The scientific tourist #126 — the Arado Ar 234B

Now residing at the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia — the Arado AR 234 Blitz:

Arado Ar 234B

The Ar234 “Blitz” (“Lightning”) was the world’s first operational jet-powered bomber. Originally, the Ar234 was designed for use as a reconnaissance aircraft — so to maximize its range (i.e., to allow nearly the entire fuselage to be filled with fuel), these models had no retractable landing gear. Instead, takeoff was accomplished with a jettisionable wheeled trolley, while landings were made with skids. This soon was seen to be impractical as the trolleys were sometimes damaged on takeoff, leaving airfields clogged with Ar234s unable to fly for lack of replacement trolleys.

So the B version of the plane, largely used as a bomber, had a wider fuselage that could accommodate both fuel and landing gear. Bombs were carried externally — either two 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs mounted on the wings, or a single 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bomb semi-recessed in the underside of the fuselage.

While acrobatic, the Ar234 was challenging to fly — largely due to its being a single-seat aircraft, so the sole occupant had to serve as pilot, bombardier, and defensive weapons officer (some models were fitted with tail-mounted machine guns). Ultimately, though, its engines were likely its weakest point. The early turbojet engines were unreliable (sometimes with as little as 10 flight hours being allowed between overhauls), and had such low thrust that takeoff rolls were very long.

This particular aircraft is the sole Ar234 to have survived to this day. It’s an Ar234B-2 model (maximum bomb load of 2,000 kg / 4,410 lb), with a pair of liquid-fueled RATO (rocket-assisted take-off) units under its wings. These RATO units may also be the only survivors of their kind as well.

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