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Arado Ar 234 Blitz Came Too Late to Be a “Wonder Weapon” in World War II

At high altitude east of the Rhine bridgehead at Remagen on March 13, 1945, American fighter pilot 1st Lt. Ed Lopez looked down from his P-47 Thunderbolt at a sight none of his buddies had ever seen. Lopez spotted three Arado Ar 234 Blitz jet bombers, flying in a wide “V” 10,000 feet below. Lopez and his fellow fighter pilots rolled into a dive, straining for a chance to attack the faster, seemingly untouchable jets.

“We were doing at least 500 miles per hour and closing in on them very fast,” wrote Lopez, probably exaggerating his own velocity. “The German pilots knew what they were doing. They let us get close to them but not within range. Just when it looked like we were going to get some easy targets the German pilots gave their planes full power and took off at a 45-degree angle and left us like we were standing still.”

Capable of 461 miles per hour at 20,000 feet and faster than any Allied fighter it was likely to face in the sky during its era, the Arado Ar 234 was the world’s first operational jet bomber. It was initially used for reconnaissance. Adolf Hitler considered it to be one of the wunderwaffen, or “wonder weapons” that would reverse his fortunes at a time when Nazi Germany was losing the war.

Jet Development

One of about a half dozen jet warplanes developed by the Third Reich, the Ar 234 was a product of the German company Arado Flugzeugwerke and was designed by an engineering team headed by Walter Blume and Hans Rebeski. The design of the aircraft was finalized fully 18 months before the first engines became available. The Ar 234 V1 prototype made its first flight on June 15, 1943, at Rheine Airfield.

Ar 234B

A production example Ar 234B. The German penchant for greenhouse canopies in their bomber aircraft carried on into the jet age, but with a crew of one, the need for a rear-view periscope and two MG 151 tail guns was a new requirement. Robert F. Dorr Collection

With tricycle gear, a flush nose canopy and twin jet engines slung under its wings, the remarkably clean and straightforward Ar 234 was handicapped by developmental and reliability problems with the Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet engine. The eventual production version of the engine, the 004B-1, was rated at 1,980 pounds thrust (8.80 kN). For increased thrust during takeoff, Ar 234s used rocket-assisted takeoff (RATO) boosters.

Early versions did not have a conventional undercarriage, but took off using a three-wheeled trolley and landed by means of skids. This permitted more space in the fuselage for fuel, but had a serious drawback: Until it could be loaded onto a specialized vehicle to be moved, the Arado was a sitting duck for any Allied aircraft that might strafe the airfield.

Still, an early prototype became the first jet aircraft ever to fly a reconnaissance mission. On Aug. 2, 1944, Leutnant Erich Sommer whizzed over the Normandy beachheads at about 460 miles per hour and used two Rb 50/30 cameras to take one set of photos every 11 seconds.

“I liked the Arado very much,” said former Luftwaffe pilot Willi Kriessmann, who lives today in Burlingame, Calif. “It was a wonderful plane. I thought it was designed better than the Messerschmitt Me 262. It was a single-seater so we didn’t have time to practice much, so we had some ‘dry classes.’ Landing and taking off was very different from a prop plane.” Kriessmann noted that the RATO units often didn’t work properly.

B Model Blitz Bomber

The Ar 234B Schnellbomber, or “fast bomber” introduced a widened fuselage that permitted conventional landing gear, albeit with a very narrow track. The B model, first flown in June 1944, was slightly heavier than reconnaissance versions at 21,720 pounds (9850 kilograms) and had two 20 mm fixed, rearward-firing MG 151 cannons in a remotely controlled tail position operated by the pilot using a periscope. There exists no record of anyone ever hitting anything with these guns, and many pilots removed them to save weight.

Ar 234B nose

This head-on view of an Ar 234B demonstrates the high-flotation tires on the narrow-track landing gear, greenhouse canopy, periscopic sight/rear-view mirror projecting from the top of the canopy, and the troublesome Junkers Jumo 004 engines.

Two different configurations for a four-engined version of the Ar 234 were built and flown. The Ar 234 V8 had four BMW 109-003A-1 engines, each of 1,760 pounds static thrust, podded together two to a side and the Ar 234 V6 housed the four engines in separate nacelles. The Ar 234 V8 with podded engines was chosen for production as the Ar 234C, the added engines improving top speed to 529 mph at 20,000 feet.

The Ar 234C was the final production version, and also introduced an improved pressurized cockpit and larger main wheels. A “crescent-wing” Ar 234 – signaling the future Handley Page Victor – was under construction but never flown. Ultimately only 19 Ar 234Cs are believed to have been built, with none reaching combat units.

Kriessmann was assigned to ferry Ar 234s from the factory “to different places where they installed optical equipment and bombing equipment. I flew the first one on Dec. 12, 1944, from Hamburg to Kampfgeschwader 76 and the last on May 1, 1945.” KG 76 was a German group that flew the final Ar 234 sortie of the war against advancing Red Army troops near Berlin.

Plans existed for the manufacture of 2,500 Ar 234 Blitz bombers, but they were cut short by the war’s end. Total production was 224 examples of all versions.

Today, the only surviving aircraft in this series is an Ar 234B-2 bomber on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum at Dulles, Va.


Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-24274">
    Wilhelm Ludwig Kriessmann

    This aircraft is the former AR 234B ,factory #140312 whichI ferried on March 17th 1945 from the Arado factory in Puettnitz to the ” Bauaufsicht “at Grossenhain and on March 29th from Grossenhain to the III Group of KG 76 at Burg /Magdeburg.I visited ” my” Arado the first time at the Gabler facility in 1990, later te at the downtown Smithonian and finally at the Udvar center ,Willi

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-24277">

    What an amazing thing it must have been to fly that aircraft for the first time. In the article you mentioned that the RATO units sometimes malfunctioned. What would you do if only one of the RATO units fired? What was the procedure? For that matter, what were the engine-out characteristics of the aircraft if you lost one of the jets?

    Thanks so much for doing the interview.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-215573">
    Stephan Wilkinson

    I see that Willi hasn’t answered, so let me provide a little information. Supposedly, the 234 had pressure sensors that automatically shut down the power-producing RATO unit if the system sensed that the other unit was producing no thrust. (I’m guessing that if the units fired at all, they produced full thrust or no thrust.)

    Don’t know what the engine-out characteristics were, but I would assume they were typical dead foot/dead engine asymmetry, since certainly there were a number of single-engine failures. I’ve flown plenty of twins with engines at least as far or farther out the wings, and they were perfectly manageable on one engine.

    I’m a writer for Aviation History and Air & Space magazines.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-215758">

    I know and admire your work. I’d like to know more about those pressure sensors for the RATO units. My question would be, how do you shut down the RATO unit? Was there a valve to cut off mixing of the liquid fuels? As for engine out characteristics, it’s horses for courses. The twins flying today benefited from the lessons learned from the twins flown in World War II and before, and many of those weren’t so manageable.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-215946">
    Robert F. Dorr

    Stephan can put together a sentence like nobody else, whether the topic is the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka or the AK-47 rifle, both of which are cover stories in current magazines. Willi Kriessman did explain the workings of the rocket assisted takeoff units during one of our several telephone interviews and in conversations with co-author Evan Isenstein-Brand. We didn’t anticipate Chuck’s question but we did learn that piloting the Arado Ar 234 was no easy task. Indeed, climbing into the Ar 234 was a task in itself. Evan and I are thankful for having had the opportunity to write about this fascinating aircraft and to have had access to someone who flew it.