As the Second World War progressed, so to did the advancement of military aircraft technology. In just a few short years, air arms went from using biplanes, to using monoplanes and then, as the war reached its latter stages, jet aircraft started to appear. Germany in particular was sometimes quite bold and adventurous with where it went with aircraft development. It produced the world's first jet fighter in the Messerschmitt Me 262 and then the world's first jet bomber in the form of the Arado Ar 234.
However, there was still scope for piston engine aircraft to undergo further development. And one aircraft that certainly catches your eye is that of the Dornier Do 335. This unusual aircraft had an engine at the front and an engine at the rear, and remarkably a solitary example of the aircraft survives to this day. Various other versions of the aircraft were planned, but the aircraft never made a serious impact on the outcome of the war, and was never used in huge numbers by the German airforce. It might well have been though the Luftwaffe’s most radical piston engine fighter aircraft.
Development Of The Do 335
The origins of the Do 335 can actually be traced back to World War I, when Claude Dornier developed flying boats featuring remotely driving propellers. Rear engines saw use in the Dornier Do 26 Flying Boat, and there were some advantages to this design. Namely, that it allowed twin engine aircraft to have the drag levels of a single engine aircraft, while also increasing its overall power output. However, it wasn’t until the early 1940s that the development of the Do 335 really gathered pace, and developed into what would be known as a multirole fighter.
The aircraft quickly became known as the Pfeil, or Arrow, thanks to its speed. Despite the speed the aircraft had shown on its first flights, the early flights did show some issues. Most notably, the weak landing gear was a big problem for the Do 335, and the main gears wheel well doors also had some issues too. Despite issues slowly being ironed out, development was slow, and production of the Do 335 did not start until 1944 and delivery of the aircraft didn’t start until January 1945, just a few months before the end of the war. This was despite Hitler ordering maximum priority of the Do 335 in May 1944.
The Do 335 In German Service
The Do 335 showed serious speed in service. It was powered by two Daimler-Benz DB603E-1 V12 engines with 1,800 hp each, giving a combined total of 3,600 hp. The extra engine certainly added weight, but it had a top speed of 474 mph and a maximum service ceiling of 37, 400 ft. This speed made it the fastest piston engine fighter of the Second World War, only getting beaten by either jet aircraft, or piston aircraft that arrived too late to be used in the war.
The first Allied encounter with the aircraft was reportedly with French ace Pierre Clostermann. He was leading a flight of four RAF Hawker Tempests over northern Germany when they came across an unknown aircraft flying at maximum speed at treetop level. The German pilot spotted the aircraft and reversed direction, and Clostermann ordered the British aircraft to not give chase as the German aircraft was clearly much faster. One advantage of the Do 335 was that if it lost an engine, it wouldn’t be subject to the yaw and lean of a regular twin engine aircraft, and could fly home on one engine.
Too Little Too Late
The aircraft though did have its issues. It was big and bulky, hence the issues with the landing gear. It might have been easy to control, but it had quite restrictive sight lines, and it was such a tall aircraft a human could walk underneath it. The Do 335 also had a weird ejection process, thanks to the rear mounted engine. The tailfin and rear propellor needed to be jettisoned before the pilot could bail out, and it was quite a dangerous process. The explosions also were slow to detonate, but the main issue with the Do 335 was it was simply too little, too late for Germany.
Never Enough To Make An Impact
Only 37 Do 335’s were ever built, and just one survives today at the National Air and Space Museum. Do 335 VG+PH was captured and tested in the United States, along with another example whose fate no one is sure of. In the end, the Do 335 arrived way too late for it to have any impact on the German war effort, and even then, it never had a huge advantage over anything the Allied forces had, like the P-51 Mustang, other than its speed. And speed is never everything in combat. The one remaining aircraft though at least allows us to remind ourselves of this curious machine, which thankfully was never put to serious use.
Sources: National Air and Space Museum, D-Day Overlord, Wikipedia, World War Photos, The National Interest