IL-2 aircraft review: Ar234, the first jet bomber

By late 1944, the Luftwaffe had not one but two operational jet aircraft in its inventory. The Me262 tends to dominate most conversations when we talk about jet aircraft of WWII, however, that would be doing a disservice to the Arado Ar234. Despite whatever issues it had as an aircraft, it was the first operational jet bomber and it had a role to play late in World War II. IL-2: Battle of Normandy has just introduced this rarefied airplane to the IL-2 Great Battles roster and that means that it’s time for a full review.

A bit of history

The Arado Ar234’s history stretches back to late 1940 when a tender for a jet-powered reconnaissance aircraft was issued by the Ministry of Aviation in Germany. Arado was the only company to respond to the tender. What they would produce would go on to offer a series of firsts including the world’s first jet reconnaissance aircraft, first jet bomber, and first aircraft to fly with four jet engines.

Development requirements called for a high speed, jet powered, reconnaissance aircraft. This lead to a slender and somewhat conventional aircraft with tricycle landing gear and wings mounted high on the fuselage. Early prototypes used a mix of two Jumo 004 or four BMW 003 jet engines while designers tried to find the optimal mix of capabilities.

The slim fuselage and jet power gave the type impressive speed, however, internal fuel storage requirements meant there was no room for a bomb bay and the bomber variant was forced to carry its payload on a semi-recessed pylon under the fuselage with additional bombs fitted on racks on the engine nacelles.

Early A versions functioned mostly as production prototypes while the B-2 went on to become the definitive production version. Follow-up C and D variants were planned although few of the four-engined C version would be built before the war was over.

The type entered service in the autumn of 1944 following the Normandy invasion. Early efforts to make the type a viable combat aircraft were met with mixed success. The type had several teething problems indicative of the revolutionary aircraft. Pilots had limited visibility to the rear and found formation flying a challenge. Problems with the tires on rougher surfaces resulted in multiple popped tires during the taxi-tow process. There were also problems with the Jumo 004 engines and their limited 10-hour lifespan (as with on the Me262).

The Ar234 did make some limited attacks against the south of England but most of its main efforts were confined to the continent where the Ar234 attacked bridges and other Allied strongholds. The type’s most famous employment was against the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen between March 7 and 17 where continual raids were launched to destroy the bridge though the results of the bombing were mixed as pilots struggled to manage the new airplane.

A night fighter variant was also proposed leading to a Ar234B-2/N. Equipped with FuG 218 “Neptun” VHF radar and a MG151/20 gunpod on the bottom of the aircraft, just two of these fighters were created and were attached to an experimental test unit although no kills were recorded.

Just one example in restored condition still exists and its located at The Smithsonian.

Visuals

1CGS and their team of 3D modelers, programmers and artists continue to make the most of what they have available to them and they produce some great results with all of their aircraft. The Ar234 shows a repeat of that effort.

The unique cockpit offers a clear view forward and good views to the side. Look back, however, and you can see why they found the aircraft to have an abysmal view to the rear. It’s just such a cool place to be while also clearly being a bit compromised in the name of creating this revolutionary aircraft.

On the exterior we again have the usual high levels of detail from the texture work to the 3D modelling. There’s a decent array of custom liveries and the aircraft uses the now series standard tactical code system so you can put in your own customized codes.

The Ar234 has some unique features that 1CGS have worked hard to ensure that they both work and look good. There’s the Starthilfe booster rockets that help the aircraft get up to speed for takeoff. The boosters look great and the rocket effect looks good enough. So too do the parachutes that deploy from the boosters as they drop off. The Ar234 also has a drogue chute to help slow the airplane on landing. Again, they look good!

Flying the world’s first jet bomber

Flying the Arado Ar234 provides a mixed bag of experiences with the type continually reminding me that this was a world first. That comes with some problems inherent to the airplane that 1CGS has ensured is baked into the sim experience.

Let’s talk about taxi and takeoff first. Taxiing the Ar234 is difficult to do. Like with the Me262, you’re confronted with the temperamental nature of the Jumo 003 jet engines that power the aircraft. A very high throttle, around 80%, is required to get the aircraft going on the ground and gentle movements of the throttle control are a necessity or you’ll cause a flameout at any stage of flight.

In reality, a specially configured Kettenkrad would tow the aircraft into place. As I mentioned previously, tires frequently popped, landing gear systems failed, and variety of other maladies would affect the serviceability of the real world Ar234 fleet. We don’t face most of those challenges but moving the Ar234 from a parked position to the runway requires careful throttle and brake modulation just to get it in place. I am thankful that Career and AQMB missions start you on the runway.

Takeoff is similarly harrowing. Without the available rocket pods installed on the wings, takeoff comes only after a long time spent accelerating up to a rotation speed around 210 km/h. A long runway is not only a suggestion but a serious requirement especially when you’re carrying a bombload. The rocket pods add complexity to the operation where you then must hold the rocket button during takeoff to keep the pods going. Then push another button to ultimately drop them off. They do, however, help to significantly shorten the takeoff run and they were essentially a standard issue for most Ar234 ops. I strongly recommend fitting them.

Once you’re up in the air, the experience transforms mostly for the better. The Ar234 feels highly confident in the air and although you won’t mistake it for a fighter. It still feels quite a bit more agile than the Ju88 or He111 that you might be used to flying if your a Luftwaffe bomber pilot.

A reasonable rate of roll, decently effective elevators at normal speed ranges, and terrific speed, especially when not being dragged down by external bombloads, help make makes the Ar234 a joy. So does that cockpit that I’ve already talked about.

The Ar234 also has another new feature. A controllable autopilot with the ability to set the autopilot, make turns and climbs while all being controlled by the system. It’s relatively unique among the types in IL-2 and I believe this is another first.

Like the Me262, the Ar234 is also a bit of a challenge to manage with its engines. Fast movements on the throttle can cause failures and improper restart procedures can start fires. Something I did with my first Ar234 career where I managed to shut down both engines, cause a fire on one and then successfully glide to friendly lines only to die in the crash.

Landing requires a careful and lengthy approach. I found that progressively dropping the flaps and only going to landing flaps close to the threshold resulted in better landings than some of my earlier attempts. If you have them equipped, the drogue chute is also useful to help slow the aircraft. It deploys and then drops off in a realistic looking fashion.

This is also an aircraft that is a challenge to fly in formation thanks to the slow to throttle engines and with the poor visibility to the sides and rear. There is an available mirror modification that helps things slightly. To the rear you can use the periscope for both forward and rear visibility. The rear view with the periscope is inverted so you’ll have to get used to that.

Fighting in the Arado

In the single player career mode the Arado is used mostly to attack pinpoint targets. Destroy a bridge, rail yard, or supply depot in a high speed mid altitude dive and then run for home before the flak or fighters get you. If you enjoy longer flights cruising along with a high cruise speed listening to the hum of two jet engines… this is going to be your airplane. It can be quite relaxing on the cruise.

In multiplayer, your best bets are to attack targets where you’re able to cruise at medium or high altitudes and build up some speed prior to the attack. Bombs, especially if you’re carrying multiples, will slow you down to speeds that fast Allied interceptors might be able to keep up with. Speed is really the Ar234’s only defense so getting yourself as fast as possible is essential.

Some were concerned about how the Arado might affect multiplayer. While the Me262 is the most restricted airplane in the sim because of its supremacy over Allied fighters (and the relative scarcity of the type in real life), the Arado will likely be slightly more available as its advantages in speed don’t translate into high numbers of enemy aircraft kills. Especially if the very rare MG151/20 gunpod is restricted. Its relative slowness when fully armed for a mission put it well within the ability of an Allied fighter like a Mustang, Spitfire XIV or Tempest to intercept.

Nonetheless, the Ar234 should present itself as a challenge for any intercepting fighter and it should be much more survivable than trying to fly something slower such as the Ju88 in a similar time period.

Attacking ground targets can be done with one of four methods. The first is the level bombsight which should be familiar to any bomber pilot. The second is with a dive bombsight called a BZA 1B. This requires you to use the following commands:

  • Gunsight range adjustment / Bombsight: wind speed
  • Gunsight vertical adjustment / Bombsight: target height.”

The first has you setting the wind speed (there’s no provision for direction) while the other sets the target altitude. After which the sight will be configured and you just need to put the line on the target as you dive.

You don’t need to set the True Air Speed for this sight as 1CGS developer IAmNotARobot explains.

We implemented BZA 1 B with automatic TAS input.

IAmNotARobot

That’s very cool!

In practice, dialing in the wind is of some use but getting the altitude right is the key part of the equation. Get that right and you’ll hit the target most of the time with the appropriate release height. The Ar234 benefits from the same contact altimeter setting that the Stuka does so if you have that set you can also configure your contact altimeter after which there will be a loud buzzer sound. You may have heard it already if you’ve flown the airplane as its set at a default of 1000 meters.

The third method. The TLAR (that looks about right) method where you dive and wait for the target to pass just beneath the upper instrument frame. I’ve actually had my best dive bomb attack using this method although I’ve also had really good success with the dive bomb sight.

Finally, the optional MG151/20 gunpod can be used for strafing although I’ve also employed it to test run some interception missions against bombers too. The twin cannon pod can be paired with SC250 bombs on the engine nacelles giving you more of a fighter bomber configuration. This was not typical historically but it can be fun to employ.

Final thoughts

I like this plane a lot! This unique jet bomber adds flavour to the IL-2 Great Battles experience as it gives us the first jet bomber. To bring this to life, a lot of unique features have been added. Rocket boosters for takeoff, drogue chutes for landing, a controllable autopilot, and a configurable dive bomb computing sight all round out a very unique experience.

Visually impressive insight and out, the Ar234 is one of the series most impressive airplanes added from an audio and visual standpoint. It’s also a challenge to manage and fly with temperamental engines and the need to learn how to start them properly and do a inflight relight if you get a flameout. Most IL-2 aircraft require you to learn how they fly to do best in them but with the Ar234 you also need to learn some systems to extract the maximum from it. I love what they have done with it and encourage everyone to give it a try!

Learn to fly

The Arado Ar234 requires more knowledge to use effectively than your average IL-2 Sturmovik airplane. Between its engines, autopilot, and bombsights, the Ar234 packs in some more complexity. Learn how best to make use of it and familiarize yourself with the airplane using Requiem’s Air Combat Tutorial Library video guide.

Screenshots

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Gretsch_Man says:

    The Ar234 is indeed a great looking and fun airplane to fly in IL-2!

    I wonder when and how reconnaissance missions (where the player needs to use the onboard camera) are going to be implemented. That should make the campaign experience even more exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Yeah some proper recon missions would be great to see. Online the Flugpark folks have a script setup to enable it for WWI types so there are ways to make it work.

      Like

  2. Urgent Siesta says:

    Finally got to take this for a free flight over the weekend. VERY cool aircraft that’s kinda like a really fast Me-110/410.
    Definitely can see spending some good time in it, and the level bombing sight is icing on the cake. Not to mention the plexi nose 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      It’s just such a unique experience in IL-2 to fly this aircraft. Really fun to fly too once you get over the slightly taller learning curve.

      Like

  3. scghvb says:

    Thank you for a great review – – – –

    Liked by 1 person

  4. JG4_Moltke1871 says:

    It’s really fun schedule a Arado sortie for the belongings of this bird. Real Blitz attack‘s with scary accuracy. Come like a flash out of the clouds and disappear as soon as yo come with some enemy’s in the view back can’t follow. It’s a really fresh experience have this great new tool in the box.
    I hope to see it a bit more often on the Combat Box Server with the right time period->1945

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bob says:

    Very nice review!

    Like

  6. Blue 5 says:

    It is a terrible beast, and verily shall it be struck down by the Tempests of 122 Wing!

    So sayeth The Lord of all things Napier and Sabre. Plus Hispanos, obvs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Haha! Obvs 🙂

      Like

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