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Me 261 Adolfine
Messerschmitt Me 261 V2 in 1945
Role Long range reconnaissance aircraft
Manufacturer Messerschmitt
First flight 23 December 1940
Introduced Never introduced
Primary user Luftwaffe
Number built 3

The Messerschmitt Me 261 Adolfine was an aircraft, laid out along the lines of the smaller Bf 110, designed in the late 1930s as a long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. However, it was not put into production.

Contents

Development

In 1937, Messerschmitt began Projekt P. 1062, a study for a long-range reconnaissance aircraft, and took basic design of the Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter as its basis. This had a long, slim fuselage with two wing-mounted engines. The Air Ministry approved the project after becoming convinced that the aircraft was capable of taking the world long-distance flight record and gave it the designation of 261.

The plan was for a completed example of the aircraft to carry the Olympic Flame from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (site of the 1936 Winter Olympics) to Tokyo, Japan for the 1940 Summer Olympics (which were cancelled due to World War II) in what would be a record-breaking nonstop flight. The plan captured the imagination of Adolf Hitler at an early stage in its design and the aircraft acquired the unofficial name of Adolfine in his honor.

Design

3D-model of the Me 261

The Me 261 incorporated a number of features which were highly advanced for its day. The single-spar all-metal wing was designed to serve as a fuel tank and its depth at the wing root was only slightly less than the height of the fuselage. The fuselage itself was of virtually rectangular section, with space for five crew members, consisting of two pilots, a radio operator, a navigator and a flight engineer.

Power came from four Daimler-Benz DB 601 engines, coupled together in pairs in an arrangement known as DB 606, developed for the Heinkel He 177. Each pair drove a variable pitch propeller through a shared gearbox, generating 2,700 PS.

The tricycle undercarriage consisted of a nose wheel and two large-diameter main wheels, whose large wheels prevented the plane from becoming bogged down on rough grass landing strips.

Prototypes

The construction of three prototypes began at Messerschmitt's Augsburg works during the spring of 1939, but progress was slow due to the realisation that war would probably soon break out and the 1940 Summer Olympics would be cancelled. The Me 261's original design brief as a long-range reconnaissance aircraft had been forgotten and it was viewed as non-strategic and was nearly abandoned.

However, the Air Ministry realised that it could be a useful vehicle for evaluating long-range operations and work resumed in the summer of 1940.

Me 261 V1

The first flight of the Me 261 V1 was on 23 December 1940, flown by Messerschmitt's test pilot Karl Baur. Willy Messerschmitt wrote to Ernst Udet in early 1941 with the results of the first flight, predicting a range of over 20,000 km (12,000 mi) for the type. The decision to use the DB 606 engine was a problem because only a few were available for development projects, as most were needed for airplanes already in production such as the Heinkel He 177. The Me 261 V1 was badly damaged during an Allied bombing attack on Lechfeld in 1944 and eventually scrapped.

Me 261 V2

The first flight of the Me 261 V2 was in early 1941. By now official thinking saw the Me 261 as a long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Messerschmitt had realised that the fuel-carrying nature of the aircraft's wings ruled out fitting armaments to them, and so both prototypes were tested for endurance through to 1943. There was a suggestion that one or both be used to drop propaganda leaflets on New York City, but nothing came of the idea. The Me 261 V2 was damaged during the same Allied bombing attack as the V1 and like it was later scrapped.

Me 261 V3

The V3 differed from its predecessors in being powered by two DB 610 engines (another paired engine design) and room for an additional two crew members. The first flight of the Me 261 V3 was in early 1943. This aircraft had the longest series of flight tests. On 16 April 1943, the Me 261 V3 was flown by Karl Baur over a distance of 4,500 km (2,800 mi) in an elapsed time of ten hours, setting an unofficial endurance record which could not be confirmed due to war conditions. In July 1943, the Me 261 V3's hydraulics failed on landing and it was transported to Oranienburg for repairs, and after that used on a few long-range missions for the Luftwaffe's reconnaissance division. Its ultimate fate is unknown.

Specifications (Me 261 V3)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 5
  • Length: 16.68 m (54 ft 8¾ in)
  • Wingspan: 26.86 m (88 ft 1¾ in)
  • Height: 4.71 m (15 ft 5¾ in)
  • Powerplant: 2× Daimler-Benz DB 610A/B 24-cylinder inverted-vee engine, from two coupled DB 605 engines each, 2,133 kW (2,900 PS) each

Performance

References

  • Green, William Warplanes of the Third Reich. Galahad Books, 1986.
  • Gunston, Bill & Wood, Tony Hitler's Luftwaffe. Salamander Books Ltd., 1977.
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