Heinkel’s He 219 Uhu is undoubtedly one of the most advanced aircraft to emerge from World War II. Conceived solely as a gun platform to serve as a defensive night fighter, the plane featured a bubble-top cockpit that was well forward, affording the pilot superb visibility. The cockpit was equipped with ejection seats, and was exceptionally well laid out. All controls were easy to reach and identify. Combined with the tricycle landing gear, this plane was truly a “pilot’s aircraft” and was very easy to fly. It was stable and predictable, exactly what one would expect from a plane with the Uhu’s intended purpose. The earlier versions were adequately powered by the Daimler-Benz DB 603A, and had good rates of climb and acceptable top speeds approaching 400 mph. However, later versions of the He 219 were much heavier, and because the more advanced, powerful engines were in short supply, these variants suffered in performance.
The He 219 was a superb and lethal gun platform and the later versions packed as many as eight cannon, including the potent 30mm “Schrage Musik” which fired upward into a bomber’s belly at an oblique angle. These accompanied as many as six forward-firing cannon. The “Uhu” was absolutely devastating to any aircraft that came into range of its guns. This was accomplished through the use of radar, a new technology. Ground-based stations would direct the night fighter to the bomber stream, and when in range, the Uhu’s radar operator would then take over and guide the pilot to within 100 meters of the target. The bristling antennae were ugly and added a lot of drag, reducing the aircraft’s ultimate top speed substantially. But without the radar the plane would have been useless at night, and since the Uhu was still about 150 mph faster than the Allied four-engine bombers, this was really not a handicap. Some of the latest versions were used to track, hunt down, and kill the Mosquito bombers, which were a much more challenging quarry than the lumbering four-engine craft comprising most of the night fighter’s prey.
In the end, the He 219 fell victim to bad decision-making and was too little, too late. But it was the most advanced aircraft for its time, signaling the shape of things to come.
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