10 April 1963

Maiden flight of EWR VJ 101, a German experimental VTOL jet fighter.

At the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, the idea of jet-powered VTOL aeroplane has spread around the world. Several nations with developed aviation industry, as Great Britain, France, USA and the Soviet Union, were working on such projects, with different results.

Germany was no exception and the first official requirements for the VTOL interceptor fighter were issued at the end of 1950s. At first, German aviation manufacturers – Heinkel, Bölkow and Messerschmitt – were developing their own projects, but finally established a joint-venture company named EWR to work on the common VTOL fighter. MAN, together with Rolls-Royce, was the engine developer, while the control systems were the joint work of Honeywell and Bodenseewerk. The fighter, named VJ (Versuchsjäger – experimental fighter) was initially a pure interceptor, with capability to fly at the speed close to Mach 2.

The German Ministry of Defence ordered two prototypes for the flight tests, initially being spellbound by the promised interceptor capabilities of VJ 101. However, the requirements were changed during the prototype programme, focusing more on the general performance fighter aircraft, than the pure interceptor jet.

EWR VJ 101 X-1 performed its maiden hovering flight on 10th April 1963. Then in September, the first transition from hovering into the horizontal flight was successfully tested. X-2, the second prototype, made its first flight on 12th June 1965. In May 1964, X-1 was presented to the general public at Hannover Air Show.

Regrettably, over time, the enthusiasm for VTOL designs quickly weakened and the VJ 101 programme was cancelled in 1968, meeting the same fate as Mirage IIIV or Hawker Siddeley P.1154. Only two of many VTOL aeroplanes being developed in the 1960s reached the operational status – Hawker Siddeley Harrier in the UK and Yak-38 in the Soviet Union.

The second prototype of VJ 101 is currently exhibited at Deutsches Museum Flugwerft Schleissheim in Munich, where this photo was taken in October 2019.