Although used only in limited numbers at the end of World War II, the Arado Ar 234 Blitz will be remembered as the world's first operational jet bomber.

By mid-1940, German engineers were drawing close to completing the first operational jet engines. In order to take advantage of the new technology, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry) issued a tender for a high-speed, jet-powered reconnaissance bomber. The German aircraft manufacturer Arado decided to enter the fray, even though the company was best known for building seaplanes and trainers, rather than front-line combat aircraft. By 1941, designers Walter Blume and Hans Rebeski had completed the design known as E.370. The Reich Air Ministry approved the design, which was given the designation Ar 234.

The Ar 234, later to earn the nickname 'Blitz' (lightning), had a very simple-looking design. It was a single seat, shoulder-wing monoplane built out of a light stressed skin overtop an alloy frame. The two engines were mounted in nacelles under each wing. Most of the nose was glazed, in order to increase the pilot's field of vision. Typical armament included two 20mm rearward firing cannon and up to 3300 lbs (1500 kg) of bombs, externally mounted under the fuselage and wings. The weapons hardpoints could be adapted for external fuel tanks if necessary.

Construction of the first prototypes began in 1941, but the first test flight didn't take place until June 1943, due to problems with the Junkers Jumo turbojet engines. The aircraft entered into operational testing in March 1944, rapidly proving that it could easily outrun any of the interceptors then fielded by the Allies. By September 1944, three Luftwaffe reconnaissance squadrons had received their first (and only) Ar 234B-1s (reconnaissance) and Ar 234B-2s (reconnaisance/pathfinder). At the same time, Kampfgeschwader 76, a bomber group, was receiving its first Ar 234B-2s for use as high-speed tactical bombers.

As attack bombers, the Ar 234 proved effective. Strikes were mounted in small numbers -- never more than 20 bombers at a time -- due both to the increasing scarcity of jet fuel and the perceived value of the planes. In March 1945, Kampfgeschwader 76 participated in a failed bombing campaign to thwart the American crossing of the Rhine at Remagen, suffering relatively heavy losses due to anti-aircraft fire. By this point, the Red Army had captured the Arado plants, preventing the completion of new planes. The remaining Blitzes were used piecemeal (as fuel supplies permitted) up until the fall of Berlin in April 1945, where the last Ar 234 sortie likely was flown.

By the end of World War II, several Ar 234 variants were being tested, but had yet to see action. These included a four-engine tankbuster, a two-seat night fighter and several versions of two-seat reconnaissance bombers. A grand total of only 277 Ar 234s were ever completed. Most of the aircraft that survived the worst of the fighting were destroyed by the Germans, but nine were captured by the British and Americans and tested after the war. One fully-restored Ar 234 survives; it is stored at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Specifications (for Ar 234B-2):
Weight (empty): 11,400 lbs (5,200 kg)
Weight (maxmimum): 21,725 lbs (9,850 kg)
Powerplant: 2 Junkers Jumo 109-004B Orkan turbojets
Maximum speed: 461 mph (742 km/h)
Ceiling: 33,000 ft (10,000 m)
Maximum range: 1,010 miles (1630 km)
Wingspan: 46' 3.5" (14.11 m)
Length: 41' 5.5" (12.64 m)
Armament: (see above)

Chant, Chris; German Warplanes of World War II (2001); Barnes & Noble Books; 176 pp.
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Virtual Aviation Museum, Arado Ar 234 B Blitz -
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