Project 262: The Test Pilot’s Journal
by Wolfgang Czaia, NeunundzwanzigSechs, distributed via www.twenty ninesix.com, 2007, $98 for hardcover book and DVD.
In Project 262: The Test Pilot’s Journal, Wolfgang Czaia spins a fascinating tale on the return to production of the vaunted Mes serschmitt Me-262. A 45-minute DVD complements his story. Czaia provides the full story of this ambitious project, from the forlorn condition of the derelict two-seat Me-262 Vera at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station, through the arduous restoration process and finally to the triumphant test flights of the immaculately re-created aircraft. A retired American Airline captain and former Bundesluftwaffe Lockheed F-104 pilot, Czaia knows all the major players intimately, and he relates this sometimes turbulent tale with sympathy and grace.
The project was started in 1991 by an old friend of mine, Steve Snyder, a successful businessman who founded the Air Victory Museum in Lumberton, N.J., and also conceived the idea of building five re-creations of the Me-262, the first operational jet fighter. He contacted Herbert Tischler at the Texas Aircraft Factory in Fort Worth, who had proved his ability in the re-creation of four Grumman F3F-2 biplanes for Doug Champlin. Confident of Tischler’s skills, Snyder persuaded the U.S. Navy to allow him to borrow Vera from Willow Grove to use as a reverse-engineering platform for the project. In return, he agreed to restore Vera to museum condition and return it to Willow Grove. While it was being restored, parts would be made for the five “new production” 262s.
Nothing is ever easy, and Czaia deals tactfully with the various business agreements and disagreements that ensued. Over time the project was moved from Tischler’s factory to Paine Field, at Everett, Wash. The project became further complicated when, sadly, Snyder was killed at an airshow in his F-86.
At Paine Field a new and eminently qualified group took over the project, and by April 2000 Vera had been restored and sent back to Willow Grove. News of the ongoing restoration work attracted visitors from all over the world, including former members of Jagdverband 44, the most elite unit to operate the jet fighter.
After many engineering problems and even more vexing bureaucratic difficulties, Czaia made the first flight of White One on December 20, 2002, more than 60 years after the first flight of the original Me-262 prototype. The successful first flight was followed on January 17, 2003, by a test in which the landing gear refused to extend after it was retracted. Then, after the gear was successfully extended by the emergency system, the left landing gear folded after touchdown, forcing the aircraft off the runway, into some rough ground. While the damage to the aircraft was severe, it was reparable—and Czaia was fortunately uninjured.
The story moves more swiftly thereafter, detailing the difficult testing necessary to resolve unforeseen aerodynamic problems and the construction and certification of Tango Tango, the second aircraft in the series. Tango Tango has since been shipped to Ger – many, where it often stars in airshows. The fate of the remaining three projected Me-262s has not yet been decided.
Project 262 is an engaging book, made more so if you watch the really excellent DVD first, for it vividly illuminates the tremendous and sometimes perplexing engineering challenges the project team faced and overcame.
Originally published in the May 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.