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Messerschmitt Me 321/323 Gigant

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Uploaded on Nov 2, 2008

The Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant was a large German cargo glider aircraft developed during the Second World War.

The Me 263 had a framework of steel tubing provided by the Mannesmann company, with wooden spars and a covering of doped fabric. This allowed for quick construction and easy repair when needed and also saved weight. The Me 263 was redesignated the Me 321 and was nicknamed Gigant (Giant) due to its huge size.

Its nose stood over 6 metres (20 ft) high, and was made up of two clamshell doors. The doors could only be opened from the inside, when ramps would be used to allow vehicles to drive in or out. Compared to the Ju 52, the Me 321 offered a load area 6 times larger, at around 100 square metres (1,100 sq ft), and could accommodate a gross cargo weighing up to 23 metric tons (23 long tons). The cargo space had been designed to replicate the load space of a standard German railway flatcar, allowing any cargo that could travel by rail to fit into an Me 321. Alternatively, if used for passenger transport, 120-130 fully equipped troops could be accommodated.

The Me 321 was fitted with a jettisonable undercarriage comprising two Bf 109 tail wheels at the front and two Junkers Ju 90 main wheels at the rear and was intended to land on four extendable skids.

The first flight of the prototype Me 321 V1 took place on February 25, 1941, towed into the air by a Junkers Ju 90. It was piloted by Messerschmitt test pilot Karl Baur, and carried 3 tonnes of ballast. Baur reported that the controls were heavy and responses sluggish and it was decided to enlarge the cockpit to accommodate a co-pilot and radio operator and dual controls were fitted. Electric servo motors were also fitted to assist in moving the huge wing flaps and further tests caused a braking parachute to also be added.

The test flights were plagued by takeoff difficulties, since the Ju 90 was not powerful enough, and as an interim measure three Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighters were used, in a so-called Troikaschlepp. This was a highly dangerous manoeuvre and Ernst Udet asked Ernst Heinkel to come up with a better tug. Heinkel responded by creating the Heinkel He 111Z Zwilling (Twins), which combined two He 111 aircraft with a 5th engine added. Rocket assisted takeoff units were also used to assist takeoff from rough fields.

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