The NASM Heinkel He-219
The NASM's He-219Click thumbnail to view full-size
The National Air & Space Museum’s Heinkel He-219 Uhu
Almost 300 Heinkel He-219 Uhu (Owl) aircraft were built. Today only two examples of this aircraft remain. One aircraft was recovered from a seabed off the coast of Denmark in 2012. The other He-219, Werke Nummer (Serial Number) 290202, belongs to the National Air & Space Museum (NASM). This He-219 A-2/R4, except for the wings, is on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center. The wings are still undergoing restoration. The NASM He-219 is one of three He-219s that were brought to the United States on the HMS Reaper, along with many other captured Luftwaffe aircraft. It is not known what became of the other two He-219s. The U.S. designated this He-219 as FE-614 then later T2-614. For decades the Smithsonian housed it, disassembled, at the Paul E. Garber Facility as it awaited its turn to undergo restoration.
Almost all the night fighter aircraft in World War II were either day fighters or bombers which were modified to serve as night fighters. The Heinkel He-219 is an exception, the other being the Northrop P-61 Black Widow, it was designed to be a night-fighter . The Uhu had a tricycle landing gear. Since the tricycle landing gear was an American innovation it wasn’t a popular idea with the Luftwaffe High Command. The nose wheel was steerable. There were many configurations of the He-219. Some configurations included another foreign innovation, cannons mounted to fire upwards. The Japanese introduced the vertical firing cannon innovation. The Heinkel He-219 was the only World War II combat aircraft equipped with ejection seats. On the night of April 11/12, 1944 a He-219 flew over The Netherlands. An RAF Mosquito of 239 Squadron intercepted the Uhu flown by then Gefreiter Werner Perbix and his radar operator, an Unteroffizier named Herter. These Luftwaffe airmen became the first people to use ejection seats to escape a stricken aircraft. The airmen were each given 1,000 Reichsmarks for being the first to use an ejection seat in combat.
In a fly-off between a Ju-88 and a He-219 the He-219 was the clear victor. Major Werner Streib, who had 50 air victories to his credit, flew the He-219. Oberstleutnant Viktor von Lossberg was the opposing pilot. It could have been superior combat flying skill rather than the superior aircraft that won the competition. On the night of June 11/12, 1943 Major Streib showed the capabilities, and the difficulties, of the He-219. He shot down 5 RAF Lancasters but the He-219 crashed because of an equipment failure. RAF Bomber Command lost 44 aircraft that night[i]. Major Streib finished the war with 67 air victories to his credit.
The Warplanes of the Third Reich ©1970, by William Green gives the maximum speed of the He-219A-7/R1 as 416mph at 22,965 feet. Mike Spick, in his book Luftwaffe Fighter Aces © 1996, claims “the brochure figures could not be matched.” He gives the maximum speed of the He-219A-5 as 364mph, 25 miles an hour slower than the Ju-88G6. He also points out it had a wing loading of 70lb/sq. ft. This is a higher wing loading than any other WWII Luftwaffe fighter.
When the National Air & Space Museum restores the wings and reassembles their He-219, probably in 2015, then for the first time in decades people will be able to view a He-219 fully assembled Uhu. One of the difficulties is their He-219 lost its antennas in 1946. The National Air & Space Museum is working with numerous experts to get as accurate a depiction of the antennas as possible.
[i] The Bomber Command War Diaries, © Martin Middlebrook & Chris Everitt, 1985
He-219 vs. Mosquito
The de Havilland Mosquito was a difficult opponent for the Germans. Its speed made it difficult to catch in the fast bomber or reconnaissance role. As a night-fighter it was a deadly opponent to the German night-fighters.
- May 6/7 1944 – Oberleutnant Werner Baake shot down a Mosquito on a bombing mission. The Mosquito crew, Squadron Leader Harry Bernard Stephens and Flight Lieutenant N.H. Fredman were killed.[i]
- May 19/20 1944 – A Mosquito shot down a He-219A-O. The Uhu crew, Leutnant Otto Fries and Feldwebel Alfred Staffa ejected. This was the first of 3 ejections for Feldwebel Staffa.[ii]
- February 3, 1945 – RAF night fighters shot down two He-219s. Mosquito pilot Flt. Lt. B.N. Plummer and his navigator Flt. Lt. E.H. Collis scored one of these kills. The He-219 pilot, Unteroffizer Gunther Karl Heinrish Thurow, crash landed because the ejection seat system malfunctioned. Gefreiter Neff was the weapons officer.
[i] Stardust Studios (http://www.starduststudios.com/werner-baake.html)
[ii] Ejection-history.org.uk (http://www.ejection-history.org.uk/Aircraft_by_Type/heinkel_he_219.htm)