The Coming of the Jet


The Birth of the Jet Age

Although experiments were underway with jet propulsion in several countries even in the 1930's, the opening of hostilites in 1939 put many such projects on hold.  Even Germany's jet program suffered from diverted resources, but recovered in time to field the world's first operational jet fighter by late 1944.  Although the British had the Gloster Meteor operational within a few weeks of Germany unleashing its Messerschmitt Me262 against Allied bomber formations, the Meteor never saw combat during the war, with the exception of intercepting V-1 rockets.  The United States lagged behind with its Bell P-59 Airacomet, which flew before war's end but never became fully operational.  Problems with its jet engine limited the P-59's thrust, and it was no faster than late-war piston-engined fighters such as the Chance Vought F-4U Corsair and North American's P-51 Mustang.

German wartime jet design had a profound influence on many post-war fighters fielded by both the United States and the Soviet Union, beginning with the swept-wing North American F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15.  The delta wing design, employed successfully just over a decade later in fighters such as the American F-102 Delta Dagger and French Mirage series, originated on German drawing boards but hadn't made it past the concept stage as of 1945.  The West might have had an early advantage in jet fighters but for two factors: the German aviation research material seized by the Russians at the close of World War II, and British trade policy, which jump-started the post-war Soviet jet fighter program by allowing the sale of examples of the successful Rolls Royce Nene engine -- which later became the powerplant for the MiG-15.

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