A Nile Delta

by Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing historian

After World War II, the allies prohibited German aircraft designers from undertaking any research for defense purposes within Germany.

Still, these designers, who had produced some of the most sophisticated aircraft of the war, were much in demand by countries that had no difficulty with their Fascist origins. One of the designers, Kurt Tank, designer of the famous Focke Wulf series of aircraft and who was also  mentioned in an earlier article, went to Juan Peron’s Argentina.

An even more famous designer, Professor Willy Messerschmitt, was welcomed with open arms by Spain’s Fascist dictator Francisco Franco because Western countries would not sell Spain new weapons, aircrafts or engines.

Building on his wartime jet experience with the Me 163 and Me 262, Mr. Messerschmitt and a German-Spanish team worked with the Spanish company Hispano Aviacion to develop a small delta winged fighter interceptor for the Spanish Air Force with a projected top speed of Mach 1.5

The design was named the HA-300, and Mr. Messerschmitt and his team had the first design drafts by 1953. The company made a glider model out of plywood in 1959 to look at flight characteristics, but its first (and last) towed flight was

abandoned before getting fully airborne due to instability.

By then, the Spanish government had exhausted its foreign currency reserves and when the United States offered Spain licensed construction of the American aircraft types, the HA-300 was finished. The construction documents of the HA-300 were sold to another Nazi sympathizer, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, who wanted a jet fighter for national pride and to offset Israeli weapons purchases from Europe.

The HA-300 program was transferred to Factory No. 36 in Helwan, Egypt, and Mr. Messerschmitt and his team continued work on the design for a real aircraft. With some linguistic sleight of hand, the acronym HA (Hispano Aviacion) now referred to Helwan Aircraft – at least as far as the Egyptians were concerned.

As completed, the HA-300 was an ultra-light, single seat “tailed delta” and was the smallest jet fighter aircraft ever designed and flown. The delta wing was swept at 57.5 degrees and its thickness to chord ratio was only 3 percent – the thinnest duralumin aerofoil ever flown. The proposed armament was two 30 millimeter cannons and two heat-seeking missiles.

The HA-300 was to be powered by a projected afterburning British Orpheus engine of 10,000 pounds of thrust, and would have had spectacular paper performance – a time to climb to 40,000 feet in only 2.5 minutes from brakes release and a top speed of Mach 2.

But paper was one thing, bending metal another. The first prototype – powered by a non-afterburning Orpheus of less that 5,000 pounds of thrust – was completed in April 1963 but was far from ready for flight. Still, since there had been much publicity about the aircraft, it was decided that the HA-300 would be taxied in front of President Nasser during the Egyptian Republic Day celebrations in July1963, but even taxing the HA-300 was a huge challenge.

The design of the nose gear had been a complete disaster. The slightest bump would send the aircraft bouncing violently up and down, and the nose gear steering was so stiff the wheel tended to stay in place in shallow turns and scrape across the ground. This was remedied just in time for the ceremony, and the HA-300 taxied slowly in a straight line in front of President Nasser.

The first prototype was finally flown on March 7, 1964, by an Indian test pilot because the Egyptians had no qualified test pilots. A second prototype flew more than a year later on July 22, 1965, but even by then the program was in trouble.

The afterburning Orpheus engine was never developed, leading to a proposal – doomed from the start – that the Egyptians develop a brand new engine. Flight tests of the HA-300 had shown serious problems with the fuel system and the tail plane. More seriously, it had very short range because it was too small and the wing too thin to carry significant fuel.

While the two prototype aircraft completed 135 flights without incident, the HA-300’s maximum speed and ceiling were limited with the non-afterburning Orpheus engine.

Meanwhile, Egypt had become serious and began to purchase large numbers of combat aircraft from the Soviet bloc instead of developing them itself. The Egyptians also ran out of patience and money and closed the HA-300 project in May 1969.

Nasser’s pro-Soviet tilt had led to tensions with the Federal Republic of Germany and the German engineers had to evacuate the country. Ironically, in 1991, Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG (DASA) bought the first HA-300 – Mr. Messerschmitt’s last design – and airlifted it to Germany, where the company restored it for exhibition at the Deutsches Museum.

For questions or comments, e-mail marshall.michel@ramstein.af.mil.