Arado E.555 – Germany’s Flying Wing Jet Bomber
The Arado Ar E.555 was a proposed jet bomber design that was conceived as part of Nazi Germany’s “Amerika Bomber” (America Bomber) project. The intention was to design an aircraft that was capable of performing a transatlantic flight to bomb targets in the United States before returning to a Luftwaffe base in Germany or occupied Europe.
Arado had begun brainstorming designs long a long-range jet bomber before the Amerika Bomber proposal and had developed the short-range Ar 234 bomber in 1943 powered by turbojet engines.
The German Air Ministry asked Arado to continue developing this concept into a long-range aircraft. Arado initially sought for their new plane to follow the flying wing concept, in which the cockpit, crew areas, engines and bomb bay were essentially built into one giant wing that would be delta shaped. The E.555’s design drawings continued evolving until they reached a more conventional shape.
Despite the potential the various designs showed, the German Air Ministry ordered the project’s termination in December 1944. The project’s timing and limited use as a bomber perhaps represented its main weakness despite its futuristic and innovative ideas.
The E.555 project originated following an aircraft specification call from the German Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Ministry of Aviation, RLM) issued in 1942. The specification called asked for the development of an ultra-long-range Luftwaffe bomber that could perform bombing missions against strategic targets and cities in the United States. Nazi military officials termed the collective proposal as the “Amerika Bomber” project.
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The request was issued to various aircraft manufacturers in Germany for design ideas. Arado had already been looking into developing long-range bomber designs before the proposal, including a flying wing concept.
Other manufacturers such as Heinkel, Messerschmitt and Focke Wulf began working on their own designs. Some of the proposed ideas were bigger versions of existing piston engine concepts.
Before the proposal, Arado had established themselves as a known maker of seaplanes and pilot-training aircraft for military and commercial use within Germany. As the war progressed, the company began working on their own jet concepts, including the Arado Ar 234 developed in 1943 which was the world’s first functional turbojet-powered bomber.
The Ar 234 was designed to perform shorter-range sorties over Europe and Arado sought to take the basic concept and work on creating a long-range aircraft which would feature their flying wing idea. The company held discussions with the RLM in 1944 who gave the go-ahead for the company to pursue development into a jet-powered aircraft that could fly at a high altitude, possess a longer range than the Ar 234 and reach the United States.
Development of the E.555
Arado began to develop and draft different versions of their Ar E.555 from 1943 onwards, with the first version being based on their flying delta wing research.
The design team believed that the delta wing concept would allow for more stability in flight and a larger weapons payload and bomb bay to be built under the wing space.
The new bomber was planned to be built using all metal skin on the exterior constructed around the delta shape and this was to consist of a special Duraluminum metal known for its extremely light properties. The first design proposed that two large vertical fins were to be fitted to the rear end of the fuselage and the fuselage itself would be built in a forward, gull-wing-like shape within the giant delta wing.
The first proposed design would also carry an aircrew of between two to three and a weapons payload of up to 13,000 pounds worth of bombs in a large bomb bay beneath the fuselage. The E.555 was also to have a tricycle landing system, with one undercarriage in the nose with the wheels fitted side by side and the other two in the wings.
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The cockpit would also be pressurized to allow for high-altitude flight and was covered by a large glass canopy to provide good visibility.
In addition to the bomb payload, Arado also sought to provide a strong system of defensive armament for the crew. This would consist of two MG 151 cannons located just behind the cockpit and a remote-controlled MG 151 cannon mounted in a turret near the tail fin which would be controlled by one of the crew using a periscope.
The rear turret could also be rotated 360 degrees. As the design concepts continued to evolve, Arado also added two forward-facing MK 103 30mm cannons in the wings.
Initially, the plane was to be fitted with six BMW 003 turbojet engines mounted in the fuselage, which Arado believed would maximise the plane’s top speed. As development and brainstorming on the concept drawings for the bomber continued, the engine design and power plant type of the E.555 changed.
The second version of the E.555, known as the E.555-2 switched the proposed engine units to an existing Heinkel-made He S 011 jet in the belief these could be more easily sourced before the power plant was switched back to BMW turbojets.
Arado redrafted the initial design into the E.555-7 which featured three updated BMW 018 turbojet engines capable of producing a speed of up to 570 miles per hour.
Although Arado’s team were satisfied with the design, changing circumstances and demands from the German high command prompted the engineers and designers to go back to the drawing board and conceive the E.555-8.
This variant featured an updated tail fin with two booms which took inspiration from the American-built Lockheed P-38 Lightning design.
The final concept drawings were of the E.555-9, 10 and 11 models, which featured updated flaps before the wings evolved away from the delta shape into various conventional and new experimental wing types. The three engines were also reconfigured into a trijet formation mounted behind the cockpit before going back to two units.
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Although the consecutive design ideas moved away from the initial delta flying wing shape into a more conventional design with a standard tail and the engines mounted on the wings, the 11 models were considered the most promising and workable concept by the Arado team who hoped to present it to the RLM and be offered a contract.
By the time of the final design drawing, the E.555’s overall predicted range was now an impressive 4,700 miles which Arado hoped would enable the crew to reach their targets in the United States before returning back to a Luftwaffe base in Germany or occupied Europe.
The final version was still capable of carrying a substantial bomb payload of up to 13,000 lbs and had a predicted maximum speed of around 643 miles per hour. The flight crew were also reduced to two, with both handling flying, radio, gunner and bomb sight duties.
By this stage of the war, the Luftwaffe wanted planes that were technologically advanced but relatively easy to fly and train pilots to operate in order to make up for the depletion of skilled pilots.
Although the E.555 was a futuristic design that was ahead of its time, it faced the initial obstacle of being powered by BMW jet engines which had not yet entered production by the time of the aircraft’s design stage.
Arado wanted to wait for the engines but supply issues brought on by Allied bombing campaigns hampered their development and necessitated debates on how to proceed and constant returns to the drawing board.
Changing circumstances also cast doubt on the project. By the time the design process neared completion in 1944, Allied forces were establishing air superiority over Europe and making advances on the ground as part of liberation battles in occupied Europe.
The German military was now more preoccupied with how to claw back lost ground and turn the war back in the favour of the Nazi regime.
By the end of 1944, it became apparent to the Nazi high command that the war had strategically turned against Germany to the point of recovery in the face of Allied advancements being very difficult. It was also concluded that launching a long-range bombing mission on the United States would have been almost impossible thanks to Allied air superiority and limited funds or building materials that could be allocated to complete the project.
As such, the German Air Ministry and armed forces switched their focus to emergency fighter and interceptor projects or bolstering the production of existing conventional weapons to stall and then repel the Allied forces and find a way to regain control of European airspace.
As the E.555’s role was that of a bomber and it did not possess any other capabilities, the Luftwaffe saw very little strategic importance of the aircraft by this stage.
On the 22nd of December 1944, the German Air Ministry decided to shelve the project entirely and ordered Arado to do the same, believing the bomber to be a waste of resources and money during the last desperate stage of the war. As a result the E.555 never progressed beyond the concept design stage into prototype or mass production.
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Strategically, the bomber was a strong design but like other German jet or rocket-powered projects, its late development was considered unlikely to have made any real impact in turning the way back in the Nazi’s favour had it been deployed into service.
The Arado E.555 was a promising design that featured design elements that other jet aircraft in the post-war period would incorporate, but the timing and limited use of its design perhaps sealed its fate.
- Crew: 3
- Length: 12.35 m (40 ft 6 in)
- Wingspan: 28.4 m (93 ft 2 in)
- Height: 3.74 m (12 ft 3 in)
- Powerplant: 2-4 × BMW 109-018 turbojet
- Maximum speed: 875–920 km/h (544–572 mph, 472–497 kn)
- Range: 5,400–7,500 km (3,400–4,700 mi, 2,900–4,000 nmi)