The first operational jet fighters of WWII
models by Bjørn Jacobsen
Germany, UK and USA had jet fighters in the air over Europe in 1945.
The Me 262 was a major threat to the allied heavy bombers over Germany,
but neither the British Meteor nor the American P-80 was allowed to meet
the formidable Messerschmitt jet fighter.
I have always wondered why and would like to have a closer
look at the three first generation jet fighters:
The German Messerschmitt Me 262, the British Gloster Meteor and
the American Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star
Messerschmitt Me 262
The Messerschmitt Me 262 was the world’s first
operational jet-powered fighter aircraft.
Design work started in 1938, but engine problems and
top-level interference kept the aircraft from operational
status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944.
The Me 262’s advantages became obvious to both
German and Allied pilots when it finally entered service
in April 1944.
The fighter jet’s four 30-millimeter cannons allowed it to
tear up any bomber or fighter in its targeting sights,
and it could also carry R4M “Hurricane” rockets to fire
at Allied bombers and break up their flying formations.
And of course, it was much faster than any Allied fighter.
An example of the effectiveness of the Me 262;
On 18 March 1945, 37 Me 262s of JG 7 intercepted a
force of 1.221 bombers and 632 escorting fighters.
They shot down 12 bombers and one fighter for the
loss of three Me 262s
German pilots flying the Me 262 eventually claimed
542 air victories versus 102 losses.
The Allied countered the Me 262s effectiveness in the
air by attacking the aircraft on the ground and during
take-off and landing.
Me 262 was undoubtedly one of the most advanced
aviation designs in operational use during World War II.
A total number of 1.430 Me 262 was built.
Captured Me 262s were studied and flight tested by all
he major powers, and ultimately influenced the designs
of a number of post-war aircraft such as the
North American F-86 Sabre, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and MIG-15.
The Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and
the Allies’ first operational jet aircraft during WWII.
Development of the aircraft began in 1940, although
work on the engines had been under way since 1936.
The Meteor first flew in 1943 and commenced operations
in July 1944 with No. 616 Squadron RAF.
Several major variants of the Meteor were built during
the 1940s and 1950s and thousands of Meteors were
with RAF and other air forces and remained in use for
In 1945, however, the Meteor was initially used to
counter the V-1 threat. By war’s end, the Meteors had
only detroyed thirteen flying bombs.
On January 1945, RAF finally decided to deploy the
Meteor on the continent and moved four Meteors F.3
from 616 Squadron to Belgium as part of the 2nd TAF.
The purpose was to provide air defence for the airfield,
but their pilots hoped that their presence might provoke
the Luftwaffe into sending Me 262s against them.
The Meteors flew armed reconnaissance and ground
attack operations without encountering any German
jet fighters. The war ended with the Meteors having
destroyed 46 German aircraft through ground attack.
Friendly fire through misidentification as Me 262s by
Allied anti-aircraft gunners was more of a threat than
Luftwaffe. To counter this, the Meteors were given an
all-white finish as a recognition aid.
The nearest No.616 squadron came to a jet-to-jet battle
came on 19 March, when a force of Arado Ar 234 jet
bombers attacked their airfield.
When the war ended, the Meteor had never proved itself against a German jet fighter.
Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star
The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was the first jet fighter
used operationally by the United States Army Air Forces.
It was designed in 1943 and delivered just 143 days from
the start of the design process.
Production models were flying but not yet ready for
service when the WWII ended in Europe.
The P-80 saw no actual combat during WWII
Between January and March 1945 however, two
pre-production Lockheed YP-80A Shooting Star fighter
jets did see limited service in Italy with the USAAF,
possibly tasked with intercepting German Arado Ar 234
reconnaissance jet aircraft.
As the British, the American was reluctant to expose their
new technology to the danger of war, and waited until
November 1945 to add the P-80 to their Fighter Groups
In 1948, the new established US Air Force re-designated
the P-80C to F-80C.
The F-80C saw combat service in the Korean War where
it flew both air-to-air and air-to-ground sorties,
claiming several aerial victories against North Korean
Yak-9s and Il-10s.
On 8 November 1950, the first American claim for a
jet-versus-jet aerial kill was made when an F-80, shot
down a MiG-15.
F-80 pilots claimed to have destroyed a total of six
MiG-15s in aerial combat.
Despite initial claims of success, the speed of the
straight-wing F-80s was inferior to the swept wings
MiGs which had its origin from the Me 262 that showed
that swept wings enabled much higher speeds.
The F-80s were soon replaced by the swept wing North American F-86 Sabre.
The three jet fighters in one glance:
Me 262 A
Gloster Meteor F.1
18 July 1942
5 March 1943
8 January 1944
870km/h (540 mph)
793km/h (486 mph)
881km/h (548 mph)
Rate of Climb:
1.200m (3.937ft) /min
1.213 (3.980ft) /min
1.340m (4.400ft) /min
4 x 30mm canons
4 x 20 mm canons
4 x 0,50 in (12.7mm)
(Type A-2: two canons)
(P-80C: 6 x 0,50in)
24 x 55mm (2,2in)
16 x 90 lb rockets
8 x 127mm rockets
2 x 250kg (550 lb)
or 2 x 454kg bombs
2 x 454kg (1.000 lb)
or 2 x 500 kg (1.100 lb)
Building the models:
The kit I used was from Monogram, at least that’s what I thought. In reality, this is a 40 year old Revell product, which in no way is up to the standard expected for a modern kit.
But with a lot of sanding and putty it turned out quite all right.
The kit has a removable tail section. When the tail is off you’ll see the Allison J33 engine and
tail pipe. I choose to glue the tail on.
The markings for the aircraft in the Monogram box relate to the USAF, and are of no use when building a 1945 US ARMY AIR FORCE model (The USAF was established in 1947). I therefore had to find other decals for the plane.
The 1945 P-80s was all aluminium or painted light grey. I chose the aluminium version.
The Tip Tanks
The external tanks on the tip of each wing, were usually seen on the Shooting Star.
They were very aerodynamic and was said to actually improve the aerodynamic for the plane.
All external tanks were usually dropped as soon as a fighter entered a battle zone, but I am not sure it this was the case with the P-80s tip tanks.
I therefore choose to take some picture with
and without the tanks.
Messerschmitt Me 262
The kit from Tamiya was pleasure to build
compare to the two other kits. This is a far
more modern Kit and very easy to put together.
Since this page is about the first fighter jets,
I built the plane flown by Major Heintz “Pritzl”
Bär, commander of III./EJG 2.
He flew more than 1,000 combat missions.
His 220 confirmed victories place him eighth
on the overall list of Experten.
At least 75 of his victories were against
British- and American-flown aircraft over Europe. Among these 75 aerial victories are 21 US heavy bombers and one Mosquito.
Bär crash-landed or bailed out 18 times and was wounded three times in combat.
With his 16 of victories in the Me 262 jet fighter is Bär ranked as the second most successful “jet fighter ace” in WWII, only bypassed by Kurt Welter with 20+ victories.
1/48 Tamiya Gloster Meteor F.1. is also an old kit, but an easy build.
Everything fits nicely together.
The Dervent Jet engine can be presented in an open engine bay, which I choose not to do.
In the box was also the V-1 (Fieseler Fi 103) which was the only enemy “plane” the Meteor faced during WWII.
This gives me an opportunity to picture the Meteor together with the V-1
The Meteors main task when operating in Britain, was chasing the V-1s,
The Meteor had an ordinary fighter camouflage when flying in UK, but when the Meteors moved to Belgium, they was all painted white so the allied AA-batteries would not mistake them for a Me 262
US evaluation of Me 262 vs P-80
After the war ended USAAF tested the P-80A against Me 262 at Wright Field airfield. The results were disappointing for the Americans who expected that their aircraft would be clearly superior to the German Me 262.
Me 262 and P-80 had comparable top speed and the P-80 was easier to manoeuvre and its pilot had better visibility from the cockpit, but the
Me 262 equalled its rate of climb and had better acceleration. It also had arguably more firepower.
Despite the results of overall performance trials being favourable to the German aircraft, the Americans nevertheless conclude that P-80 was able to match Me 262.
So, which one was the best jet fighter???
This question has been raised ever since these three jet fighters took to the air.
One of the problems comparing the jets is that the British and US planes were constantly improved after the war. The Shooting Stars and Meteors which was fighting the Mig 15s in Korea were certainly not the same planes as flew over Europe in 1945. Of course all improvements of the German planes stopped when the war ended.
To make the comparison fair, we have to look at the 1945 versions, when all three jets were in the air over Europe.
They never met in a dogfight, so you have to draw your own conclusion.
I would put my money on the Me262 with the P-80 as a close #2. The Meteor will be #3 on my list.
The Germans was far ahead of the Allied in developing jet aircrafts. During WWII, they operated both jet bombers and fighters. The most important besides Me 262 was Ar234 and He162. In addition, they had at least eight new prototypes almost ready for service when the war in Europe ended.
Since we are discussing WWII jets, here are three main German jets: From the left; Heinkel He 162, Messerschmitt Me 262 and Arado Ar 234
The closest any Allied jet came to fight a German jet was the Gloster Meteor destroying some of the many V-1s which was sent towards London:
Let's take a closer look at the three models:
The WWII jets:
As mention above, the Germans was far ahead of the Allied in developing jets. In WWII, they operated both jet bombers and fighters and had at least eight new very advanced prototypes almost ready for service when the war in Europe ended.
Of course all aircraft development in Germany stopped with the end of the war, but German jet technology was eagerly studied by all the victorious powers.
The British had jet fighter #2 almost ready when the war ended: The Vampire Mk I had its first flight in 1943, but was still being developed in 1945
In the US the Bell P-59 Airacomet had its first flight in October 1942 (before the P-80) and 66 planes was build, but it never entered active service.
Horten 229 V3 - almost ready when the war ended. Today it can be seen at National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Origin # Built
Messerschmitt Me 262
First operational jet fighter
First operational Allied Jet
First operational US jet
Arado Ar 234**
First jet bomber
Heinkel He 162**
Fieseler Fi 103R
Ready for op late 1944
de Havilland Vampire
* all models
** can be seen on page 13 and 19
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