Production and experimental aircraft
The decision to launch a full-scale production of the Me 262 was made as early as May 25, 1943. A month later a preliminary delivery schedule was adopted, which assumed that first Me 262 examples would enter service with the Luftwaffe in January 1944.
The production figures for the following months included 8 aircraft to be delivered in February 1944, followed by 21 examples in March, 40 in April and 60 in May. From June 1944 onwards an average of 100 Me 262s were expected to roll off the production lines. However, the plans were never achieved due to a number of setbacks mentioned earlier and difficulties with obtaining adequate numbers of powerplants from Junkers. Therefore, on June 22, 1944 members of the Jägerstab met to revise the delivery schedule of the new fighter. According to the new plan 60 aircraft were to be built in July 1944. The number would later increase to 100 examples in August, 150 in September and then to as many as 500 fighters in December. Those plans eventually failed as well. The actual production figures for the following months included 28 Me 262 A-2a examples delivered in June 1944, 59 fighters assembled in July, 91 in September and 117 jet fighters completed in October. Contrary to Hitler’s orders Messerschmitt built both fighter and bomber versions of the aircraft. By November 4, 1944 Hitler himself seemed to have soften his hitherto rock-solid stand, although he still insisted that, should the need arise, the fighter versions should could be quickly converted into fighter-bombers.
The first production version of the Me 262 was A-1a, which featured four MK 108 30 mm cannons (two cannons had a supply of 100 round of ammunition per gun, while the other two each had 80-round magazines). The aircraft was equipped with a Revi 16b gun sight and could carry 2 570 l of fuel in four internal tanks. There was a provision four installation of two 300 l drop tanks that could be attached to ETC 503 or Wikingerschiff pylons. The avionics included the FuG 16 ZY radio with the ZVG and the FuG 25a IFF unit. The pilot’s seat featured 15 mm steel plate protection. Additionally, the windshield design included a 90 mm armored glass plate in its front section.
The Me 262 A-1a/Jabo was a fighter-bomber variant equipped with two bomb racks installed in the forward section of the fuselage. A typical load-out included a single 500 kg bomb, or a pair of 250 kg weapons. The aircraft’s basic offensive armament arrangement and the avionics suite remained the same as in the basic fighter version.
The Me 262 A-1a/U1 was a one-off experimental aircraft featuring heavier offensive armament. This included two MK 103 30 mm cannons (72 rounds per gun), two 108 30 mm cannons (65 rounds per gun) and a pair of MG 151/20 20 mm cannons with 146 rounds of ammunition per barrel. The MK 103 was heavier and much bigger than the 108, but its long barrel and high muzzle velocity provided for very accurate and effective fire at longer ranges.
Plans were also in place to develop an all-weather version of the fighter. The proposed Me 262 A-1a/U2 Schlechtwetterjäger (“bad weather” fighter) was supposed to enter service in mid-1945. The aircraft would receive additional navigation capability in the form of the FuG 125 Hermine unit, which had a range of 200 km and operated at 30 – 33.3 MHz frequency range. The use of the K 22 autopilot and the FuG 120 Bernhardine radio was also considered, which used the same frequency as the FuG 125, but featured a 400 km range.
The next version to be developed was the Me 262 A-1a/U3 Behelsaufklärer (provisional reconnaissance platform). The prototype (W.Nr. 170 006) first flew in August 1944. Later on a limited number of airframes were converted into reconnaissance versions by installing cameras in place of the nose-mounted cannons. The sensor suite would consist of two Rb 50/30 cameras, or one Rb 20/30 and one Rb 75/30 unit. The cameras offset by 10° and protruded beyond the fuselage lines and were covered by characteristic, elongated blisters. It remains an open question whether the airplanes in this version were armed or not. Since original photographs do show an opening in the forward section of the fuselage that might have been a gun port, most authors believe the aircraft carried a single MK 108 cannon for self defense. On the other hand, the opening visible in the photographs might have been nothing more than a ventilation port for the camera compartment.
In late 1944 Messerschmitt began work on the fighter variant equipped with a heavy 50 mm cannon. Designated the Me 262 A-1a/U4 was also known as the Pulkzerstörer, or “Pulk” killer. The word “Pulk” was used in the Luftwaffe to designate the defensive formation used by the USAAF heavy bombers. The key to a successful attack against such a formation was the dispersal of the defensive “box” followed by attacks against individual bombers.