The Heinkel He 219 Uhu (Eagle-Owl) was a night fighter serving in the later stages of World War II with the German Luftwaffe.
Background & Development
The requirement for an advanced night fighter was issued in 1942 and the He-219 was the product of this programme. A relatively sophisticated aircraft, some speculate that had the Uhu been available in quantity it may have had a significant effect upon the strategic bomber offensive of the Royal Air Force. However very few of the aircraft saw service and the He-219 had no appreciable impact upon the course of the war.
Due to political rivalries between Josef Kammhuber, commander of the German night fighter forces, Ernst Heinkel, the constructor and Erhard Milch, responsible for aircraft construction in the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM - the German Aviation Ministry), the development and production of the aircraft was tortuous. Furthermore, the aircraft was complicated and expensive to construct, a factor that further limited the number of planes produced.
When Robert Lusser returned to Heinkel from Messerschmitt, he began work on a new high speed bomber project called P.1055. This was an advanced design with a pressurized cockpit, twin ejection seats (the first to be used in any combat aircraft), nose wheel landing gear and remote control defensive guns similar to those used by the Messerschmitt Me 210. Power was to be provided by two DB 610 \"coupled\" engines producing 2,950 hp each, delivering excellent performance with a top speed of approximately 750 km/h (465 mph) and a 4000 km range with a 2000 kg bombload.
The RLM rejected the design in August 1940 as too complex and risky. Lusser quickly offered four versions of the plane with various wingspans and engines in order to balance the performance and risk. At the same time, he offered the P.1056 dedicated nightfighter with four 20 mm cannons in the wings and fuselage. The RLM rejected all of these on the same grounds in 1941. Heinkel was furious and fired Lusser on the spot.
About the same time as Lusser was designing the P.1055, Kammhuber had started looking for a dedicated aircraft for his rapidly growing night fighter force. Heinkel quickly re-designed P.1055 for this role as the P.1060. This design was similar in layout but somewhat smaller and powered by the smaller and simpler DB 603 engine. This engine wasn't known for its altitude performance, which was a problem for this design with its short wings, but Daimler offered a new \"G\" version that addressed that issue. Heinkel was sure he had a winner and sent the design off to the RLM in January 1942 while he funded the first prototype out-of-pocket. Nevertheless the RLM again rejected the plane in favour of new Junkers Ju 88 and Messerschmitt Me 210 based designs.
Construction of the prototype started in February but suffered a serious setback in March, when Daimler said that the DB603G would not be ready in time. Instead they would deliver a 603A with a new gear ratio to the props, with the new designation 603C. Even these took until August to arrive, thus the prototype did not fly until the 6th of November 1942. When Kammhuber saw the prototype on the 19th he was so impressed he immediately ordered it into production over Milch's objections. Milch, who had rejected the plane in January, was enraged.
Stability problems were noted but Heinkel overcame the problem by offering a cash prize to the engineers who could fix the problem. Further changes were made to the armament; the rear defensive guns - which were found to be ineffective - were removed. The forward firing armament was increased to two 20 mm guns in the wing roots and four more guns or cannons mounted in the ventral tray. Production prototypes were then ordered as the He 219 A-0 (V-series planes) and quickly progressed to the point where V7, 8 and 9 were handed over to operational units in June '43 for testing.
The He 219 found early success as a night fighter: On the night of 11-12 June 1943 on its first use in combat Werner Streib flew the V9 and shot down five bombers. In the next ten days the three planes would shoot down a total of twenty RAF planes, including six of the previously untouchable de Havilland Mosquito fighter/bombers. Greatly encouraged, Kammhuber continued to press for immediate production.
Production finally got underway with the He 219 A-2 model which included a longer engine nacelle containing an extra fuel tank and typically included the R1 kit with two MK 108 30 mm cannons installed as Schräge Musik. Production problems due to allied bombing meant the A-2/R1 did not reach Luftwaffe units until October 1943. The first 10 to 15 planes were delivered with the FuG 212 (Lichtenstein C-1) radar.
Milch repeatedly tried to have the program killed and in the process Kammhuber was removed from office. Production ceased for a time but then restarted because the new Junkers Ju 388s were taking too long to get into service. Only 206 He-219's had been produced in the previous 15 months. Soon the A5 began production and was the first major production variant He-219 to enter production. The A5 featured an updated, longer wavelength Telefunken FuG-229 SN-2 radar system which had a reduced range from the SN-1 but was less vunlerable to chaff jamming and improved its accuracy and resolution.
The plane was a capable fighter, allowing the pilots a large degree of autonomy. Ground control simply got them into the right area and then the pilots took over and hunted down the bombers on their own – the SN-2 radar's 4 km range was longer than the distance between the bombers. The performance of the A-5 wasn't great – about 580 km/h or 360 mph – but it was enough of an advance over the Messerschmitt Bf 110's and Junkers Ju 88G's that the plane could chase several bombers per sortie.
In order to combat the Mosquito, the He-219 had all excess weight removed. Some weapon and radio systems were deleted and the aircraft was able to attain a speed of 404 mph (650 km/h). This version was given the designation A-6.
The last major production version was the A-7 with improved DB603 engines. The A-7 could be outfitted with two 30 mm Rheinmetall MK-108s in the wing roots, two 30 mm Rheinmetall MK-103s and two 20 mm Mauser MK-151/20s in a ventral tray and two MK-108s in a \"Schräge Musik\" installation. However, for a lighter load out, the Mk103s were not ususally fitted.
The follow on series was to be the He219B and were to fitted with the new Jumo 222A/B 2500 hp engines which allowed the He-219 to reach 435 mph (700 km/h). They were also to have had increased wing spans of 22.060M for better high altitude performance. However, with the Jumo 222s not going into proper production, only a test machine or two were ever fitted with the Jumo, some additional airframes with the big wing were slated to fly with high altitude versions of the DB603. But again, only a test machine or two ever flew with the big wing.
A further adaption would have been the He219C, also intending to use the big wing and Jumo222, with an all new fuselage of 17.150M fitted with a complete three-man Ju388J cocpit section forward and a manned power tail turret aft. Day bomber and night fighter versions were proposed and metal was cut on the project, but without the Jumo engines, they never flew.
Paper projects include the very high altitude He 219E with a vastly increased wingspan of 28.5M and DB614 engines.
A more reasonable project was the Hu211, a design created by Wolfgang Hutter, that took a standard He219 fuselage and tail and added a long span, high aspect ratio wing of 24.55M to create a fast high altitude machine. While this design as was expected to be powered by the Jumo222, so seemed doomed to never fly, work continued on two sets of wings until they were destroyed by allied bombing.
The He 219 gained an almost mythical reputation. However the plane was clearly underpowered and certainly not the Mosquito killer it's generally known as. Its heavy wing load meant also its manouevreability was poor, and turn radius worse than that of Ju-88 G-6. Nevertheless it is clear that the plane should have been allowed to continue to be produced and a night fighter wing armed with this plane instead of their motley of outdated heavy fighters and converted medium bombers would have been considerably stronger opposition for the RAF.
General characteristics ( HE 219A-7 )