During the World War II era, a lot of unusual aircraft designs were conceived, but very few of them could boast good flight characteristics. Most of them actually never went past the prototype stage. But the Dornier Do 335 is a whole different story.
Professor Dr. Claudius Dornier became famous for his strange aircraft designs long before WWII, when he created a lot of civilian and military planes. One of the distinctive features Dornier was known for is his usage of tandem motors that combined two engines, one driving a pulling propeller and the other — a pushing one. Among such machines were his renowned Do J Wal and Do R Superwal flying boats from the 1920–30’s, as well as a pinnacle of that design — the colossal twelve-engine Do X created with Transatlantic flights in mind.
The advantages of this design are quite numerous. Placing one engine behind the other reduces aerodynamic drag nearly twofold. Them being located closer to the center of mass of the aircraft makes it more maneuverable and easier to pilot. If one of the engines fails, it doesn’t cause uneven thrust, which makes piloting in such situations much easier and landing safer. Finally, for combat aircraft, engine placement behind the pilot’s cockpit provides additional protection against bullets and shrapnel.
The start of the war prompted Dornier to start working on future combat aircraft, as well as most of the other German aircraft designers. He based his work on his own patent registered in 1937 and planned to create a metallic twin-engine low-wing aircraft, placing two Daimler-Benz engines in tandem. The first project, the P.59, was presented to RLM and immediately refused. The ministry considered it unnecessary. It was 1940 and the Third Reich was quite sure it was amply equipped for the war.
Nevertheless, Dornier didn’t abandon the idea. He ordered an experimental aircraft named Göppingen Gö 9 from the Schempp-Hirth company that built gliders. It was basically a reduced version of the proven Do 17 design with a pencil-like fuselage, an 80 hp engine in front and a pushing propeller in the tail section, linked by a long shaft. Dornier managed to solve most of the issues inherent in such a design that are caused by heavy vibration from the shaft. Based on these findings, he started designing a whole family of projects designated P.231. The P.231/1 was going to use DB 605 E engines, the P.231/2 — DB 603 G, and the P.231/3 was designed with a combined powerplant in mind, using the DB 603 piston engine in front and the Jumo 004 C jet in the rear. By the time the general design was ready, RLM was already beginning to feel pressure for newer, faster and more efficient aircraft. The Luftwaffe’s “cornerstones”, the Bf 109, Bf 110, Fw 190 and Ju 88, were becoming obsolete in comparison to newer Allied aircraft, while newer designs including the Me 262 were facing delays. The P.231 entered a competition for a Schnellbomber — a high speed bomber — design in 1942 and won against Arado, Junkers and Blohm und Voss.
The project was designated Dornier Do 335 and later received its own name, Pfeil — Arrow. The aircraft would have provided Germany with a fast, durable and easy-to-pilot bomber that could conduct fast raids behind enemy lines, and intercept and bomb maritime convoys. Its intended speed was so high that it would not be susceptible to danger when meeting enemy fighters — the tandem powerplant and small aerodynamic profile would enable it to outrun any known rival. But quite soon after work started, delays began: RLM demanded that the design be changed to suit all-weather and night fighter capabilities. Eventually, the first prototype, the Do 335 V1, performed its maiden flight on 26 October 1943. It quickly accrued several dozen flight hours. The first flights showed that the aircraft had great roll characteristics and good speed, reaching 600 km/h at sea level. Pilots noted weak performance from the tail control surfaces, the machine was sluggish in pitch and yaw. At the same time, they praised the unusually spacious cockpit and noted an amusing trait. A single engine provided enough thrust to fly the plane, and interestingly enough it flew faster when the front-side one was shut down.
There was no need for deep changes to the design as was often the case for other aircraft, most further improvements were focused on engine air intake and cooling systems (especially for the rear engine, which tended to overheat). Subsequent prototypes featured changes to the cockpit blister, modified wings with a larger surface area, an improved undercarriage, and the installation of an ejection system. It was quite peculiar. Since there was a huge 3.5-meter propeller and large cruciform tail surfaces behind the cockpit, the pilot would need to perform a complicated process in order to eject. First, he needed to press three buttons that would eject the propeller and tail, and arm the pneumatic ejection seat. Next, he would use two levers to unlock and discard the cockpit canopy. Only then would the seat activate. Regardless, this system never got a chance to be tested in a real-life scenario.
The fifth prototype, the Do 335 V5, was finally equipped with armament comprised of a 30-millimeter MK 103 cannon located in the front motor and shooting through the hollow shaft, and two 20 mm MG 151 cannons inside the engine cowling. It could also have a bomb mount installed that would support a single 500 kg bomb or two 250 kg ones. The later version additionally supported two wing mounts that could be loaded with two more 250 kg bombs, external fuel tanks or even cannons. By the eighth iteration of the prototype, the Do 335 was beginning to take its final form, including the DB 603 E-1 engines that Dornier planned to use in production models. Final tests showed exceptional speed: the Do 335 V9 reached 760 km/h at height. During a trial fight with the Fw 190, the new fighter-bomber managed to get on the much lighter aircraft’s tail, and in case of danger it immediately reached a safe distance in a pursuit.
10 pre-production Do 330 A0 aircraft were ordered in 1943, as well as up to 120 production A1 versions. They would use the DB 603 A-1 engines with a water-methanol mix injection system for boosting, various radio equipment and a reflector sight. Unfortunately for Dornier, mass production never started. All German aircraft manufacturers were engine-starved by 1944, and regular Allied bombing raids had started; Dornier was no exception. By the end of the war, only 22 aircraft existed in various stages of completion, including prototypes. In the final days of the Third Reich, Allies managed to capture 15 Do 335 of various modifications, other aircraft were lost in test flight incidents, bombings or deliberately destroyed by Germans before abandoning the manufacturing facilities. RLM planned to use the Do 335 as a basis for a Schnellbomber, as well as a two-seat night fighter with a designated radar operator, and even a reconnaissance plane with cameras in place of the bomb hold. But the Third Reich ran out of time and they were never completed.
The first documented experience of some sort of combat for the Do 335 (presumably the A-1) was described in memoirs of the French ace Pierre Closterman. He mentions that four Hawker Tempests from 3rd Squadron RAF under his lead noticed the aircraft flying low in Northern Germany, but once its pilot noticed them, he reversed course and simply flew away. The Tempest’s speed didn’t allow them to take firing positions, much less catch up to the Do 335. Another mention came from the American pilots of 325 Fighter Group 15 Air Force — in full accordance with its name, the Arrow simply flew away from their Mustangs.
The Dornier Do 335 A-1 Pfeil in World of Warplanes is a Premium Tier VIII heavy fighter. Its in-game parameters closely mimic its historic counterpart: it’s a fast, very powerful and dynamic fighter-bomber. A motor-mounted 30 mm cannon has a high firing rate, is very accurate and shoots quite far, while two MG 151/15 fuselage-mounted guns augment it nicely and help finish off wounded enemies. Nevertheless, the Do 335 A-1 is not a dogfighter. It’s advantage in speed makes it able to reach enemy positions quickly, drop four 250 kg bombs, evade pursuit and start hunting larger targets in the air while its bombs reload. Good altitude performance and powerful boost make intercepting bombers equally viable. All these traits make the Dornier Do 335 A-1 a very interesting and fun aircraft to fly.