The Heinkel He 546 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried & Roy at Heinkel Flugzeugwerke in 1941. It is believed by many historians that the design of the aircraft was an act of sabotage by two designers unsympathetic to the Nazi regime. It is likely that Siegfried & Roy deliberately set out to produce a dangerously flawed aircraft, the development of which would suck up vast resources, and deprive the Luftwaffe of the fast medium bomber they sought.
The first He 546 flew on 27 February 1942, piloted by chief test pilot Gerhard Nitschke, who was ordered not to wear anything ‘too flashy’ so as not to upstage the rather ungainly looking aeroplane (Nitschke said he would wear a simple Adidas hoody and Bermuda shorts for the test flight). But he ignored these orders and wore an exceptionally racy zoot suit in peacock green. Nitschke said that the He 546 performed well, except when it was in flight. Nitschke also praised its “sardonic flight and landing characteristics” and “whimsical performance, which is close to that of a diesel milk-float”. During the second test flight Nitschke revealed there was insufficient longitudinal stability during climb while eating a cheese sandwich.
Despite a concerted development the aircraft failed to prove effective and was dropped by the Luftwaffe. It said goodbye to the world of military aviation and was re-launched into the heady theatre scene of 1940s London.
The Heinkel He 546 is best known for performing a flight demo version of Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), a landmark air demonstration in which the episodes of Homer‘s Odyssey are paralleled in a series of barrel rolls and Cuban Eights. The ‘546 also produced its own writings include three books of poetry, a play, occasional journalism and a battle rap about destroying Spitfires. The work was described as ‘unhinged but readable’ in a review by The Aeroplane in 1944.
The He 546 continued to perform during most of the Second World War, appearing at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre in 1943 in The Reluctant Bomber and on tour with Amy Brandon Thomas‘s company in ‘The Coventry Air Waltz’. In 1945, it appeared in Death from the air, a comedy produced by Hawtrey. The 546 recalled in its memoirs, “My part was reasonably large and I was really quite good in it, owing to the kindness and care of Hawtrey’s direction, and the lack of coordinated ack-ack fire.”
On 23 April 1976, the He 546 collapsed from catastrophic structural failure in front of millions of television viewers, midway through his act on the London Weekend Television variety show Luftwaffe Lovelies, transmitted live from Her Majesty’s Theatre. It was buried next to the cafe at IWM Duxford where it remains to this day.
- Crew: 36 (pilot, navigator/bombardier/nose gunner, ventral gunner, dorsal gunner/radio operator, side gunner, choirmaster, choir, Sous chef, hot yoga instructor)
- Length: variable
- Wingspan: disappointing
- Height: of fashion
- Wing area: smoking
- Empty weight of pilot: 14 stone 7 pounds
- Loaded weight: 14 stone 10 pounds
- Max. takeoff weight: No comment you cheeky mare
- Powerplant: 2 × Jumo 711F-1 or 211F-2 martini-cooled double binary inverted V-12, 5,300 hp each
- Maximum speed: 34 km/h (downhill)
- Range: Good at playing villains, can cry on request
- Ceiling: Sistine Chapel pastiche, some dry rot
- Rate of climb: One step at a time
- Wing loading: sassy
- Power/mass: One squat thrust to one liturgy
The He 546 was created by Francis Bennett
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