummer 110305. It was flown operationally at 10./NJG11 by Kurt Welter. Whilst at this location it carried a red number 8 outlined in white, and camouflage of grey mottle over all-black undersurfaces. This aircraft has been widely documented in books and numerous colour profiles.
So how did it end up in South Africa?
Together with other aircraft of the unit, Red 8 was surrendered at Schleswig. The two-seater aircraft were considered a prized booty by the British, who collected three flyable machines for evaluation purposes. The other two were Red 12, werknummer 111980, (later destroyed in a gale in 1947) and Red 10, werknummer 110635 (scrapped already later the same year).
On 18 May 1945 Red 8 was ferried to Gilze-Rijen and then to RAF Farnborough in the UK for evaluation. It was subsequently used for radar and tactical trials starting from July the same year. It carried the RAF serial VH519.
After completed trials, Red 8 was shipped to South Africa on 23 February 1947, arriving at Cape Town on 17 March. Amazingly, it survived in storage until the late-1960s when it was taken over by the museum.
This important aircraft was restored for display in 1971 and has been a crown exhibit of the Johannesburg museum since 1972.
The sizeable photographic material of this walkaround has been divided into the following sections: