Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Military Aircraft In Detail: Heinkel He 100 Record Breaker

Erwin Hood, Midland Publishing, Hinckley, England, 2007, ISBN 978-1-85780-260-3. Illustrated, softcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Midland Publishing, 2007.

I first became intrigued by the Heinkel He 100 as a young teenager when, in December of 1975, Manfred Leihse published his excellent article Weltrekordflug Heinkel He 100 V8 in the German magazine Modell Fan. The article, still relevant today, also contained outstandingly detailed scale drawings of the He 100. But more than three decades later, published information regarding this elusive aircraft still remains scarce, not least due to the fact that little original source material has survived the war.

Having to make do with such limited resources, it is to Erwin Hood's credit that he still managed to create such a detailed, meticulously researched monograph about one of Ernst Heinkel's most fascinating aircraft. Barring a possible future discovery of currently unknown information regarding the He 100, Hood's book will likely remain the one-stop, landmark study on this topic.

In spite of the aforementioned dearth of material and the limited page count of the books in Midland Publishing's Military Aircraft in Detail series, Heinkel He 100 Record Breaker is an extremely comprehensive and complete reference publication, and, as such, long-overdue. Starting off with a brief look at the Heinkel factory and the pursuit of speed in 1930s German aircraft design, the book then delves into the history of the gestation and the technical anatomy of the aircraft. The various prototypes receive due attention, along with Heinkel's efforts to utilize the He 100 to achieve the absolute world speed record. Equally meticulously illuminated are the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to convince the German air ministry (RLM) to acquire the He 100 as an operational Luftwaffe fighter. A further chapter details the efforts to export the design and technical know-how to Russia and Japan. The narrative concludes with a look at the He 100's eventual use as a propaganda tool and in Heinkel's factory defense force - a rather ignominious end for such a cutting edge aircraft.

Heinkel He 100 Record Breaker is an immensely absorbing publication, not least due to the wealth of photographs, color profiles (created by Tom Tullis), and period documents reproduced therein. Erwin Hood's own detailed line drawings of the various prototypes and A-series aircraft conclude the book. The book has been printed on high-quality, glossy paper, which provides for a good photo reproduction. The impression is slightly marred, however, due to the intermittent application of superfluous sepia tones, as is periodically in vogue for history books. While a modern book design is very welcome, this particular publication is directed at a highly specialized audience interested in written and visual facts and not at teenagers dazzled by fashionable photo coloration. It is simply annoying, although such criticism is of course highly subjective.

Needless to say, the compiling of a perfect reference is impossible, even under the best of circumstances, and in spite of decades of expert research into the field of German aircraft 1933 to 1945, there remain significant gaps in knowledge und uncounted questions. Hood's truly excellent book reflects that reality. There are still no known cockpit shots of the He 100, for example. Or there is the photo of the He 100 V8 prototype, on page 59, the caption of which states that it was displayed at the Deutsches Museum [German Museum] in Munich (under the spurious designation of He 112 U). Other sources have identified the location of this display as the near-mythical Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung [German Aviation Collection], in Berlin, however. And indeed, a photo in my collection seems to show the very same aircraft, mounted in front of a wall and underneath a roof which can clearly be identified as part of the Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung building in Berlin (see above). Perhaps the V8 was displayed in both locations, at different times.

Such observations constitute nitpicking, of course, and are perhaps even unfair. Fact is, Erwin Hood has created a truly outstanding new standard reference on the He 100.