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The Arado Ar 234 Blitz (Lightning) was the world's first operational jet bomber and reconnaissance aircraft

Arado 234A

In the late 1930s turbojet engines then under development by BMW and Junkers became reliable enough to be used for aircraft. The Reich Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium or RLM) invited tenders for the design of a jet powered high-speed fighter and reconnaissance aircraft. The bid for the fighter design was won by the Messerschmitt factory and resulted in the creation of the Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. The only response for a reconnaissance aircraft came from Arado which submitted the E.370/IV project led by Professor Walter Blume along with Hans Rebeski and Rudinger Kosin.

Early jet engine developments

Concept of the turbojet engine originated in 1935 from Hans von Obain and Max Hahn in Göttingen and was further developed by Heinkel. It was a private venture by the German Heinkel company in accordance with director Ernst Heinkel's emphasis on developing technology for high-speed flight. On 27 August 1939 the Heinkel He 178 became the first aircraft to take off with this type of powerplant. The German Air Ministry was not very interested in the Heinkel, and the He 178 never materialized beyond its prototype stage. The later twin-turbojet fighter prototype He 280 lost the competition with the Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter.

Heinkel He 178
Heinkel He 178
Heinkel He 280
Heinkel He 280
Messerschmitt Me 262
Messerschmitt Me 262

In October 1941, they presented a project for a single-seat, cantilever high-wing monoplane of monococque construction, with straight wings and single-fin tail unit. The aircraft was to be propelled by two BMW P 3302 jet engines located in underwing nacelles. The fuselage, of cylindrical cross-section, was to house a pressurized cockpit, three fuel tanks and two Rb 50/30 (or Rb 70/30) photographic cameras. Defensive armament was to consist of one fixed 13mm MG 131 machine gun mounted in the aft fuselage. Total fuel capacity was 4,000 liters.

The design of the aircraft's landing gear changed several times. The team worked on several solutions: a single retractable fuselage skid; a bogie of small auxiliary wheels mounted underneath the fuselage with skids beneath the engine nacelles; and a tricycle landing skids mounted beneath the fuselage and engine nacelles. Eventually, the last variant was chosen. The rather basic landing gear had its advantages. It constituted only 3% of the aircraft's take-off weight. The airplane would taxi and takeoff atop a wheeled trolley that the pilot jettisoned as the jet left the runway. Ground crews recovered the trolley and refurbished it for the next flight.

On 17th November 1941, Ernst Udet, who was the director-general of equipment for the Luftwaffe, committed suicide. Udet's successor, Erhard Milch, visited the Arado plant in Brandenburg on the 4th February 1942. Milch was shown the E.370/IV project, and he was impressed by it. Milch ordered a full-scale wooden mock-up to be built. In April of 1942, the RLM ordered six prototypes, designated Arado 234. Throughout 1942, scale models of the Arado 234 were submitted to windtunnel tests.

BMW engine development problems repeatedly slowed flight testing the first Ar 234. While the engines were growing in diameter, wider engine nacelles became necessary, which on its turn affected the aerodynamics of the aircraft. Arado decided to employ the Junkers Jumo turbojet, for which the aircraft's wings had to be re-designed. On 28th December 1942 the RLM ordered an additional 14 prototypes. However, the RLM was not satisfied with the aircraft's undercarriage system. Arado designed the Ar 234B variant with a tricycle retractable landing gear, for which the fuselage had to be widened by 21 cm. The project was approved, and on 9th February 1943 the RLM ordered two prototypes of the new variant, which was to be a bomber version of the basic reconnaissance design.

Tests of the delivered Jumo 004 engines showed that the engines did not deliver the necessary thrust. Additional thrust at take-off was to be delivered by two external rocket boosters. The boosters were parachuted to the ground once their fuel was consumed. Another alternative that was proposed by Arado was the installation of four BMW engines instead of two Jumo engines, but this had to be postponed until the BMW powerplants would be reliable enough.

Walter HWK 109-500

Walter HWK 109-500
Walter HWK 109-500

The Walter HWK 109-500 was a liquid fuelled rocket motor developed by Walterwerke in Germany during the Second World War. During development the model was designated RI-201. Once accepted for production, the RLM gave it the designation HWK 109-500. Production was given to the Heinkel werke at Jenbach, who manufactured around 6,000 units during the course of the war.

Walter HWK 109-500 in place
Puting in place under the wing

The liquid-fuel rocket booster shortened the take-off distance and facilited take-off with heavy load. In front of the nacelle a parachute was mounted, enabling it to land softly after having been jettisoned from the aircraft. It allowed multiple use of the same engine. The propellant consisted of three components. The propellant components were forced to the combustion chamber by compressed air. The combustion chamber was cooled with hydrogen peroxide.

On Sunday 18th July 1943 the dismantled prototype Arado 234 V1 was delivered to Rheine aerodrome, where it was re-assembled. The aircraft had previously been shipped unassembled in an Ar 232 to Rheine, since Brandenburg did not have a runway of adequate length. Three days later the Jumo 004 engines had been installed and taxiing tests were conducted. During another ground test on 26th July a loose cowling caused the port engine to catch fire. Following repairs, the Ar 234 V1 was test flown for the first time on 30th July by Heinz Selle. At 500 meters the pilot released the trolley, but it smashed to the ground due to a faulty parachute deployment. The flight time of the first flight was 14 minutes.

Arado Ar 234 V1, front Arado Ar 234 V1 Arado Ar 234 V1, left Arado Ar 234 V1, three quarters rear view
Arado Ar 234 V1 (WNr. 130 001) fitted with tricycle take-off trolley

The airplane was test flown for the second time on 10th August. Again the take-off trolley was wrecked due to faulty parachutes. The second flight was 55 minutes. The experience gathered during the first two flights made the designers revise the procedure for releasing the trolley. Now it was to be dropped immediately after leaving the ground. On 29th August 1943 Heinz Selle took off for his third test flight, following successfully the new procedure of releasing the take-off trolley. While Heinz approached the airport for landing he attempted to select more power to stay on the approach path in vain. He crash landed the Ar 232 V1, and it was damaged beyond repair.

In early September 1943 the second prototype was completed, however the engines had to be replaced. The second prototype was test flown on 13th September by Selle from Brandenburg to Alt Lönnewitz, where he performed two more test flights the following days. On 29th August Selle flew the third prototype for the first time from Brandenburg to Alt Lönnewitz. The following day another flight took place. During take-off the trolley, dropped from a height of approximately 1.5 - 2 meters, flipped onto its back and was again wrecked. As a result, it was recommended that the trolley be released while it was still rolling on the ground.

On 1st October 1943 Selle took off for hist fifth flight at the controls of the Ar 234 V2 prototype. The objective was to test the machine's climb rate. In the climb at an altitude of approximately 29,000 ft, the port engine cut out. Selle glided down, while reporting fluttering of the elevators. A fire inside the port wing caused the plane to crash, killing Selle and delaying the programme by another month. Following the crash, various improvements to the other prototypes were made.

The Ar 234 V3 was flown again on 11th November 1943 for a 17 minutes flight with Arado's new chief test pilot Walter Kröger at the controls. The following day the aircraft flew from Alt Lönnewitz to Jüterborg by Johan Ubbo Janssen, a test pilot who had just joined the Ar 234 programme. The return flight to Alt Lönnewitz was delayed until 15th November 1943. On 21st November the dismantled Ar 234 V3 was delivered to Insterburg in East Prussia, where it was re-assembled. On 26th November it was put on display with many other new aircraft and prototypes at an exhibition for the head of state and other high ranking Germans. The ruler of the Reich promised Arado all the support necessary, ordering at least 200 Ar 234s of the bomber variant to be ready by the end of 1944.

Putting an Ar 234 on a trolley
Putting an Ar 234 on a trolley
Ar 234 take-off with auxiliary rocket boosters
Ar 234 take-off with rocket boosters
Ar 234 V3 take-off with auxiliary rocket boosters
Ar 234 V3 take-off with rocket boosters
Ar 234 dropping the boosters
Ar 234 dropping the boosters

Another prototype, the Arado Ar 234 V4, was first flown on 26th November 1943 by Johan Ubbo Janssen. Shortly before landing the machine developed a malfunction in its port engine. The aircraft was not ready to perform a second flight until 6th January 1944. The fifth prototype, the Arado Ar 234 V5, was first test-flown on 22nd December 1943 by Janssen. The aircraft was fitted with Junkers Jumo 004B-0 engines. At landing the port engine failed to revert to idle revolutions, and the aircraft touched down diagonally to the runway resulting in damage to the port wing. After necessary repairs the V5 prototype flew again on 21st January 1944.

Arado Ar 234 V5, left Arado Ar 234 V5, take-off(1) Arado Ar 234 V5, take-off(2)
Arado Ar 234 V5 (WNr. 130 005) taking-off from a trolley

On 22nd February 1944, during the sixth flight of the Ar 234 V5, Janssen noticed some vibrations in the starboard wing and tailplane. These were caused by a piece of engine cowling that had torn loose. During touchdown the main landing skid retracted, resulting in damage to the lower part of the cockpit glazing and fuselage, as well as to the starboard wing and stabilizing skid. Two days later Janssen conducted the first flight test of the braking parachute that had been mounted in the Ar 234 V3. The parachute was fitted into a container located in the lower, rear part of the fuselage. Tests of the braking parachute proved that it performed well and that it could be mounted on series production machines equipped with a conventional undercarriage.

The last intensive tests of Ar 234A prototypes equipped with two Jumo 004 engines and a take-off trolley took place in April 1944. The Ar 234 V5 was twice slightly damaged. The first incident occured on 2nd April 1944, during the aircraft's eight flight. At take-off from Alt Lönnewitz, Janssen failed to jettison the trolley. Once airborne, he attempted to loose the trolley by rapidly accelerating and decelerating, but did not succeed. Janssen landed on the trolley, but without braking the aircraft rolled the entire length of the runway to come to a halt in a adjacent field with some minor damage. The other accident occurred on 24th April, during a landing following the thirteenth flight. This time, Günter Eheim flew the aircraft. The main landing skid did not extend fully, resulting in damage to the lower part of the fuselage.

Continuing problems with the Ar 234A's unconventional undercarriage system led to the decision to discontinue development of the variant. Walter Kröger flew the last prototype, Ar 234 V7, equipped with Jumo 004B-0 engines on 22nd June 1944. A week later, the aircraft was passed to an operational unit.

Arado 234B

The first prototype of the Ar 234B variant (Ar 234 V9), that had been ordered on 9th February 1943, was completed in early March 1944. The expected bomb payload was maximum 1,500 kg. Additional rocket boosters, mounted under wings, were necessary for a loaded take-off. Alternatively, two auxiliary 300-leter drop tanks could be carried under the engine nacelles. The first flight of the Ar 234 V9, from Brandenburg to Alt Lönnewitz by captain Janssen, took place on 12th March 1944. During the next two test flights, conducted on 15th March 1944, Janssen experienced problems retracting the flaps after take-off. This issue was partially solved by re-building the flap retraction mechanism. On 21th March 1944, Siegfried Knemeyer carried out a 17-minute test flight of the Ar 234 V9. In the period between 17th - 20th April 1944 at Alt Lönnewitz, tests were conducted with bomb armament. On 29th April 1944, Knemeyer performed a 30-minute demonstration flight over Oranienburg airbase for the Wehrmacht and some RLM officials.

Arado Ar 234 V9, front Arado Ar 234 V9 Arado Ar 234 V9, left
Arado 234 V9 (WNr. 130 009) was the first prototype of the Ar 234B-2 version

Arado Ar 234 V9, front with HWK 500 rocket boosters
Arado 234 V9 with auxiliary rocket boosters under its wings

On 7th April 1944 was the first flight of the Ar 234 V10 prototype by Janssen. This machine was the first to be equipped with an RF2B periscope, which gave the pilot some vision to the rear.

On 9th May 1944 the first formation flight took place by two Ar 234s, the V9 flown by Eheim and the V10 flown by Janssen. It was concluded that there had to be at least a 1.5 minute interval between such take-offs due to the smoke produced by the rocket boosters, which limited visibility. A simultaneous take-off of two machines from a 60-meter wide runway was not possible. This led to the conclusion that if ten aircraft were to take-off from the same airfield, the last one would have to wait a quarter of an hour for its turn.

In late May 1944 the V10 prototype was equipped with a Patin PDS-11 autopilot. The Patin factory pilot Hans Richter tested the autopilot.

At Mid-June 1944, the Ar 234 V10 prototype was presented at Rechlin to Erhard Milch and Albert Speer. A mock dogfight between the Ar 234 and the Me 262 was organised, during which the Ar 234 showed its superior manoeuvrability.

On 27th June 1944 an extraordinary incident occured as the Ar 234 V10 was being flown on its 50th flight by the Patin factory pilot Hans Richter. A strong vibration developed in the port engine. The pilot switched it off, but its temperature, according to a gauge reading, was still increasing. Richter was convinced the engine was on fire and decided to bail out. The machine, controlled by the autopilot, flew around in two wide circles over the airfield, after which it landed smoothly in a nearby field. Exhaust gases from the still-running starboard engine set the surrounding cornfield on fire, and before the airfield fire brigade could reach the spot, flames had destroyed the Ar 234 V10. An investigation of the wreckage established that the engine vibration had been caused by a torn-off turbine blade, which had damaged the temperature sensor.

The third prototype of the Ar 234B, Ar 234 V11, made its first flight on 10th May 1944 from Brandenburg to Alt Lönnewitz, and was tested there the following days for high-speed and high-altitude tests. The last prototype of the Ar 234B was the Ar 234 V12, and was first flown on 15th September 1944. In order to improve directional stability the aircraft was fitted with an enlarged tailfin and rudder. This type of vertical stabilizer was to be used as standard on the Ar 234C variant. Two basic variants of the Ar 234B were planned, the B-1 reconaissance variant and the B-2 bomber variant, but the Ar 234B-1 did not enter series production.

After production of the reconaissance variant was cancelled, provision was made in the Ar 234B-2's rear fuselage for the installation of one or two camera's. The Ar 234B-2 could perform shallow angle dive-bombing and level bombing at both high and low altitude. The first pre-production machines of the B-2 variant were designated S1 through S20. The S-series were used for testing various pieces of equipment. The Ar 234 S1, which was first flown on 8th June 1944, was lost in a fatal crash at Lärz on 25th June 1944. Some machines from the pre-production series were lated passed to operational units. Overall, there were 20 pre-production aircraft and 186 series-production Ar 234B-2s manufactured.

Arado 234C

In the summer of 1943 the Arado engineering team decided to mount BMW 003 engines on the Arado 234 in place of Jumo 004s. The former were both smaller and lighter. However, in order to achieve sufficient thrust for the aircraft, four BMW engines had to be mounted under the Ar 234's wings.

Two concepts were considered. In the first concept four separate engine nacelles were to be installed. In order to test this concept, the Ar 234 V6 prototype was rebuilt to accommodate two more engine mountings. In the second concept two pairs of twin-engined gondolas were to be installed. For this concept a designated prototype was ordered, the Ar 234 V8.

Arado Ar 234 V6, front Arado Ar 234 V6 Arado Ar 234 V6, right
Arado Ar 234 V6 (WNr. 130 006) equipped with four BMW 003A-0 engines in separate nacelles
Ar 234 V6 at Alt Lonnewitz
Ar 234 V6 at Alt Lönnewitz
Moving the Ar 234 V6 to the runway
Moving the Ar 234 V6 to the runway

On 25th April 1944 Janssen flew the Ar 234 V6. Again, the BMW engines proved very unreliable, while drag that was produced by the spluttering of the outboard engines made it difficult to maintain control over the aircraft. During its seventh flight on 1st June 1944, Janssen made an emergency landing in a field due to engine problems. After landing the only running and overloaded engine caught fire, damaging the plane so that it was written off.

Arado Ar 234 V6, crash
Arado Ar 234 V6 after crash landing on 1st June 1944

The Ar 234 V8 was the first to fly on 4th February 1944, with Janssen at the controls. It was the first four-engined jet aircraft in the history of aviation. The V8 prototype completed six flights, during which many problems were encountered with the engines. The last flight of the V8 took place on 6th May 1944.

Arado Ar 234 V8, front Arado Ar 234 V8, front-left
Arado Ar 234 V8 (WNr. 130 008) equipped with four BMW 003A-0 engines in twin-engined gondolas

Over some time the quality of the BMW 003 engines were improved, and after evaluating the two four engined test machines, it was concluded that only the V8 variant with the double-engined gondolas was satisfactory.

Further testing of the BMW engines was carried out by the Ar 234 V15 and the Ar 234 V17 prototypes, which were fitted with two BMW 003 engines. The V15 was first test-flown on 20th Junly 1944, and the V17 on 4th October 1944, both times by Janssen. Following testing until January 1945, the aircraft were passed to an operation unit.

Arado Ar 234 V17, front Arado Ar 234 V17 Arado Ar 234 V17, left
Arado Ar 234 V17 (WNr. 130 027) equipped with two BMW 003 engines and auxiliary rocket boosters

On 6th September 1944 Janssen test-flew the Ar 234 V13 prototype, equipped with four BMW 003A-0 engines grouped in two double units mounted under the wings. Due to engine problems Janssen had to make an emergency landing, and the aircraft was written off.

In March 1944 the Arado design bureau proposed two basic variants of the planned Ar 234C series. The first variant, designated Ar 234C-1, was to be a reconnaissance variant equiped with two cameras mounted in the rear fuselage. The second variant, designated Ar 234C-2, was to be a bomber with a maximum payload of 1500 kg. On 16th May 1944 the RLM representatives were shown a wooden mock-up of the future Ar 234C. The project was approved, although some changes to the cockpit and canopy area were recommended.

Arado proposed two new variants, one fitted with a pressurized cockpit. The new bomber variant was designated Ar 234C-3. The first prototype of the Ar 234C-3 was the Ar 234 V19. It was first flown on 16th October 1944 by Janssen and tested until January 1945. The tests were generally successful, but strong vibration of the rear fuselage at high speeds was a serious problem.

Arado Ar 234 V19, front Arado Ar 234 V19 Arado Ar 234 V19, left
Arado Ar 234 V19 (WNr. 130 029) of the Ar 234C variant powered by four BMW 003A engines

The second prototype of the Ar 234C-3 was the Ar 234 V20 with a pressurized cockpit, first flown on 5th November 1944. Three days later a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 wrecked it. The remaining C-3 prototypes were version V21 to V25. The cockpit was redesigned to improve visibility, it had two rearward-firing MG 151/20 cannons, and two nose MG 151/20 cannons. It could also carry a variety of bombs on ETC 504 bomb racks.

Arado Ar 234 V21, front Arado Ar 234 V21, front left Arado Ar 234 V21, front right
Arado Ar 234 V21 (WNr. 130 061), production model for the C-3 series with the redesigned cockpit

Arado Ar 234 V24, front left
Arado Ar 234 V24

Other projects

In mid-December 1943 at the Arado facilities work began on a flying wing project. Straight wings retained their good aerodynamic characteristics only at subsonic speeds. Near-supersonic speeds a new approach to wing geometry. A discussion took place with the RLM in early 1944, and Arado was asked to compile design studies for a high speed long range jet powered bomber. It was realized that the project could best be fulfilled by using a flying wing design with a laminar high speed profile. Five variants of the wing were built, each differing in its sweep. The most advanced work on this project was carried out at Dedelsdorf airbase, where the Ar 234 V16 was being rebuilt as part of this research. The aircraft was destroyed in mid-April 1945 by advancing British troops as they captured the airfield.

Another role that was foreseen for the Ar 234 was that of high-altitude interceptor. A design was prepared based on the Ar 234C-3 with a pressurized cockpit. The technical description was delivered to the RLM on 20th May 1944. Its primary role would have been to engage Allied fighters escorting bombers to lead them away, to allow German fighters to attack the bombers. Another role was to hunt down Mosquito bomber and reconaissance aircraft. However, at this late stage of the war the project remained on the drawing boards only.

Arado 234 model with crescent wing
Arado 234 model with crescent wing
Arado 234B-2/N night fighter
Arado 234B-2/N night fighter

In the summer of 1944, the RLM had shown interest to convert the Ar 234 into a night fighter. The new variant was based on the Ar 234B-2 airframe. The rear fuselage was adopted to make room for a second crewmember who would operate the airborne radar. The night fighter variant was named Nachtigall, designated with the suffix 'N'. The prototype Ar 234B-2/N, a rebuilt series-production Ar 234B-2, was first flown in November 1944. After a few flights the aircraft was damaged during landing and it was not repaired until early December 1944. On 10th December 1944 the aircraft performed a 25-minutes flight to test the radar equipment. Shortly afterwards another Ar 234B-2 was converted into a night fighter. There were issues to fly the plane at night. The glazed cockpit refracted light, occasionally blinding the pilot. The lack of frontal armor was also cause for concern. After the first prototype had crashed on 13th February 1945, killing both crew, another pilot flew sorties from Oranienburg with the second Ar 234 night-fighter. During operations it became apparent that the radar antennas produced considerable drag, decreasing the aircraft's speed and range.

In addition to the improvised night fighter adaptations of the Ar 234B-2, there were plans to produce a dedicated night fighter based on the four-engined Ar 234C-3. Two prototypes, the V23 and V27 were to be converted to represent Ar 234C-3/Ns fitted with a radar operator station. However, neither of the two prototypes was completed.

Arado 234P model
Ar 234P model

In early 1945 it was decided to start development work on a heavy night fighter version based on the Ar 234C airframe, designated the Ar 234P. This version was to feature an armoured cockpit of a new type, with both crewmembers sitting side by side. In the P-1 variant the engines were to be moved 40cm further aft in order to balance the weight of the new cockpit. However, the Ar 234P was another project that never left the designers' drawing boards.

Another variant was the 'D' version, to be powered by two Heinkel-Hirth HeS 011 engines. As the engines were never developed into series production units, this grounded the entire project.

On 25th October 1944, Arado made several proposals tegarding the towing or carrying of the Fieseler Fi 103 flying bomb by the Ar 234C. The Heinkel He 111/Fi 103 combination was just entering service. It was anticipated that the inferior performance of the He 111 would result in severe losses being suffered, and consequently proposals were put forward to use the superior capabilities of the Ar 234.

Four proposals were put forward by Arado, all using the Ar 234C as the parent aircraft. The first two involved towing the Fi 103 bomb by means of a non-flexible boom attached to the aircraft just below the vertical tail surfaces. In the first, the Fi 103 was mounted on a simple two-wheeled take-off trolley which was jettisoned as soon as the machine left the ground. The second involved a much more sophisticated doly with wings, which remained attached to the missile. The third proposal involved mounting the Ar 234C on top of the Fi 103, the whole suing a special jettisonable three-wheeled take-off trolley. The Fi 103 was attached to the parent aircraft by a large under-fuselage fairing plus stabilizing struts positioned between the twin turbojets and at the rear fuselage. The final project involved mounting the Fi 103 on top of the Ar 234C in a so-called "Huckepack" installation. For launching, the Fi 103 was raised above its parent aircraft by a series of hydraulically-operated arms.

Arado Ar 234C/Fi 103 on trolley
Arado Ar 234C/Fi 103 on trolley
Arado Ar 234C/Fi 103 Huckepack
Arado Ar 234C/Fi 103 Huckepack

Several other projects involving the Ar 234 as a towing machine were put forward. One involved the towing of a special auxiliary fuel tank via a non-flexible boom similar to that used in the first two Ar 234/Fi 103 projects. The Ar 234B-1 was to tow a fuel tank that was fitted with a simple two-wheelded take-off dolly and employed short stubby wings of square planform. The project was known as the "Deichselschlepp", but although tests proved very succesful, there is no record of the scheme being used operationally. Yet another "Deichselschlepp" project proposal involved the towing of a Henschel Hs 294 missile behind the Ar 234C.

Perhaps the most sophisticated of these project was the Ar 234/E.377 Mistel project. The Arado E.377 ('E' indicating Erprobungs or Experimental) was a simple mid-wing monoplane with tapered flying surfaces with an explosive warhead in the nose. The Arado E.377 was to be carried beneath the Ar 234C-3, a special 20-ton Rheinmetall-Borsig trolley being used for take-off. The E.377 possessed no control surfaces, als maneuvers being carried out with the aid of the parent machine. In addition to the Arado 234/E.377 combination, Arado also proposed the use of a powered version of the design to be carried by the Heinkel He 162 Salamander. Designated Arado E.377A, this project was powered by two BMW 003A turbojets.

Arado Ar 234/E.377 Mistel project
Arado Ar 234/E.377 Mistel project
Arado Ar E.377A
Arado Ar E.377A

Another proposal envisioned the Arado Ar 234 carrying a miniature fighter into the range of Allied bomber formations. The E.381 began in a proposal from Arado Flugzeugwerke to the Air Ministry for a parasite fighter, carried underneath another aircraft, to destroy Allied bombers. Three variants of the E.381, named Mark I, II and III, were designed. Each version was essentially an armored tube provided with armament and a Walter HWK 109-509 rocket engine for power. The aircraft would have carried enough fuel for two approaches to the target as well as a number of 30 mm rounds. After using all his fuel during an attack it was intended that the pilot would glide the fighter to the ground, deploy its drogue parachute, and land the aircraft on a primitive skid landing gear. None of the designs were ever completed due to its cancellation, though some wooden airframes and a single mockup were constructed in 1944 to provide prone-position training for pilots. The E.381 was cancelled due to a lack of funds and interest by the Ministry of Aviation, along with a scarcity of the mother Ar 234C aircraft.

Arado Ar E.381 project
Arado Ar E.381 mock-up under Ar 234
Arado Ar 234C/E.381
Arado Ar 234C/E.381

Reconnaissance Operations

The first real operational sorties with the Ar 234 were undertaken by the Ar 234 V5 and V7, which were delivered early in July 1944 to a unit at Juvincourt near Rheims. The unit became operational on 20th July 1944, comprising two pilots, eighteen technicians, two special airframe mechanics (from Arado), two engine mechanics (from Junkers Jumo) and two radio operators, plus a small amount of ground handling equipment. Due to constant bombing of the home airfield, difficulties associated with take-off and landing were greatly increased. A special grass strip was prepared for landing because it was found that the sids were ripped off in an attempt was made to land on the torn-up concrete runway. The dolly undercarriage functioned well, and only on one occasion did it fail to release.

On the morning of 2nd August 1944, Lt. Erich Sommer took off for the world's first jet reconnaissance mission. Flying at 34,000 ft, pilot made three long photographic runs over Normandy. In a flight lasting less than 90 minutes the mission achieved more than the entire Luftwaffe reconnaissance force in the west had done during the previous eight weeks. Almost the entire Allied lodgment area was photographed, from one end to the other.

Operations were very satisfactory, the machine functioning well both at high and low speeds. Twenty-two hours flying time was logged with the V5, thenty-four with the V7. Both aircraft utilized Walter rocket-assisted take-off units which functioned well apart from non-operation of their landing parachutes. Preparation and evaluation of the photographic material gained by the unit was undertaken by reconnaissance units. The pilots found that they could easily evade Allied interceptors by virtue of the aircraf's performance, but were warned never to change direction as this would tend to reduce their speed. Landing was usually accomplished by the machine diving straight into the airfield at high speed, no attempt at circling being made as Allied fighters were always in the vicinity. On 27th August 1944 the unit moved to Chievres, three days later to Volkel, and finally, on 5th September 1944, to Rheine.

Following transfer to Rheine, the unit took on hand two early Ar 234Bs, also retaining their V7. The unit now had five pilots, thirty-two technicians, fifteen other found personnel, two Arado airframe mechanics and two Junkers Jumo engine technicians. Operations with the machines with conventional undercarriages were much more successful, no problems being experienced with taxiing to dispersal, etc.

Arado 234 B-2 rolled out hangar at Rheine
Arado 234 B-2 being rolled out of the hangar at Rheine airfield, November 1944

Arado 234 B-2 towed at Rheine airfield
Arado 234 B-2 towed by a fuel truck at Rheine airfield, November 1944

Up to 1st November 1944, twenty-four sorties were flown by the Ar 234s, engine failures being experienced during three of these. The mass-produced engines were extremely susceptible to failtures, particular trouble being experienced with cracks in the impeller, vane ring, and turbine wheels. Eventually the new engines had to be given a general overhaul before they could be put into service.

During photographic reconnaissance sorties, the Ar 234 flew at a height of 9,000 meters (29,530 ft), obtaining a longitudinal overlap of sixty percent with a ten- to twelve-second interval between exposures. Each camera had a magazine capable of carrying 120 meters (394 feet) of film.

Attempts were made by Allied fighters to intercept virtually all Ar 234 photographic reconnaissance operations, but the machine easily outpaced its adversaries at its operational altitude. The machine carried out many sorties over the United Kingdom at a time when operations by conventional reconnaissance aircraft was extremely hazardous. Particular emphasis was made on photographing ports and airfields on the east coast of Britain to give the German High Command warning of any attempted seaborne invasation of Holland.

Late in September 1944, a special Ar 234 test unit was formed, designated Sonderkommando Götz. The unit, which was based at Rheine, was equipped with four Ar 234s. Trials were being carried out with both the V6 and V8 four-engined machines.

In November 1944, two further experimental reconnaissance units were formed, designated Sonderkommando Sperling and Hecht. The Sperling unit had one Ar 234B-1 on hand, the Hecht unit had five. By the end of January 1945, all three sonderkommando had been disbanded, but were replaced by one unit operating under Luftwaffenkommando West. Later in the spring of 1945, two further reconnaissance units were equipped with the Ar 234, one that was operating under Luftwaffenkommand West, and one that was operating under Luftwaffe General Denmark. The latter unit also operated from Stavanger in Norway, and it was from there on 10th April 1945 that an Ar 234 carried out an uninterrupted sortie over northern Scotland. It was the last Luftwaffe operation over the British Isles. The three units remained operational until the end of the war.

In March 1945, following complaints from German forces in northern Italy of inadequate aerial surveillance of Allied troop movements, a special Ar 234 unit, designated Sonderkommando Sommer, was established at Udine near Trieste. Comprising three Ar 234s, this unit radically altered the situation in northern Italy, carrying out regular uninterrupted reconnaissance sorties over Leghorn and Ancona.

In addition to its use as a reconnaissance machine and bomber sorties undertaken by KG 76, the Ar 234 was also used experimentally as a night fighter. Late in March 1945, a special night fighter unit was set up under Major Kurt Bonow and designated Kommando Bonow. It was equipped with two converted Ar 234s and operated under Luftflotte Reich during April 1945.

Bomber Operations

Alt Lönnewitz, in addition to being the main Ar 234 production center, was also used as the major training center for jet bomber pilots. In November 1944, Gruppe II of KG 76, which had previously been equipped with the Junkers Ju 88, was transferred to Alt Lönnewitz for retraining on the Ar 234. During the Ardennes offensive of December 1944/January 1945, the Ar 234s of staffel ("squadron") 6 of KG 76, the first squadron to be equipped with the machine, made several attacks on Allied positions. Later in January 1945, both Gruppe I and Gruppe III of KG 76 joined the training program.

Early in February, Gruppe III of KG 76 became operational, operating under Luftwaffenkommand West. Sorties were limited because of severe shortage of fuel but this unit, plus the stab staffel ("headquarters flight") and staffel 6 of KG 76, was heavily engaged in a desperate attempt to relieve the Allied pressure on Kleve. The stab staffel was based at Achmer, staffel 6 at Hopsten, and Gruppe III at Rheine, and it was an aircraft from the last-named sub-unit that became the first Ar 234 to fall virtually intact into Allied hands. The machine suffered a flame-out in one engine and was forced down by US Airforce Thunderbolts near Segelsdorf. The village was captured on the following day and the aircraft fell into Allied hands.

Arado 234 B-2, F1 + MT Arado 234 B-2, F1 + MT, front, after crash Arado 234 B-2, F1 + MT, left, after crash
Arado Ar 234 B-2 F1+MT (WNr. 140 173) was crash landed near Segelsdorf

From early March 1945, operations by III/KG 76 increased, their aircraft often being supported by the Me 262As of I and II/KG 51. Some of the most desperate operations were around the American-held bridge of the Rhine at Remagen (Ludendorff bridge). Between 7 and 17 March 1945, when the bridge finally collapsed, III/KG 76 made continuous and almost suicidal attacks with 1,000 kg bombs against it, again bein supported by strafing attacks from KG 51's Me 262s.

By the end of March 1945, Ar 234 bomber operations had dwindled to a low level. The stab staffel was based at Karstädt and had two aircraft. I/KG 76, which never achieved full operational status, was based at Leck at 6/KG 76, which possessed five aircraft, was transferred to Scheppern. III/KG 76, which also possessed five aircraft, was based at Marx/Oldenburg. On 10th April 1945, control of KG 76 passed from Luftwaffenkommando West to Luftflotte Reich, III Gruppe having received five new aircraft by the 12th April 1945. Conditions were now chaotic, and very few operations were undertaken before the close of the war in Europe.

Arado Ar 234 B-2 at Rheine
Ar 234 B-2 T9+KH at Rheine airfield
Arado Ar 234 B-2 at Burg
Ar 234 B-2 refueled at Burg airfield
Arado Ar 234 B-2 landing
Ar 234 B-2 landing at Münster-Handorf
January 1945
Arado Ar 234 B-2s at Burg
Ar 234 B-2s at Burg airfield, December 1944
Arado Ar 234 C-3 at Alt Lonnewitz
Ar 234 C-3 at Alt Lönnewitz, spring 1945

Operation Lusty

In late April 1945 the American commander of Strategic Air Forces, General Spaatz, kicked off Operation Lusty to exploit the aeronautical secrets of the Third Reich. Many senior military officers knew that the Germans were far ahead of the United States in numerous fields of military technology. The Americans not only wanted to disarm the Luftwaffe but also to exploit its technological treasures to the fullest.

The Americans had a keen interest in German V-weapons, the Me 262, the Arado 234, the Me 163, and other unusual aircraft. As American and British armies advanced ever farther into Germany and Air Technical Intelligence teams and disarmament squadrons gained access to German facilities, the true scope of German scientific progress became increasingly visible and in many respects awe inspiring.

The war in the Pacific was still raging, and the American military leaders also wanted to know what specific technologies the Germans had provided to their Japanese ally. That knowledge would be critical to the timely development of appropriate countermeasures.

The Americans did not find Arado 234 jets in flyable condition on the airfields occupied by American forces. The British, however, came across seven flyable Arados at Grove and one at Schleswig. Two Arado jets were set aside for the Army Air Forces, designated USA 5 and USA 6. The British held onto the other six jets at Grove and Schleswig. The Americans set to work inspecting the two aircraft at Grove and getting them ready for flight. In the process both Arado 234s acquired new names, Jane I and Snafu I, and were flown to Melun on the 24th June 1945.

Arado Ar 234B jets Jane I and Snafu I at Melun
Arado Ar 234B jets Jane I and Snafu I at Melun-Villaroche on 27th June 1945.

At first only a rumor, American intelligence soon confirmed that the British had captured an entire squadron of Ar 234B jets at Sola airfield near Stavangar, Norway. When German forces capitulated in Denmark on May 5, one squadron from Kampfgeschwader 76 flew its aircraft from Grove to Sola. The withdrawal most likely was a defiant reflex reaction, the German airmen not wanting to surrender just yet. The Germans made this one final futile flight to Stavangar, where they surrendered their aircraft in perfect flying condition to the British five days later, on May 10.

When the Americans heard that nine additional Arados were at Sola they knew they had to act quickly. They flew to Sola, and picked out two Arados at Sola with the assistance of their British hosts, who had not yet been notified by their own authorities to identify additional aircraft for the Americans. Two Arados were prepared for flight and flown to Melun.

The four Ar 234 jets, among other captured German aircraft, were taken to Cherbourg. There they were cocooned against the salt air and weather, loaded onto the carrier HMS Reaper and brought to the United States. The planes were offloaded at Newark Army Air Field and then studied at their respective flight test centers by the air intelligence groups of both the U.S. Airforce at its flight test center at Wilbur Wright Field, and the U.S. Navy, which had its facility at the Patuxent Naval Air Test Center.

HMS Reaper
HMS Reaper lifting the German aircraft to the United States

Ar 234 B-2 in the RAF markings
Ar 234 B-2 in the RAF markings

Ar 234 B-2 in the USAAF markings
Ar 234 B-2 in the USAAF markings

Ar 234 B-2 WNr 140312
Ar 234 B-2 WNr 140 312, being tested at Freeman Field airbase, last surviving Ar 234

Ar 234 B-2 WNr 140312
Ar 234 B-2 WNr 140 312, on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum