The World’s First Combat Jet

The Germans had it. The Americans wanted it.


With a top speed of 540 mph, Germany's Messerschmitt Me 262 was by far the fastest fighter of World War II. It was powered by jet engines, a new technology that was not always reliable. Still, the streamlined Me 262 looked—and behaved—unlike anything else in the skies over Europe, and Allied pilots initially feared it. Eventually, U.S. airmen discovered that in a dogfight, North American P-51s could often out-turn the heavier jet fighter.

Deployed late in the war, more than 1,400 Me 262s were manufactured, but only some 300 flew combat. After the war ended, Colonel Harold Watson of the U.S. Army Air Forces (pictured above standing beside an Me 262 in Melun, France) oversaw a program to bring captured German aircraft to the United States, where the advanced but flawed jet fighter could finally reveal its secrets.

See the gallery below for more photos of the Me 262.

Jet Power


On July 19, 1942, a prototype, Me 262V3, made its first flight under jet power. (Before this, the aircraft was test flown with a piston engine.


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