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Air industry figure Willy Messerschmitt had little to do with the design of the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter, but he did have a pivotal role in a November 26, 1943, discussion with Adolf Hitler about how the aircraft would be used. Messerschmitt may have been hasty in assuring the Führer that the jet fighter could carry bombs. Colin Heaton collection

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Adolf Hitler in an atypical pose. The swastika dates the photo to shortly before September 1, 1939. After the war began, Hitler wore only military uniforms, which did not have the Nazi Party armband. National Archives

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Hans Busch began flying gliders as a teenager in the Hitler Youth. He logged hundreds of hours in twin-engine, propellerdriven fighters like the Messerschmitt Bf 110 before advancing to the cockpit of the Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) jet fighter. Eleanor Garner

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The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was a twin-engine Zerstörer (Destroyer), or heavy fighter, but it was neither as fast nor as maneuverable as the American P-38 Lightning. These Bf 110C-2s are preparing to take off from an unpaved strip in occupied France on May 12, 1940. Hans Guido Mutke and Hans Busch piloted the Bf 110 but were aware that their aircraft was vulnerable in a dogfight with Allied fighters. Robert F. Dorr collection

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Just a kid when he learned about Pearl Harbor, nineteen-year-old bomber commander 2nd Lt. (later, Capt.) James L. Vining (left) stands with his B-26 Marauder at Barksdale Army Air Field near Bossierville, Louisiana, on August 2, 1944. The co-pilot and bombardier shown (second and third from left) were not on the crew’s April 20, 1945, encounter with Me 262 jets. The others are Cpl. Henry C. Yates, engineer/gunner; Cpl. Newton C. Armstrong, radioman/gunner; and Sgt. William “Bill” Winger, gunner. Winger was killed during the jet encounter. Vining family

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Edward Giller flew the P-38 Lightning and the P-51 Mustang. Among his aerial victories was a German twin-engine fighter that was either a Messerschmitt Bf 110 or an Me 410. He is also one of the Americans who found himself fighting Hitler’s jets, scoring an air-to-air kill of an Me 262. U.S. Air Force

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Second Lieutenant Grant Turley sits in his P-47 Thunderbolt, Kitty, of the 78th Fighter Group. Sitting in front of the cockpit is crew chief Staff Sgt. Albert Costelnik. On the wing at left is armorer Staff Sgt. James W. Sterner. Also on the wing is assistant crew chief Sgt. Albert J. Turrow. Symbolic of all the aces who flew the P-47, Turley never had the chance to confront German jets; he lost his life on a March 1944 mission to Berlin before his twenty-third birthday. Turley family

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Clayton Kelly Gross began World War II by taking his girlfriend to a movie about flying and ended the war having done it all. He was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot, an ace, and the victor of an air-to-air duel with Adolf Hitler’s vaunted Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow). Called “Kelly” by friends—or “Doc” because of his postwar career in dentistry—Gross said he and his fellow Mustang pilots never lacked confidence when they learned they would be facing jets. Robert F. Dorr collection

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The North American P-51 Mustang was one of the principal adversaries of the German jets. It wasn’t as fast as a Messerschmitt Me 262, but under the right circumstances it could win a battle against the speedier jet. Robert F. Dorr collection

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First Lieutenant Charles F. “Chuck” Gumm Jr. was the first pilot to shoot down an aircraft while flying an American-operated P-51 Mustang. In front of his P-51B Mustang (43-6320/CQ-V), Toni, Gumm (second from left) poses with his ground crew, from left: Bob Seger, Marv Lippoff, and Paul Leonard. Robert F. Dorr collection

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Surrounded by the P-80 Shooting Star jet fighters that almost made it into World War II in American colors, this is the Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet rocket aircraft (werke number 191301, U.S. serial T-2-500/FE-500). Although an archivist wrote that this photo was taken at Homestead Field, Florida, the location is thought to be Freeman Field, Indiana, at the time of the Air Force Fair on October 13, 1945. Lloyd Fergus

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The Messerschmitt ME 163 Komet rocket was extremely fast but had a short fuel burn and could become unstable in flight. Robert F. Dorr Collection

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First Lieutenant William F. “Pete” Peters was the wingman to Capt. Valmore Beaudrault during the October 2, 1944, battle between American P-47 Thunderbolts and German Messerschmitt Me 262s. Craig Meyer

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Captain Valmore “Val” Beaudrault, who prevailed in his October 2, 1944, “jet plane boogie” against the Messerschmitt Me 262, poses with his P-47D Thunderbolt, Miss Pussy IV, named for his future wife, Priscilla Pero. Priscilla Beaudrault

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Similar to the 457th Bombardment Group aircraft that were shot down by Messerschmitt Me 163 Komets on October 7, 1944, this is a Vega-built B-17G-20-VE Flying Fortress (42-97587/U-T) of the 750th Bombardment Squadron, 457th Bombardment Group. Robert A. Hadley

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Captured by the U.S. intelligence team known as Watson’s Whizzers and brought to U.S. soil, this is a Heinkel He 162A-2 Volksjäger (People’s Fighter) on display at Freeman Army Air Field, Indiana, in 1946. U. S. Air Force

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Almost overlooked by historians are the four American YP-80A Shooting Star jet fighters that reached Europe during World War II, two in England and two in Italy. They were identical in appearance to this P-80A (Army serial number 44-85000, Navy bureau number 29667) seen in this previously unpublished portrait during tests at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, in 1945. Jim Hawkins

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This is one of two YP-80A Shooting Star fighters (44-83029) that went to Italy in 1945 in Project Extraversion, seen shortly after its return. Piloted by Maj. Steve Pisanos, the aircraft made an emergency landing in a bean field. It was repaired and was about to take off from the road. The location of this picture does not appear to have been recorded; the aircraft was flying from a U.S. port of entry to Wright Field, Ohio. Bob Esposito

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The Bachem 349 Natter, perhaps one of the weirdest of Nazi Wunderwaffen, or “wonder weapons,” on display at Wright Field, Ohio, during the Air Force Fair on October 13, 1945. Paul Shoemacher

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Similar to the one engaged by Don Bryan, this is an Arado Ar 234 jet bomber with a bomb slung under the fuselage at a German airfield. U.S. Army

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Don Bryan was a P-51 Mustang ace before he engaged an Arado Ar 234 near the bridge at Remagen. U.S. Army

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Given the name Jane I by the Americans who captured it, Arado Ar 234B-2 Blitz (bureau number 121445) appears to be in derelict condition at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, circa 1946. The Navy had it but never flew it. Jim Hawkins

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Pictured are Tuskegee airmen (left to right) 1st Lt. Roscoe C. Brown, 1st Lt. Marcellus G. Smith, and Col. Benjamin O. Davis in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945. On the March 24, Brown (left) became one of three members of the 332nd Fighter Group to be credited with shooting down a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. U.S. Army

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In one of the last air-to-air engagements of the war, 1st Lt. William B. “Brad” Hoelscher shot at a Messerschmitt Me 262 near Prague, Czechoslovakia, on April 25, 1945. Hoelscher and his wingman were certain he shot down the Me 262, but he did not receive credit for an aerial victory. Hollis Barnhart

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First Lieutenant Urban L. “Ben” Drew is credited with shooting down two Me 262s on October 15, 1944. Drew (left) talks at Royal Air Force Bottisham with William Kemp and Leonard Wood. All are members of the 375th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group. U.S. Air Force

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Tuskegee airmen 1st Lt. Marcellus G. Smith, left, and 1st Lt. Roscoe C. Brown working on a P-51 Mustang in Ramitelli, Italy, in March 1945. U.S. Army

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The Martin B-26 Marauder became a favorite target of Me 262 jet pilots in the final weeks of the war—but it could fight back. This B-26 belonged to the 394th Bombardment Group and was on a mission over Europe. Warren E. “Buzz” Buhler

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Hans Guido Mutke believed he flew faster than sound in the Me 262 on April 9, 1945. Most observers seem to think he didn’t exceed the speed of sound. Or did he? Walter J. Boyne

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Jim Vining was the youngest B-26 Marauder medium bomber pilot in the Army Air Forces. He battled an Me 262 and was shot down on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, April 20, in 1945. Vining family

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Could Adolf Hitler have escaped from Berlin in one of these? This is the Junkers Ju 290A-7 that was one of the largest aircraft built by Nazi Germany during the war, seen here as it appeared at an American air show at Freeman Field, Indiana, in 1946. Robert F. Dorr collection

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One aircraft the Führer never saw was the Blohm und Voss P.170, a bizarre design that reached an advanced stage on the drawing board but was never built or flown. With three engines on the forward wing, a tail wheel, and the pilot located far to the rear, this aircraft would have been difficult to taxi. Timothy Barb made this scale model of the P.170 from a 1:72 scale kit from the Czech model company Planet. Mike Fleckenstein took the portrait. Mike Fleckenstein

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This is a front view of a Messerschmitt Me 262A-2 Schwalbe (werke number 111711), which was delivered to the Allies on March 30, 1945, by Luftwaffe pilot Hans Fay. After appearing at the October 1945 air show at Freeman Field, this aircraft crashed on August 20, 1946, at Xenia, Ohio, and pilot 1st Lt. Walter J. McAuley bailed out. U.S. Air Force

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Is this a metaphor for the Reich and its wonder weapons? Derelict outside the main gate of the Naval Laboratory in Washington, D.C., on January 27, 1957, this Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a Schwalbe would be considered a priceless artifact today. This Me 262 was assigned the U.S. Navy bureau number 121444. The Japanese Kawanishi N1K1 Shiden fighter, George, beside the jet was saved, but the Me 262’s final disposition is unknown. Robert F. Dorr collection

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Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket fighters at the “Air Force Fair” at Wright Field, Ohio, on October 13, 1945. This was a display of war prizes captured by U.S. intelligence officers. Paul Schoemacher

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A captured Me 262 two-seater. Jim Hawkins

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