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The Arado 234 was the first operational jet-powered bomber in the world. Only a little more than 200 were built, even less saw actual combat. Nevertheless, it earned its place in aviation history and is worshipped by some members of the War Thunder community as a deity.
The initial studies for the Arado 234 were started as early as late Fall 1940. Yet, these designs were focused on creating a medium-range recon aircraft not a jet-bomber. It should use jet engines that at that time were still in development. The planned aircraft should be immune to interception due to its operational altitude and speed. In 1941 one air-frame (E370) was selected and the designation Ar 234 was chosen. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 49)
The design was a one seated air frame with a shoulder-mounted wing, it was a clean and simple design. The cockpit should be pressurized. The design provided an all-around view to the front, yet there was no view to the rear. Since a large part of the fuselage was used for fuel tanks and the thin wings didn’t provide sufficient storage space for a traditional undercarriage there were many different proposals to solve this issue. The system, which was selected was a take-off trolley that would be dropped shortly after take-off and in order to land a centrally-mounted skid with smaller skids was used.
This system was kinda odd, but what followed was probably even more odd. The air-frame was ready in Winter 1941, but the jet engines were still not ready for about 1 year. Thus, it was proposed to install piston engines, yet due to the low ground clearance this wasn’t possible. Yet, meanwhile nobody started to redesign the air frame in order to house a proper landing gear system or at least I couldn’t find any information about this. Because later on, it became obvious rather quickly that a landing gear was needed and the air frame was redesigned to create space for a landing gear mechanism. I am not sure if the landing skid oversight is hindsight bias, lack of sources, an engineering or political issue.
There were three different main series of the Arado. The A-Series which were the prototypes with the landing skid, the B-Series, which was an improved A-Series with landing gear and other improvements and finally the Ar 234 C Series, which had 4 jet-engines instead of 2, although of a different type.
Now the production numbers for these series vary widely, but take these values with a grain of salt, because prototypes and pre-production aircraft are sometimes counted and sometimes not, furthermore some C-Series planes were converted from the A-Series, thus there is probably some double-counting going on:
Around 7 A-Series prototypes were built, the B-Series saw 210 production aircraft and the C Series saw 10 prototypes and 14 pre-production and production types.(Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 56) Thus, in total less than 250 planes were produced. These numbers are very low, in comparison around 1400 Me 262 were built, 6500 He-111 and 15 000 Ju 88. (and 34 000 Bf 109s.) (numbers from Wikipedia)
Now of these few hundred planes even less were operational at any given point in time, this was due to several factors like the unreliable engines that needed be overhauled after a few flight hours and had a very limited service life:
the short operational lifespan of the jet engines – rarely more than ten hours between [a] major overhaul – dictated the availability of the jet for combat.
(Source: p. 2 Sterling Michael Pavelec: The German Jet Program 1939-1945)
The reasons for this were that jet engines were a new technology, but this situation got more complicated due to the lack of rare materials, thus leading to the use of lesser quality substitutes and finally since fuel was also very limited often low-quality fuel was utilized.
Now let’s take a closer look at the different types:
Ar 234A Series
As mentioned before the original air frame was ready in late 1941, but due to the lack of engines and inability to use piston engines, it couldn’t be properly tested. It took more than a year for the first pre-production jet-engines to arrive in February 1943 (pre-production Jumo 004A). Yet, these engines weren’t cleared for flying, thus they were only used for taxying around the plane on the runway. Finally, after new engines arrived the first flight was performed in Mid-June 1943 (15th).
The main problem with the skids became apparent early on. The aircraft couldn’t be maneuvered after landing and had to be towed, which was problematic with cluttered airfields and especially due the threat of strafing attacks. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 51) Furthermore, the parachute on the trolley usually didn’t work properly thus breaking it repeatedly. Hence, the plane was redesigned to add an undercarriage system into the fuselage. This lead to the Arado 234 B model.
Ar 234B Series Blitz
Which had its maiden flight as a prototype (the Ar 234 V9) in March 1944. In June 1944 the first pre-production flight of the Ar 234B-0 was performed. Another prototype was equipped with a periscope bomb sight and bomb shackles for bombing trials. Some planes were also equipped with a landing chutes and so called “Rauchgeräte” literally meaning “smoke devices”, which were rockets that assisted in take-offs. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 51-53)
Pre-Production planes were tested and in one flight Mach 0.86 was achieved, but it is not sure if this is correct, because compressibility effects normally began to manifest themselves in the vicinity of Mach 0.78. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 51)
The two main version of the B Series were the Ar234B-1 and the Ar234B-2. The Ar234B-1 was a simple recon version. Whereas the Ar 234B-2 was more versatile and suitable for bombing, pathfinding and photographic recon. There were many different modifications and systems that were fitted on some planes like special recon equipment, drop tanks and bomb sights. There was a bomb sight for level bombing, but also a bombing system that allowed for glide and shallow dive-bombing. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 53)
The B-Series aircraft were the only once that were used on the front line, yet due their limited number and the fuel situation they had very little to no influence beyond the tactical level. Hence, the operational history will be rather short.
The very first units flew recon missions above British East Coast harbors in order to determine if an invasion of the Netherlands was being prepared. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 53) Some units of the Kampfgeschwader 76 flew bombing missions during the Ardennes Offensive in late 1944 and early 1945. Furthermore, in March 1945 several missions in combination with Me 262 were flown against the Rhine bridge at Remagen, which was captured intact by US forces earlier on. Yet, these attacks were without success. A few planes were also used for recon missions in Northern Italy. The last planes were basically grounded due to a lack of fuel.(Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 54-55)
Ar 234C Series
Now, the intended follow up for the B-Series was the C-Series. The air-frame of the Ar 234 was strong enough to withstand considerably more power than two Jumo 004B engines could provide. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 55) Thus it was proposed to create a variant that used 4 BMW 003A turbojets that were smaller and lighter. The first trials began in February 1944 and used airframes from the Ar 234 A variant (Ar 234 V8; Ar234 V6 followed in April 1944). One version used four engines in two nacelles (Ar 234 V8), whereas another used 4 engines in 4 individual nacelles (Ar 234 V8), the first version proved be more suitable and was adapted for the Ar 234 C series. There were several modifications in the C Series that differed from the B Series, most notably a redesigned cockpit, cabin, skin re-contouring, aileron design and an enlarged nose wheel. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 56) Yet, only pre-production aircraft were produced. There were around 8 sub variants planned and developed, which delayed the overall process. The first five variants were the:
- Ar 234C-1: a recon plane, with camera and 2 aft-firing MG151.
- Ar 234C-2: a bomber variant, intended to use 1×1000 kg bomb and 2x 500kg bombs and probably the best known variant due to War Thunder the
- Ar 234C-3: a multipurpose variant that could be used as a bomber, ground attack or night fighter, armed with 2 forward firing MG151 and 2 aft-firing MG151.
- Ar 234C-4: BMW 003C powered recon
- Ar 234C-5: two seat bomber, with bombardier and navigator
Size & Dimension
Time to take a look at the size and dimensions of the Arado 234. In overall the dimension of the different series were very similar or unchanged, for instance the wingspan and horizontal stabilizer didn’t change at all and length only increased by less than half a meter between the A and the C Series. Since, the B Series saw the most action, here are the dimensions for Arado 234 B-1 according to the drawings from the 6th of December 1944 by the “Entwurfsabteilung” which means design department in English. For scale there is a figure with a height of 1.8 m.
The Arado had a length of 12.62 m, a wingspan of 14.4m, the distance between the highest point of the rudder and the lowest of the undercarriage was 4.28 m and the horizontal stabilizer was 5 m wide. Now these absolute measures more or less intuitive.
Dimensions for all 3 Series
Arado 234-A (according to the drawing from 13th July 1943)
Length: 12.58 m (41.3 ft)
Wingspan: 14.2 m (46.6 ft)
Height (from top to the bottom of the extended skid): 3.75 m (12.3 ft)
Wingspan horizontal stabilizer: 5 m (16.4 ft)
Arado 234 B-1 (according to the drawing from 6th December 1944, Entwurfsabteilung; S. 21)
Length: 12.62 m (41.4 ft)
Wingspan: 14.4 m (47.2 ft)
Height (from top to the bottom of the undercarriage): 4.28 m (14.0 ft)
Wingspan horizontal stabilizer: 5 m (16.4 ft)
Arado 234 C- 3 mit 4xBMW 109003 A1 (according to the drawing from 9th September 1944, Entwurfsabteilung; S. 28)
Length: 12.84 m (42.1 ft)
Wingspan: 14.4 m (47.2 ft)
Height (from top to the bottom of the undercarriage): 4.15 m (13.6 ft)
Wingspan horizontal stabilizer: 5 m (16.4 ft)
Comparison to Bf109 and He111
So let’s take a look how they compare to other planes.
The Bf109 had a length of around 9m, the He 111 was almost 4 meters longer than the Arado with it’s 12.6 m, as you can see the Arado is even small for German medium bombers. In contrast a a B-17 G was about 22.7m (22.66m) in length although this should only give you an indication on the size difference, because both planes were designed with completely different concepts in mind.
Now let’s take a look at the performance and weapon loadout, as noted before the Arado 234 was designed primarily as a recon plane, it was later fitted with bombs, but those were mounted outside and thus created drag. Yet, considering the small size of the plane the maximum bomb load was not too bad with 1500 kg, in comparison the He-111 could carry up to 2000 kg in its internal bomb bays.
(Values for the Ar 234B-2 according to Green Williams: Warplanes of the Third Reich, p. 55)
The maximum speed at an altitude of 6000 m (19500 ft) was 742 km/h – 461 mph
At an altitude of 10000m (32800 ft) it was 700 km/h – 435 mph
It’s Range without bombload was 1630 km and with bombs around 1550 km
Range: 1630 km – 1013 Miles
Range with bombs: 1556 km – 967 Miles
The overall flight performance of the Arado was very well perceived by its pilots. It was a highly maneuverable plane and handled well at speeds below 900 km/h (560 mph), thus the handling was only problematic during dives. At that speed the plane became nose-heavy and the elevators sloppy, thus maintaining a straight dive could be problematic. (Green Williams: Warplanes of the Third Reich, p. 55) The major problem was the reliability of the engines, which also could flameout during flight and under certain circumstances not be restarted again. (Green Williams: Warplanes of the Third Reich, p. 55)
The major problem was the reliability of the engines, which required frequent overhauls. Also if an engine flamed-out it could only restarted below 4000 m and a speed between 400 km/h (250 mph) and 500 km/h (310 mph). Above these values relighting was not possible. (Green Williams: Warplanes of the Third Reich, p. 55)
Now, I got my hands on a book full of Arado documents and there were many interesting variants in it, some, which never left the drawing board, but are nevertheless interesting so let’s have a look.
Early Fighter Variant
The first that caught my attention was a basic drawing dated to the 22nd of May 1943. (S. 14-15) It is a fighter Variant of the Arado. It has a different nose configuration, which should have included armor plates to protect the pilot from the front, since the regular version only had an armor plate in the back. Furthermore, it was proposed to equip it with 3x30mm Mk 108 machine cannons and 4x20mm MG151 machine cannons. Whereas 2 of them would be aimed backwards.
It seems that this early fighter variant served as a foundation for the propsed Night Fighter Variant the Ar 234P. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 58)
Now, you might think that the Arado would be not a good fighter, but well, there is a report from from Mid-June 1944 about various flight demonstrations of German and captured Allied aircraft. Due to the agility of the Arado, the State Secretary of the Aviation Ministry (Erhard Milch) wanted to see a comparison between the turning performance of the Ar 264 and the Me 262. To quote from the report:
It showed the clear superiority of the Ar 234 in a turn fight; Ar 234 V10 had the 262 several times in front of its barrels. The Me 262 yet was able to run away during disengagements.
(Report about the Exhibition of the Ar 234 in Rechlin 12th & 13th June 1944 – Source: Arado Ar 234 – Eine Dokumentation, Band 1; Karl R. Pawlas, 1976, S. 157)
Dieser zeigte die eindeutige Überlegenheit der Ar 234 im Kurvenkampf; Ar 234 V10 hatte die 262 mehrfach vor den Rohren. Die Me 262 konnte jedoch bei Absetzbewegungen davonlaufen.
(Bericht über Vorführung Ar 234 in Rechlin am 12. u. 13.6.1944 – Source: Arado Ar 234 – Eine Dokumentation, Band 1; Karl R. Pawlas, 1976, S. 157)
I will probably do a short video and transcript on the full report, because it contains some interesting views of the Germans on their own and Allied planes. Furthermore, it would be an interesting idea for a War Thunder reenactment, because many planes are actually available in the game already.
There was another proposed version that was title “Jagdeinsatz gegen Begleitschutzjäger – 16.12.1944 Entwurfsabteilung” which roughly means “Deployment against Escort-Fighters”. It included a sketch and also a chart with the altitude and speed for the P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang. It is dated for Mid-December 1944 and was one of the many subvariants for the Arado 234 C Series. It should have been equipped with 3 so called “Magirus Bombs”, which were gun pods with 2×20 mm MG151 machine gun cannons. One under the fuselage and one under each engine, similar to the bomb layout.(S. 37) The weight for such a gun pod with 2xMG151 with 200 shots per barrel is given with 230 kg (507 lbs). (Since there is a bomb loadout with 3×250 kg for the Arado 234 C3 in War Thunder you could try out the basic flight performance.) These gun pods would probably be a very interesting variant for War Thunder.
Now, there is also a protocol from a meeting held about 6 months earlier in June 1944, just a few days before D-Day. Which clearly states that the Ar 234 C could be equipped with 3 Magirus bombs and used a “Hilfsjäger” support-fighter, but there is no interest in such an arrangement. Although it is noted in the paragraph below that an Ar 234 C should be equipped with an armored and pressurized cabin to be used as a high-altitude fighter “Höhenjäger” with 2xMG151 (S. 141). Hence, the Anti-Escort variant was probably the high-altitude fighter variant with additional gun pods.
Although the Arado 234 was initially designed to be a recon plane it was successfully adopted as a jet bomber and probably would have been also successful as a night-fighter and maybe even as a day-fighter. In this regards it is similar to other German medium bombers like the Do 217 and Ju 88, which also served as night fighters. Considering that it was the first of its kind, it definitely performed very well besides the engine reliability, which was also heavily influenced by the desperate state of German resources that late in the war.
Today, there is only one surviving Arado 234 left, which is owned by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Right now, it seems to be located at the Steven F. Udvar-Havy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, but better check the link to be sure.
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