Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio · April 22, 1945

During the war Allied countries were keen to gain access to the pro­ducts of Ger­man research and develop­ment. A Brit­ish com­mando raid on a Ger­man radar in­stal­la­tion on Febru­ary 27–28, 1942, in occu­pied France con­vinced Brit­ish scien­tists who ana­lyzed the radar array that it was imper­vious to jam­ming by con­ven­tional means. The Brit­ish there­fore developed a low-tech counter­measure that we know today as chaff—the cloud of small, thin pieces of alu­mi­num, meta­lized glass fiber, or plas­tic dropped by air­craft that swamps radar screens with mul­ti­ple returns. The suc­cess of the July 1943 Allied bombing raid against the North German city of Ham­burg was largely attribu­table to the cap­ture and eval­u­a­tion of Ger­man tech­no­logy. The U.S. Army Air Forces Intelli­gence Ser­vice created Air Tech­ni­cal Intel­li­gence (ATI) teams tasked with acquiring items of inter­est recovered from Ger­man crash sites in lib­er­ated Europe. Trained at the Tech­ni­cal Intelli­gence School at Wright Field near Day­ton, Ohio, ATI teams com­peted with at least 32 other Allied tech­ni­cal intel­li­gence groups. On this date in 1945, two weeks before the war in Europe ended, the USAAF Intel­li­gence Ser­vice inau­gu­rated Oper­a­tion LUSTY, an acro­nym for Luft­waffe Secret Tech­no­logy. LUSTY’s aim was to ex­ploit cap­tured Ger­man scienti­fic docu­ments, research facili­ties, and revo­lu­tion­ary wea­pons (Hitler’s “miracle wea­pons”). Intel­li­gence experts such as “Watson’s Whizzers,” named after its chief, had long lists, called “Black Lists,” of advanced avi­a­tion equip­ment they wanted to exam­ine and air­craft com­pany em­ployees, in­cluding pilots, they wanted to inter­ro­gate. Evi­dence suggests that even before for­mally kicking off Oper­a­tion LUSTY some ATI teams had already pene­trated Nazi Ger­many to fly out, hide, or other­wise remove “black listed” items to U.S.-con­trolled areas. Enemy air­craft such as the Messer­schmitt Me 262 Schwalbe, the Arado Ar 234 Blitz, and the Hein­kel He 162 Volks­jaeger were flown (some by Ger­man pilots) to Cher­bourg, France, and shipped to the U.S., where USAAF and Navy per­son­nel poured over them. In all over 16,000 items were acquired, of which 2,398 were selected for tech­ni­cal analysis. Oper­a­tion LUSTY was respon­si­ble, in whole or in part, for many of the examp­les of Ger­man World War II air­craft that were pre­served and are now on dis­play at the Smith­sonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

The immigrant son of a Luftwaffe officer, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Wolf­gang Samuel is uniquely quali­fied to write the story of how Ger­man aero­space tech­no­logy came to our shores. His two books, Watson’s Whizzers: Opera­tion Lusty and the Race for Nazi Avia­tion Techno­logy and Ameri­can Raiders: The Race to Cap­ture the Luft­waffe’s Secrets, capti­vated me with the story of how hun­dreds of Ger­man scien­tists, techni­cians, and even pilots became founding mem­bers of Ameri­ca’s aero­space in­dustry. I found his child­hood auto­bio­graphy of growing up in Nazi Ger­many, German Boy: A Child in War, to be an equally com­pelling read.—Norm Haskett

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German Jet Aircraft of World War II

Messerschmitt Me 262AMesserschmitt Me 262A in flight

Left: The twin-engine Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) was the world’s first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. It was used in a variety of roles, including light bomber, recon­naissance, and even experimental night fighter. Roughly 1,400 Me 262s were produced, but no more than 200 were operational at the same time. Me 262s destroyed some 150 Allied planes (Me 262 pilots claimed a total of 542 Allied kills), but the Allies destroyed about 100 Me 262s in the air. In February and March 1945, Allied planes destroyed approximately 60 Me 262s in ground attacks.

Right: Pictured here was the first Me 262 to come into Allied hands when its test pilot defected in March 1945. It was subsequently lost in August 1946, the U.S. test pilot parachuting to safety.

Captured Messerschmitt Me 262Messerschmitt Me 262A

Left: Captured by the British, this Messerschmitt Me 262 B‑1a/U1, originally built was a jet trainer, was converted by the Luftwaffe into a night fighter. Later the jet was transported to the U.S. for testing and evaluation in 1946.

Right: A Messerschmitt Me 262A on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. “Watson’s Whizzers” flew at least 10 cap­tured Me 262s to Cher­bourg, France, in June 1945. At this French sea­port, 35 advanced enemy air­craft were loaded onto a U.S.-bound aircraft carrier the British made available.

Arado Ar 234B with U.S. markingsHeinkel He 162

Left: Slightly faster but less famous than the Messerschmitt Me 262 was the Arado AR 234 Blitz (Lightning), the world’s first oper­a­tional jet-powered recon­nais­sance/­bomber. Pro­duced in very limited num­bers (total pro­duc­tion was 224 of all ver­sions), the Ar 234 was used almost en­tirely in a recon­nais­sance role—flying unscathed, for example, over the Allies’ Normandy inva­sion beaches on a photo-recon­nais­sance mission. In its few uses as a bomber it proved to be nearly im­pos­sible to inter­cept, though one Ar 234 bomber was brought down over the newly constructed floating engineer bridge at Remagen (replace­ment for the collapsed Luden­dorff Bridge) in a clever maneuver by a P‑47 Thunder­bolt fighter pilot. The photo above shows the Arado 234B‑2 bomber with U.S. markings back in the States following its capture by British forces in Norway in 1945.

Right: A captured Heinkel He 162 Volksjaeger (People’s Fighter) sits on the tarmac in Cherbourg, France, where it awaits transport to the States. Made primarily of wood (metal being in short supply), the He 162 was a sleek single-engine, jet-powered fighter aircraft and was the fastest of the first-generation World War II jets. By war’s end on May 8, 1945, 120 He 162s had been delivered to the Luft­waffe. A further 200 had been completed and were awaiting collection or flight-testing, and about 600 more were in various stages of production.

Wings of the Luftwaffe: Arado Ar 234 Blitz (Skip first minute)