“The He 219, with its flattened fuselage sides, large engine nacelles and firmly set tricycle landing gear was not, at first sight, a particularly pretty aircraft. Its funny-looking nose, which made one think of a prehistoric reptile, bristled with radar antennas, known in military vernacular as ‘stag’s antlers’. In my opinion, the Heinkel was far less likely to be considered an aesthetically pleasing construction than any of its contemporary fighter designs.
Still, this odd looking machine duly gained fame as the most advanced night fighter design to see active service during World War Two. As the saying goes: ‘’.
When I saw the He 219 for the first time at Grove, nearly two years after its conspicuous debut with Maj. Streib at the controls, I was actually more interested in the Arado Ar 234 B. Hence, I gave the He 219 only a cursory glance. Later on, five He 219s were shipped, one by one, from Schleswig to the RAE (Royal Aircraft Establishment) at Farnborough. Shortly afterwards, I had an opportunity to fly three of those five. There were four He 219s of the A-2 variant from the first production run and one He 219 A-5. The latter was in fact the He 219 V11, which after an accident had been rebuilt to A-5 configuration [In fact, these were four He 219 A-7s and one He 219 A-2. The He 219 V11 was found in pieces at Heinkel Schwechat factory]. At Farnborough we were not supposed to focus on the He 219s’ performance and handling; we were instead to examine some of their onboard equipment, which was of great interest to the RAF. Nevertheless, I flew the Heinkels so many times that I was able to thoroughly test their handling.
From a pilot’s point of view, what impressed me most about the He 219 was the aircraft’s superbly located cockpit. It was mounted relatively high and was accessible by a ladder. Once the crew took their seats, a groundcrew member folded the ladder and stowed it in a purpose-designed hatch located in the port, lower part of the fuselage. The upper part of the cockpit’s canopy was made of a large, single piece of Plexiglas, hinged to starboard. Thus, the cockpit offered a practically unhindered all-round view. The cockpit itself was quite roomy, comfortable and well laid-out. The instrument panel was T-shaped as in most aircraft, with the engine control gauges located to the right.
The pilot and the radio operator sat back to back. They were equipped with ejector seats, their jettison mechanism powered by compressed air. In fact, the cockpit seemed fitted with every imaginable system known to date, which could enhance a night fighter’s operational effectiveness.
Initially, the He 219 was to be powered by Daimler-Benz DB 603 G engines rated at 1,900 hp on take-off, and 1,560 hp at 7,375 m. However, those powerplants were not ready in autumn 1943 when the first airframes began to roll off the assembly line at the Vienna / Schwechat plant. Therefore, DB 603 A engines, rated at 1,750 hp on take-off, and 1,850 hp (maximum output) at 2,100 m, were used instead. Such engines powered the He 219 A-2, the variant that I flew on many occasions. For example, on 21st August 1945 I piloted He 219 A-2, W.Nr. 210 126 [the correct Werknummer was 290 126] from Farnborough to Brize Norton. Nine days later I transferred another machine (W.Nr. 310 109) [It was a He 219 A-7] via Abingdon to Brize Norton, and on 19th October I took the third A-2, W.Nr. 310 106, from Tangmere to Farnborough [It was also a He 219 A-7]. Unfortunately, I missed an opportunity to fly the later variant, the He 219 A-5 powered by DB 603 G engines [That must be an error as DB 603 G engines never went into production]. Nonetheless, I suspect that there were no substantial differences between the two variants as far as their performance was concerned.
The procedure for starting a DB 603 A engine was very simple: set the fuel cocks to tanks Nos. 2 and 3 (which were the main central and rear tanks); fuel pump on; push the throttle lever about one quarter forward, until some resistance could be felt; set the magneto switches to the ‘M 1+2’ position. The inertia starter was usually set in motion by an external power unit, although it could also be done from inside the cockpit. Press the starter control for 10 to 20 seconds, then let go, pull and move to the left in order to prime the engine. Once the engine had started, adjust the throttle so that it was running at 1,200 rpm, until the oil and fuel gauges indicated the correct readings. Let the engine warm up by running it for three minutes at 1,500 rpm, then check the magnetos at 2,000 rpm.
Before taxiing out all trimmers were set to neutral, the radiator flaps opened, and the air pressure of the ejector seats checked. In the case of the pilot’s seat the correct pressure was 80 kg / cm2, and for the radio operator’s seat the correct value was 50 kg / cm2. The aircraft was easy to manoeuvre on the ground, although the brakes, which were very effective, had to be handled carefully. Immediately before takeoff, the propeller pitch control was set at the 12:15 clock position, and the wing flaps lowered for takeoff. The takeoff run with full load was impressive – some 1,500 m with the engines at 2,700 rpm and 1.4 ata of boost.