Lefa, the He 162 Volksjager (the "People's Fighter") was developed as a quick solution to stem the tide of the major Allied advances witnessed by German forces in the latter years of the war. The plan was to produce these inexpensive jet fighters in mass production quantities and train Hitler Youth to take them into battle.
The He 162 was a single-seat fighter of unique design, most identifiable for having the powerplant sitting atop the fuselage, negating the need for any complex internal intake and exhaust systems running the length of the fuselage. The tail was ingeniously split in a "T" format and the wings were mounted high on the fuselage body with edges folded down at aerodynamic degrees. A powered tricycle landing gear, a large glass canopy and even an ejection seat rounded out the list of notable features.
Initial plans for the He 162 came out just 38 days before the first prototype flew, making for an astounding development timeframe. The fuselage was developed from metal alloys and plywood for the most inexpensive combination available. Mounting the engine atop the fuselage in no way hampered performance of the aircraft as a whole, though it did provide some instability issues in terms of handling capabilities.
The first flight of the He 162 V1, was fairly successful, but during a high-speed run at 840 km/h (520 mph), the highly acidic replacement glue attaching the nose gear strut door failed and the pilot was forced to land. Other problems were noted as well, notably a pitch instability and problems with sideslip due to the rudder design. On a second flight on 10 December in front of various Nazi officials, the glue again caused a structural failure. This allowed the aileron to separate from the wing, causing the plane to roll over and crash, killing the pilot. When the second prototype flew on 22 December, the stability problems proved to be more serious as the aircraft both “wagged its tail” and rocked side to side. With the plane supposed to enter production within weeks, there was no time to change the design. A number of small changes were made instead, including adding lead ballast to the nose to move the centre of gravity more to the front of the plane, and slightly increasing the size of the tail surfaces.
With an intended production goal of about 4,000 a month, the He 162 was to overwhelm the Allied forces through sheer numbers. This became more idealistic than truth, as the supplies and trained aircrews were running thin for the Reich by this time. With that said, training for Hitler Youth ensued but in towed gliders, minimal zing the true learning curve apparent in an advanced aircraft such as the He 162 was to be. Final training was to conclude with Hitler Youth in actual combat.
The He 162 first saw combat in mid-April 1945. On 19 April, Feldwebel Günther Kirchner shot down a Royal Air Force fighter. The Heinkel and its pilot were lost as well, shot down by an RAF Hawker Tempest while on approach to land, a point at which Allied pilots targeted German jets. Though still in training, I./JG 1 had begun scored kills in mid-April, but had also lost 13 He 162s and 10 pilots. Ten of the aircraft were operational losses, caused by flameouts and sporadic structural failures. Only two of the 13 aircraft were actually shot down. The He 162's 30-minute fuel capacity also caused problems, as at least two of JG 1's pilots were killed attempting emergency deadstick landings after exhausting their fuel.
In the end, British forces took over the airfield housing the only operational Volksjager air group, eventually taking eleven samples back to Britain for further testing and review. Of the 800 initial batch Volksjagers produced, only about 200 would ever actually make it out of the factory gates, the rest remaining in their place in underground factories found throughout Germany.
Incidentally, the He 162 Volksjager is sometimes incorrectly given the name of "Salamander" when, in fact, Salamander is the name given to the entire project of producing the lightweight jet fighter. Volksjager remains the recognized designation and the Heinkel firm applied the name of "Spatz" ("Sparrow") to their creation.