The Arado Ar 234 Blitz (Lightning) was the world's first operational jet powered bomber, built by the German Arado company in the closing stages of World War II. In the field it was used almost entirely in the reconnaissance role, but in its few uses as a bomber it proved to be nearly impossible to intercept.
Arado estimated a maximum speed of 780 km/h at 6,000 m (485 mph at 19,700 ft), an operating altitude of 11,000 m (36,100 ft) and a range of 1,995 km (1,240 miles).
The range was short of the RLM request, but they liked the design and ordered two prototypes as the Ar 234. These were largely complete before the end of 1941, but the Jumo 004 engines were not ready, and would not be ready until February 1943. When they did arrive they were considered unreliable by Junkers for in-flight use and were only cleared for static and taxi tests. Flight-qualified engines were finally delivered that spring, and the Ar 234 V1 made its first flight on June 15 1943. By September four prototypes were flying. Of the eight prototype aircraft to be fitted with the original arrangement of trolley-and-skid landing gear, the sixth and eighth prototypes were powered with four BMW 003 jet engines, the sixth having its four engines housed in individual nacelles, and the eighth flown with them paired in a single nacelle on either wing; the remainder were all Jumo 004 powered, with the V7 prototype destined to make history on August 2, 1944 as the first jet aircraft ever to fly a reconnaissance mission.
The external bombload, and the presence of inactive aircraft littering the landing field after their missions were completed (as with the similarly dolly-geared Me 163) made the skid-landing system impractical, so the B version was modified to have tricycle landing gear. The ninth prototype, marked with the Stammkennzeichen (radio code letters) PH+SQ, was the first Ar 234B, and flew in March 10, 1944. The B models were slightly wider to hold the landing gear, and with full bombload the plane could only reach 668 km/h (415 mph) at altitude. This was still better than any bomber the Luftwaffe had at the time, and made it the only bomber with any hope of surviving the massive allied air forces.
Production lines were already being set up, and twenty B-0 pre-production planes were delivered by the end of June. Later production was slow, however, as the Arado plants were tasked with producing planes from other bombed-out factories hit during the Big Week. Meanwhile several of the prototypes were sent forward in the reconnaissance role. In most cases it appears they were never even detected, cruising at about 740 km/h (460 mph) at over 30,000 ft (9,100 m).
The few 234Bs entered service in the fall and impressed their pilots. They were fairly fast and completely aerobatic. The long takeoff runs led to several accidents; a search for a solution led to improved training as well as the use of rocket-assisted takeoff. The engines were always the real problem; they suffered constant flameouts and required overhaul or replacement after about ten hours of operation.
The most notable use of the Ar 234 in the bomber role was the attempt to destroy the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. Between March 7, when it was captured by the Allies, and March 17, when it finally collapsed, the bridge was continually attacked by Ar 234s of III/KG 76 carrying 1,000 kg (2,204 lb) bombs. The aircraft continued to fight in a scattered fashion until Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. Some were shot down in air combat, destroyed by flak, or "bounced" by Allied fighters during takeoff or on the landing approach. Most simply sat on the airfields awaiting fuel that never arrived.
The normal bombload consisted of two 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs suspended from the engines or one large 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bomb semi-recessed in the underside of the fuselage with maximum bombload being 1,500 kg (3,300 lb). If the war had continued it is possible that the aircraft would have been converted to use the Fritz X guided bombs or Henschel Hs 293 air-to-surface missiles.
Overall from the summer of 1944 until the end of the war a total of 210 aircraft were built. In February 1945 production was switched to the C variant. It was hoped that by November 1945 production would reach 500 per month.
Only one Ar 234 survives today. The aircraft is an Ar 234 B-2 bomber variant carrying Werknummer (manufacturer's serial number) 140312, and was one of nine Ar 234s surrendered to British forces at Sola Airfield near Stavanger, Norway. The aircraft had been operating with 9. staffel III./Kampfgeschwader 76 (later reorganised as Einsatzstaffel) during the final weeks of the war, having operated previously with the 8th squadron. This aircraft and three others were collected by the famous "Watson's Whizzers" of the USAAF to be shipped back to the United States for flight testing. The aircraft was flown from Sola to Cherbourg, France on June 24, 1945 where it joined thirty-four other advanced German aircraft shipped back to the U.S. aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Reaper. The Reaper departed Cherbourg on July 20, arriving at Newark, New Jersey eight days later. Upon arrival two of the Ar 234s were reassembled (including 140312) and flown by USAAF pilots to Freeman Field, Indiana for testing and evaluation. 140312 was assigned the foreign equipment number FE-1010. The fate of the second Ar 234 flown to Freeman Field remains a mystery. One of the remaining two was reassembled by the U.S. Navy for testing, but was found to be in unflyable condition and was scrapped.
After receiving new engines, radio and oxygen equipment 140312 was transferred to Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio and delivered to the Accelerated Service Test Maintenance Squadron (ASTMS) of the Flight Test Devision in July 1946. Flight testing was completed on October 16, 1946 though the aircraft remained at Wright Field until 1947. It was then transferred to Orchard Place Airport, Park Ridge, Illinois, and remained at Orchard Place Airport until May 1, 1949 when it, and several other aircraft stored at the airport were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. During the early 1950s the Ar 234 was moved to the Smithsonian's Paul Garber Restoration Facility at Suitland, Maryland for storage, and eventual restoration.
The Smithsonian began restoration of Ar 234 B-2 140312 in 1984 and completed it in February, 1989. All paint had been stripped from the aircraft prior to the Smithsonian receiving it, so the aircraft was painted with the markings of an aircraft of 8./KG 76, the first operational unit to fly the "Blitz". The restored aircraft was first displayed at the Smithsonian's main museum building in downtown Washington D.C. in 1993 as part of a display titled "Wonder Weapon? The Arado Ar 234." In 2005 it became one of the first aircraft moved to the new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport. Today 140312 is displayed next to the last surviving Dornier Do 335, an aircraft that had accompanied it on its voyage across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Reaper over sixty years earlier.