The Emergency Fighter Program (German: Jägernotprogramm, literally "Fighter Emergency Program") was the program that resulted from a decision taken on July 3, 1944 by the Luftwaffe regarding the German aircraft manufacturing companies during the last year of the Third Reich.
This project was one of the products of the latter part of 1944, when the Luftwaffe High Command saw that there was a dire need for a strong defense against Allied bombing raids. Although opposed by important figures such as Luftwaffe fighter force leader Adolf Galland, the project went ahead owing to the backing of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. Most of the designs of the Emergency Fighter Program never proceeded past the project stage.
In the Emergency Fighter Program emphasis was laid in shifting production to defensive interceptor/fighters. A number of new aircraft design competition programmes were launched to provide new jet fighters. Production of the Messerschmitt Me 262A fighter versions continued, as well as the development of advanced piston-engined fighters such as the Dornier Do 335 as per Hitler's personal request on May 23, 1944, before the July 3 announcement of the program. Bomber designs powered by piston engines were severely curtailed or outright cancelled, with only jet bombers allowed to continue in production, such as the Arado Ar 234. New jet bombers such as the Junkers Ju 287 and Heinkel He 343 were worked on fitfully as low priority projects in the last months of the war.
Towards the end of the war some of the fighter designs, such as the Heinkel P.1077 Julia, the Blohm & Voss BV 40 and the Arado E.381 Kleinstjäger – "smallest fighter" were designed with the pilot flying the aircraft in a prone position; or for a vertical takeoff like a modern missile launch system for the first time with a manned aircraft, with the Bachem Ba 349 Natter. The Natter and Julia designs were expected to climb to their ceiling at vertical or near vertical angles, while the Arado design was a parasite aircraft that needed to be carried by a "mother" plane, with the unpowered BV 40 needing an aerotow into action. These small interceptors had fuel for only a few minutes for combat action and landing was difficult, for instead of having a wheeled undercarriage they had only a fixed skid, or as with the Natter, the pilot bailed out at the end of a mission while the rear fuselage containing the rocket motor descended under its own parachute.
Such simplified and dangerous planes were the products of the last phase of the Third Reich, when the lack of materials and the dire need for a strong defense against the Allied bombing raids required such craft to be built quickly in underground factories. In the design of the planes little thought was given to the safety or comfort of the pilots who were mostly Hitler Youth motivated by fanaticism. During this period the Nazi authorities also considered the use of selbstopfer (suicide) planes such as the Reichenberg (a manned version of the V-1 flying bomb), and in one case of actual use, a "special detachment" unit dedicated to desperate aerial ramming tactics, known as Sonderkommando Elbe.
In August 1944, a requirement led to the Volksjäger ("Peoples' Fighter") aircraft design competition, to create a lightweight high-speed fighter/interceptor using a single BMW 003 turbojet engine as specified, intended for rapid mass-production while using minimal resources. The Volksjäger was intended to be disposable, with damaged aircraft being discarded rather than repaired, while it was to be flown by pilots hastily trained on gliders.
After a hurried design competition involving almost all of Germany's aircraft companies, including Zeppelin with its Fliegende Panzerfaust, Heinkel's He 162 proposal was selected as the winning Volksjäger airframe design. The first prototype of the He 162 Spatz (Sparrow), flew in December 1944. Other designs submitted to the Peoples' Fighter Programme, such as the Blohm & Voss P.211, were potentially superior, but never proceeded past the project stage.
In November 1944, a programme for an even simpler fighter, the so-called Miniaturjägerprogramm ("Miniature Fighter Program") was launched. The aim was to develop and mass-produce a very small interceptor using the absolute minimum of strategic materials. The aim was to produce them cheaply and in large numbers so as to overwhelm the Allied bomber formations that flew daily over Germany. The Miniaturjäger would be powered by one Argus As 014 pulsejet engine per unit, as this engine required far fewer construction man-hours, than the 375 man-hours needed to build a Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet. The various German aircraft designers showed less interest in this new enterprise than in the Peoples' Fighter Project for the imminent He 162 program would swallow up most of what was left of the country's available — and rapidly diminishing — production capacity. Furthermore, it was already well known by the time the Miniaturjäger competition was announced that, as they didn't produce enough power at low speeds for takeoff, the Argus pulsejets were unsuitable for manned aircraft that would have to takeoff unassisted. Since additional launch schemes would have to be added to the project, such as towplanes, catapults or rocket boosters, the goal of the program would be defeated and complexity and expense would be far higher. Thus the Miniaturjäger project never saw mass-production, being abandoned by December 1944.
Even so, aircraft manufacturers Heinkel, Blohm & Voss and Junkers came up with light fighter designs using a strict minimum of materials before that date. The resulting planes were small, spartan creations, with no radio and almost no electrical equipment, Heinkel would use a He 162 air frame powered by a pulse jet, Blohm & Voss designed the BV P.213 and Junkers would submit the Ju EF 126 Elli project. The only Miniature Fighter aircraft to get beyond blueprint status was the Junkers EF 126. Although unbuilt during the war, five prototypes were built in the Dessau Junkers plant in the area occupied by the Soviet Union. One of the prototypes was destroyed during unpowered testing in 1946, killing the pilot.
At the beginning of 1945 a further programme was launched by the OKL in order to replace the He 162 Volksjäger. The new aircraft was intended to have superior performance in order to deal with high altitude threats such as the B-29 Superfortress (although it was never used in Europe). To meet this requirement, power was to be a single Heinkel HeS 011 turbojet, of which only 19 examples were ever produced, and all allocated for development testing. The designs of the Messerschmitt P.1110, Heinkel P. 1078, Focke-Wulf Ta 183, Blohm & Voss P 212 as well as the official winner of the competition, the Junkers EF 128, were submitted by February 1945.
This more advanced fighter had attracted more interest than the austere Miniaturjäger, particularly from Focke-Wulf and Messerschmitt, but only the Messerschmitt prototype had been started by the end of the war. The first prototype of the Messerschmitt P.1101 was 80% complete when captured at the end of the war, following which it was taken to America, with its design philosophies used as the basis of the solely American-built Bell X-5 variable geometry research aircraft.