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Heinkel He 176 - the first jet aircraft
thanks to Luft46.com

The story of the Heinkel He 176 rocket powered aircraft has been clouded in mystery and incorrect information for many years. Only in the last few years have some of the real facts emerged.
Although there had been a few rocket powered planes earlier (Espenlaub's E 7 and the Opel-Sander Rak-1), these both used solid fuel rockets.  The He 176 was to be the first aircraft in history to fly using only liquid-fuelled rocket power.

A proposal was first put forth in Berlin in May 1935 by Major Wolfram von Richthofen to develop a rocket-powered interceptor for the use against high flying bombers. This led to the Heinkel He 176 prototype, and eventually the Messerschmitt Me 163, the world's first rocket-powered combat interceptor.

Design work was begun in late 1936, with detailed engineering drawings being completed around July 1937. Construction of the prototype began at the same time. All design work for the Heinkel He 176 was done in Sonderentwicklung I,  a department that was kept isolated from the remainder of the Heinkel factory at Rostock-Marienehe. The men who designed the He 176 were:

  • Walter Künzel - project leader/engine installation
  • Walter Günter - aerodynamics (suffered a fatal accident on September 21, 1937)
  • Adolf Jensen - aerodynamics/flight mechanics
  • H. Bosch - Loading and stress analysis
  • H. Regner - detail design
  • Jacob - landing gear

The He 176 featured a circular cross-section fuselage with the diameter being barely large enough for a pilot to be seated in a reclining position. The wings had a elliptical planform with a straight leading edge, and featured positive dihedral.  The original wings were to hold the fuel supply, but problems necessitated the use of a dual spar design for the prototype. Behind the cockpit were located the fuel tanks (methanol and "super" hydrogen oxide) and the Walter HWK R1 rocket engine. A Werner von Braun developed rocket engine was originally planned for the He 176, but it proved too large. The Walter engine's thrust could be regulated pneumatically between 500 kg (1102 lbs) and 600 kg (1323 lbs) of thrust. A "tail dragger"-type retractable landing gear was chosen, but a fixed nose wheel was added for taxi and towing trials at Peenemünde. The man gear retracted to the rear into the fuselage. Although the pilot was reclined, the extensive cockpit glazing provided an excellent view.  In an emergency, the entire forward cockpit section could be jettisoned via an explosive charge, after which a braking parachute enabled the pilot to bail out.
Between July 9 - 13, 1938 the He 176 was tested at the large windtunnel at Göttingen. Although the He 176 program was begun at the Heinkel factory at Rostock-Marienehe, the completed prototype was soon moved to Peenemünde, where better secrecy could be maintained. Tests were conducted with a wooden cockpit mockup dropped form a Heinkel He 111 from an altitude of between 6000 to 7000 meters (19685 to 22966 feet). To obtain accurate data, a life-sized mannequin was made with human like articulations, and dropped with the mockup cabin. On the beach at Usedom (near Peenemünde) the He 176 prototype was towed behind a 7.6 litre Mercedes for taxi trials, with ground speeds of 155 km/h (96 mph) being reached. The first short air hops took place in March 1939 under rocket power, with very limited amounts of fuel in the aircraft.
 The first official flight of the Heinkel He 176 V1 was on June 20, 1939 flown by Flugkapitän Erich Warsitz.*  On the next day, June 21, the He 176 was demonstrated in front of some of the RLM leaders (Ernst Udet, Erhard Milch). Udet was not impressed, and prohibited further tests due to the inherent dangers of rocket flight. This ban was twice lifted and twice issued again until July 3, 1939, when another demonstration was arranged at Roggentin for Adolf Hitler and more of the Third Reich leadership.
An official order was issued on September 12, 1939 terminating any further work on the He 176 project. The prototype aircraft stayed under wraps for years at the Heinkel factory at Rostock-Marienehe, but was eventually crated up and sent to the Air Museum in Berlin, where it was destroyed in an air raid in 1944.

*Some sources state that up to 29 test flights were made between January 8 and April 14, 1939 and another 19 flights between June 12 and November 8, 1939.
Heinkel He 176 Dimensions
  Span     Length    Height    Wing Area  
5.0 m 
16' 5"
6.2 m 
20' 4"
1.44 m 
4' 9"
5.5 m² 
59.2 ft²

Heinkel He 176 Weights
Empty Fuel Payload Max. Takeoff
900 kg 
1984 lbs
430 kg 
948 lbs
720 kg 
1587 lbs
1620 kg 
3572 lbs

Heinkel He 176 Performances
Max. Speed Cruise Speed Ceiling Max. Range Landing Speed

750 km/h @ 4000 m
466 mph @ 13123'


710 km/h
441 mph

9000 m 
110 km 
68 miles
135 km/h 
84 mph
Heinkel He 176 Models
Manufacturer Scale Material Notes
RS 1/72 resin models correct version
12 Squared
injected models incorrect second version
Classic Plane
1/72 vacuform
models incorrect second version

This is the only known photograph of the actual Heinkel He 176 prototype aircraft, probably taken at Peenemünde in 1938

Flugkapitän Erich Warsitz (white coveralls) is congratulated by Erhard Milch after the successful demonstration of the Heinkel He 176 on June 21, 1939. Professor Ernst Heinkel is to the right

This photo was taken after the successful first official flight of the Heinkel  He 176 in July 1939 at Peenemünde. Ernst Heinkel faces the camera, while test pilot Erich Warsitz sits