Thursday, July 17, was an exciting day at the Paul E. Garber Restoration Facility, and another step towards the completion of one major aircraft currently undergoing restoration: the wing of the Heinkel He 219 Uhu night fighter was prepared for its move to the Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. The He 219 was Germany’s best night fighter in World War II, and possibly the best night fighter of the war. It was a piston-engine aircraft specifically designed for night fighting operation — a status it shared with only one other aircraft in the war, the American Northrop P-61 Black Widow. Notable features include the first steerable nose wheel on an operational German aircraft, the world’s first ejection seats on an operational aircraft, and cannons mounted to fire at an oblique angle (the so-called “Schräge Musik”).
The Museum’s He 219, built in 1944, has been undergoing restoration for many years. Its fuselage and engines are already exhibited at Udvar-Hazy Center. The wing — with a span of about approximately 19 meters (63 feet) — had undergone painting at the Garber paint shop, while being kept on a special-built, two-piece stand that would enable the restoration team to rotate the wing from an upright attitude to its normal horizontal position, a necessary step to get the heavy and unwieldy object ready for transport on a flatbed truck.
On the morning of July 17, 2014, about a dozen employees from the restoration workshop and the Collections Processing Unit (CPU) were involved in flipping the wings 90 degrees, a process that took three hours and involved some heavy lifting, with the wings weighing in at about 2,223 kilograms (4,900 pounds), and the stand at an additional 454 kilograms (1,000 pounds).
Within the weeks to come, the wing will be taken to the Udvar-Hazy Center where it will receive its final coat of green/blue Wellenmuster (wave pattern) camouflage paint, before being assembled with the fuselage later this year. Meanwhile, curatorial staff, restoration experts, and volunteers are working on the last major component toward the completion of the aircraft — the replacement of the He 219’s famous ”stag antlers” FuG 220 antenna array. The Museum’s aircraft lost its antenna at some point in its lifetime. An original FuG 220 antenna array from a European museum will be brought to the Udvar-Hazy Center later this year, where Museum staff will reverse-engineer the components, in order to complete the night fighter’s identity. Once finished, our He 219 will be the only aircraft of its kind on display worldwide.
Evelyn Crellin is a curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Dave Wilson, museum specialist in the restoration workshop, contributed to this blog.