NASM’s Heinkel He-219 Restoration Update

The easy part, using nothing but manpower: The He 219 wing is rolled out of the paint booth, standing 4 m (13 feet) high and about 19 m (63 feet) long. (photo via NASM)
The easy part, using nothing but manpower: The He 219 wing is rolled out of the paint booth, standing 4 m (13 feet) high and about 19 m (63 feet) long. (photo via NASM)
The easy part, using nothing but manpower: The He 219 wing is rolled out of the paint booth, standing 4 m (13 feet) high and about 19 m (63 feet) long. (photo & caption via NASM)

WarbirdsNews has some exciting news coming from the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum, and some fantastic photographs to share with much thanks to NASM’s press officers. The restoration crew at the Paul E. Garber Restoration Facility in Silver Hill, Maryland has finished their work repairing the wings for the museum’s unique Heinkel He-219 A-2 Uhu, Wk.Nr.290202. In mid-July, the team prepared the freshly repainted wings for shipment to the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. For the first time in years, they took the long-hidden 63′ span airfoil outside, mounted to its massive custom steel frame, and rotated  the whole assembly 90 degrees, until it lay in a more natural, horizontal configuration. It is now more or less ready for loading onto a flat-bed truck for the forty mile journey to its final home.

The Heinkel He-219 was the only German aircraft from WWII built specifically from the ground up as a night fighter. The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was the only other dedicated night fighter to serve in WWII. Interestingly, the He-219 was the first aircraft to come with a steerable nose wheel, and had the world’s first operational ejector seats. It’s principal armament consisted of a set of cannon mounted in the aft fuselage which fired obliquely in an upwards direction. The aircraft would fly into the RAF bomber streams at night, guided by its radar, and then sneak up under the wings of a usually unsuspecting aircraft. It would then unleash the fury of its guns at near point-blank range, with almost universally fatal results for the stricken warplane and her crew. This weapons system, known to the Germans as “Schräge Musik” (Jazz Music), was extremely effective, and it was not unheard of for a He-219 or other similarly equipped Luftwaffe night fighter with an expert crew to shoot down a dozen or so Allied bombers in one evening, such was their lethality.

The wing rotation crew. Seventy years after their original production, the He 219's wing looks like new. Note the position of the Balkenkreuz on the outer wing panels. Although Luftwaffe regulations routinely specified that this insignia be placed parallel to the leading edge of the wing, Heinkel located it in a slightly different position, parallel to the spar, which was exactly reproduced by NASM experts. Clearly visible are the blue horizontal and yellow vertical stand the wing is mounted to. (photo via NASM)
The wing rotation crew. Seventy years after their original production, the He 219’s wing looks like new. Note the position of the Balkenkreuz on the outer wing panels. Although Luftwaffe regulations routinely specified that this insignia be placed parallel to the leading edge of the wing, Heinkel located it in a slightly different position, parallel to the spar, which was exactly reproduced by NASM experts. Clearly visible are the blue horizontal and yellow vertical stand the wing is mounted to. (photo & caption via NASM)

NASM’s He-219 belonged originally to Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 in Jutland, Denmark. A special US Army Air Force unit known as “Watson’s Whizzers” took possession of her shortly after the war ended in Europe, and flew the fighter to Cherbourg, France. Here she boarded the British carrier HMS Reaper alongside twenty other captured Axis aircraft. The ship brought its precious cargo to the USA for evaluation. Wk.Nr.290202 ended up at Freeman Field in Indiana, bearing the foreign equipment number FE-614, which eventually changed to T2-614. Testing lasted into 1946, after which the He-219 ended up in storage at Park Ridge, Illinois. Eventually, the Smithsonian acquired the ‘219, and boxed her up as components for shipment to their facilities in the Washington, DC area. She sat quietly gathering dust until about ten years ago, when the restoration process began.

The He-219's fuselage, engine QECs and nacelle fairings have been on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center for some years now. (photo via Wikipedia)
The He-219’s fuselage, engine QECs and nacelle fairings have been on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center for some years now. (photo via Wikipedia)

The ultra-rare, German night-fighter’s fuselage and engines are already complete, and have been on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center for some years now (see above). The wings will soon join them at Udvar-Hazy, but will first go into the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar to receive their final layer of green/blue Wellenmuster (wave pattern) camouflage. The airframe’s final assembly will take place later this year, and then the Heinkel will go on show to the public for the first time since just after WWII.

To lift the wing from the first stand, straps are attached to the wing lifting fixtures. Here, Dave Wilson and Tony Carp check the position of these straps. (photo via NASM)
To lift the wing from the first stand, straps are attached to the wing lifting fixtures. Here, Dave Wilson and Tony Carp check the position of these straps. (photo & caption via NASM)

Rotating the nearly 5,000lb He-219 wings on their roughly 1,000lb maintenance stand took a dozen or so museum workers three hours to shift from its vertical position, to horizontal. The wings had been mounted vertically to more easily facilitate painting.

After removing the first stand, heavy equipment is employed in rotating the wing 90°. Patiently and precisely, all equipment is put in place, and two staff members act as true “wingmen,” closely watching the wing as it is rotated. (photo via NASM)
After removing the first stand, heavy equipment is employed in rotating the wing 90°. Patiently and precisely, all equipment is put in place, and two staff members act as true “wingmen,” closely watching the wing as it is rotated. (photo & caption via NASM)

Only one major item remains missing, the set of nose-mounted FuG 220 radar antennae. The radar array became separated from the airframe, probably before she arrived in NASM’s care. The museum has managed to locate an original FuG 220 antenna array in Europe, and secured their loan allow NASM’s world-class restoration team to reverse engineer a newly manufactured replica.

A wartime photo of a Heinkel He-219 which shows off the unusual FuG 220 radar array and steerable nose wheel to good effect. (photo via Wikipedia)
A wartime photo of a Heinkel He-219 which shows off the unusual FuG 220 radar array and steerable nose wheel to good effect. (photo via Wikipedia)
Once on the ground, wing and stand are measured one more time to determine the needs for their final transport. Subsequently, the wing was rolled back into the paint shop, and is now ready to be shipped to Udvar-Hazy Center. (photo via NASM)
Once on the ground, wing and stand are measured one more time to determine the needs for their final transport. Subsequently, the wing was rolled back into the paint shop, and is now ready to be shipped to Udvar-Hazy Center. (photo & caption via NASM)

Only one other substantially complete He-219 survives in preservation. A team of divers raised this example in pieces from off the Danish coast a couple of years ago. You can see from the photograph below that it is in pretty ragged shape. The aircraft is currently undergoing preservation at a museum in Jutland. You can see further photographs from that recovery, as well as some more recent restoration images HERE.

A wrecked He-219 in the process of recovery from off the Danish coast in 2012. This example is currently undergoing preservation at a museum in Jutland. (photo by Kim Christiansen via Wikipedia)
A wrecked He-219 in the process of recovery from off the Danish coast in 2012. This example is currently undergoing preservation at a museum in Jutland. (photo by Kim Christiansen via Wikipedia)

 

15 Comments

  1. Yes, the Schräge Musik you mention was an important element in the offensive armament of this type. But it could also be mentioned that the short production run of He 219, comprising several sub-types, was provided a variety of prey-stunning fixed forward armament too. In addition to the 30mm Schräge Musik installation, cannon were also mounted in the wingroots (total two) plus more in an under-belly pack (two or four) in various combinations of 20mm and 30mm weapons.
    Production of the type was arbitrarily halted by officialdom against the wishes of the Luftwaffe, but service use was extended by six machines assembled from available parts by operational units. These ‘special’ aircraft operated minus serial numbers and so did not appear in official Luftwaffe records.

  2. The HE-219 may have been the first German operational aircraft to have a steerable nose wheel, but the P-38 beat it by many years. The P-39 also.

    Nonetheless, I’ve been in awe of this bird at NASM Udvar-Hazy Center. Will be great to see it complete!

  3. “The only other dedicated night fighter was the previous P-61 black widow” I’m sorry but have u ever heard of the De Havilland mosquito, yes that’s right it escorted RAF night bombers and outmatched any other German night fighter.

    • There was indeed a de Havilland Mosquito night fighter variant, and very successful it was too, but the type was not a “dedicated night fighter” like the P-61 Black Widow, which only served in that role (during WWII).

      • I’m pretty sure the mosquitoes could fly night operations doing reconnaissance missions or harrasing night fighters with radar. I think it was in Norway a me 410 was destroyed by a mossie patrolling in the area. What it doesn’t say here is that the heinkel 219 actually shot down 6 mosquitoes however when I read of heinkel 219s being lost, a majority were lost to mossies

        • Hello
          Actually, 10 Mosquito’s were shot down by He219’s of the I./NJG 1, at least one Mosquito crashlanded in the UK after having been badly shot up by another pilot of the I./NJG 1 in Venlo. This German claim was not officially acknowledged by the Luftwaffe claim commission.

    • You are correct in that the Mossie did in fact fulfill the night fighter role but that is not what it was initially designed to do. The Air Ministry’s design requirements that lead to the Mossie’s creation were for a fast medium bomber. The design was so effective, however, that it later became a multi-role combat aircraft.

      The Mossie was never designed to be a dedicated night fighter like the Uhu and Widow. It just turned out that it could do practically everything 😀

    • Im afraid the De Havilland Mosquito was initially designed as a high speed bomber than a dedicated night fighter such as the He-219 ( and the Ta-154 “Moskito” too).

    • Sorry Alex, but the Mosquito was a High Speed Bomber. The HE219 was designed & built as a High Speed “Nachtjahdflugzeug” to catch & shoot down the Mosquito & larger bombers which it did amazingly.

  4. Hello,

    Can someone describe how the nose wheel could be steered by the pilot of a He219 ? I haven’t found any steering wheel or device yet.

    Best regards, Marcel / Venlo

  5. There were some multi-role spinoffs of the He-219 that were never produced. As a night fighter though it excelled in its intended role as a heavy bomber destroyer.

    Many people seem to miss the fact that in context, night fighting was not “dogfighting”. Intercepts were accomplished using radar, and whether it was a ‘219 on the tail of a Mosquito or visa versa one had no real advantage over the other. If tail radar warned a pilot early enough it could take evasive action but in crowded airspace aerial collisions were a real possibility and occasional reality.

    The reason most ‘219s were lost to Mosquito’s was a matter of numbers, there were not many other allied night fighters that had the range to operate in, or were used in the areas 219s were.

    I do hope that one day I will be able to see this rare warbird.

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