The Arado Ar 234 B Blitz (Lightning) was the world's first operational jet bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. The first Ar 234 combat mission, a reconnaissance flight over the Allied beachhead in Normandy, took place August 2, 1944. With a maximum speed of 735 kilometers (459 miles) per hour, the Blitz easily eluded Allied piston-engine fighters. While less famous than the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters, the Ar 234s that reached Luftwaffe units provided excellent service, especially as reconnaissance aircraft.
This Ar 234 B-2 served with bomber unit KG 76 from December 1944 until May 1945, when British forces captured it in Norway. Turned over to the United States, it was brought to Wright Field, Ohio, in 1946 for flight testing. In 1949 it was transferred to the Smithsonian, which restored it in 1984-89. This Arado is the sole survivor of its type.
The Arado Ar 234 B Blitz (Lightning) was the world's first operational jet bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Two Junkers Jumo 004 B turbojets powered this clean, graceful design. Speed made the Blitz virtually immune to attacks from piston-engined Allied fighters. The jet's maximum velocity topped 735 kph (456 mph). Although overshadowed by the more famous Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter, the relatively few Ar 234s that reached Luftwaffe units before the end of the German surrender provided excellent (if ultimately futile) service, particularly as reconnaissance aircraft.
Development of the Ar 234 began in 1940. The German Aviation Ministry issued an order to Dr. Walter Blume, technical director of the state-owned Arado concern, to design and build a reconnaissance aircraft propelled by the turbojet engines then under development by BMW and Junkers. Rüdiger Kosin led the design team. Largely free from Air Ministry interference, Kosin created a high-wing monoplane with two turbojet engines mounted in nacelles under the wings. The rear fuselage contained two downward-looking recon-
naissance cameras. To reduce weight and free space for larger fuselage fuel tanks, the initial prototype series dispensed with a conventional landing gear in favor of retractable skids mounted beneath the fuselage and nacelles. The airplane would taxi and takeoff atop a wheeled trolley that the pilot jettisoned as the jet left the runway. Ground crews recovered the trolley and refurbished it for the next flight.
Engine problems repeatedly slowed flight testing the first Ar 234. BMW and Junkers both experienced trouble building jet engines in quantities sufficient for both the Me 262 and
Ar 234 programs. Although Arado completed the Ar 234 V1 airframe in late 1942, the Messerschmitt aircraft took priority and claimed the trickle of flight-ready engines that Junkers managed to turn out. Consequently, the Ar 234 V1 did not fly until July 30, 1943.
Before it flew, the Air Ministry directed Arado to redesign the landing gear and give the jet a bombing capability. Kosin and his team enlarged the fuselage slightly to accommodate a conventional tricycle landing gear and added a semi-recessed bomb bay under the fuselage. To allow the pilot to act as a bombardier, Kosin mounted a Lotfe 7K bombsight in the fuselage floor ahead of the control column, which the pilot swung out of his way to use the sight. A Patin PDS autopilot guided the aircraft during the bombing run. The pilot-bombardier used another periscope sight during shallow-angle, glide bombing.
The first prototype for the revised design, designated Ar 234 V9, flew on March 12, 1944. The bomber version, designated Ar 234 B-0, became the first subtype built in quantity. The Air Ministry ordered 200 Ar 234 Bs and Arado built them at a new Luftwaffe airfield factory at Alt Lönnewitz in Saxony. The factory finished and delivered all 200 airplanes by the end of December 1944 but managed to roll out another 20 by war's end. The initial order had called for two versions of the Ar 234 B: the B-1 reconnaissance aircraft and the B-2 bomber but Arado built only the B-2 version. The company converted B-2 airframes into reconnaissance aircraft.
Plans called for more advanced versions of the Arado jet, including the Ar 234 C powered by four BMW 003 A-1 engines and fitted with a pressurized cockpit. Subvariants of the "C" model included the C-3 multi-role aircraft and the C-3N two-seat nightfighter. However, only 14 Ar 234 Cs left the Arado factory before Soviet forces overran the area. The four-engine Ar 234 was, however, the fastest jet aircraft of World War II. Prototypes for the more advanced Ar 234 D reconnaissance aircraft and bomber with provision for a second crewman were under construction but not completed at war's end.
A Luftwaffe pilot flew the first Ar 234 combat mission on August 2, 1944, when Erich Sommer piloted the V5 prototype on a reconnaissance sortie over the Allied beachhead in Normandy. He encountered no opposition. During his two-hour flight, Sommer gathered more useful intelligence than the Luftwaffe obtained during the previous two months. Virtually immune to interception, the Ar 234 continued to provide the German High Command with valuable reconnaissance until nearly the end of the war. The intelligence gathered, however, allowed German military planners to do little more than delay inevitable defeat.
Only one Luftwaffe unit, KG 76 (Kampfgeschwader or Bomber Wing 76), was equipped with Ar 234 bombers before Germany's surrender. As the production of the Ar 234 B-2 increased in tempo during fall 1944, the unit received its first aircraft and began training at Burg bei Magdeburg. The unit flew its first operations during December 1944 in support of the Ardennes Offensive. Typical missions consisted of pinprick attacks conducted by less than 20 aircraft, each carrying a single 500 kg (1,100 lb.) bomb. The unit participated in the desperate attacks against the Allied bridgehead over the Rhine at Remagen during mid-March 1945, but failed to drop the Ludendorff railway bridge and suffered a number of losses to anti-aircraft fire. The deteriorating war situation, coupled with shortages of fuel and spare parts, prevented KG 76 from flying more than a handful of sorties from late March to the end of the war. The unit conducted its last missions against Soviet forces encircling Berlin during the final days of April. During the first week of May the unit's few surviving aircraft were either dispersed to airfields still in German hands or destroyed to prevent their capture.
The National Air and Space Museum's Blitz, an Arado Ar 234 B-2 bomber carrying Werk Nummer (manufacturer's serial number) 140312, was one of nine Ar 234s surrendered to British forces at Sola airfield near Stavanger, Norway. It is the sole surviving example of an Ar 234. The aircraft had been on strength with 9./KG 76 (Ninth Squadron/ bomber Wing 76) during the final weeks of the war, having served earlier with the unit's eighth squadron. It and three other Ar 234s were collected by the famous "Watson's Whizzers" group of the USAAF (United States Army Air Forces) for shipment to the United States. After flying from Sola to Cherbourg, France on June 24, 1945, the four Ar 234s joined thirty-four other advanced German aircraft aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Reaper for shipment to the United States. The Reaper departed from Cherbourg on July 20, arriving at Newark, New Jersey eight days later. U. S. Army Air Forces personnel reassembled and flew two Ar 234s, including 140312, to Freeman Field, Indiana, for testing and evaluation. The USAAF assigned the foreign equipment number FE-1010 to this Ar 234 for inventory and tracking purposes.
After receiving new engines and replacement radio and oxygen equipment, FE-1010 was flown to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, in July 1946 and transferred to the Accelerated Service Test Maintenance Section (ASTMS) of the Flight Test Division. After flight-testing was completed on October 16, 1946, the aircraft remained at Wright field until 1947, when it was moved to Orchard Place Airport, Park Ridge, Illinois. On May 1, 1949, the USAF (United States Air Force after 1947) transferred the Ar 234 and other aircraft at Park Ridge to the Smithsonian Institution. During the early 1950s, the airplanes were finally moved to a new Smithsonian storage facility at Suitland, Maryland to await restoration.
Restoration of the NASM Ar 234 began during 1984 and was completed in February 1989. Because all of the original German paint was stripped off the airframe before the aircraft's transfer to the Smithsonian, restoration specialists applied markings of a typical aircraft of 8./KG 76, the first bomber unit to fly the Blitz. The museum displayed the aircraft during 1993 in the main museum building downtown as part of an exhibit titled "Wonder Weapon? The Arado Ar 234." It is now shown at the museum's new Udvar-Hazy-Center near Dulles.