The Me163 was the fastest production aircraft of World War II. It’s rocket engine, swept wing, and tailless design were all revolutionary. In fact, it is the only rocket powered aircraft to ever enter series production.
Yet it’s impact on history is more folklore than anything substantive. After the jump, a look at a very advanced fighter concept.
This is another Germany’s extremely advanced projects. But its deficiencies are at least as significant as its strengths. The idea was, a point defense interceptor that could climb to over 30000 feet in about two minutes. With a top speed around 700 MPH it was uncatchable by anything during powered flight. But “during powered flight” would prove to be the first really big catch. With only about five minutes of fuel, the plane would spend most of its time airborne as a glider. This further translated into about a 25 mile range. Which means there was an even finer point on point defense than would be on other such aircraft. That means it could defend a single fairly small locale. It also had pretty specialized service needs, so it couldn’t easily be relocated to defend a different site.
Add to that, its speed with power was actually too fast for a productive firing run on a bomber formation. Especially considering firepower of two 20 mm cannon, this is pretty light for going against American heavies. And with the engine off it was easy prey for escorting fighters.
There were even more serious issues with the fuel. The Komet used a two-part liquid fuel. The components needed to be carefully kept apart until needed because when mixed they were caustic and explosive… Because. It. Was. Rocket. Fuel. Labeled “T-Stoff” and “C-Stoff” the two liquids were transported in separate trucks and pumped into clearly labeled and separate tanks. Now the obvious thing to mention here is that was a fighter plane, going places where people would be shooting at it. The consequences of a damaged fuel tank were even more dire than in a gasoline powered aircraft. Bailing out was often not really an issue.
Ultimately the type only entered service with one group (JG 400) and operated from a couple bases. The less than 100 aircraft in service scored around 10 kills for 16 losses. Plans at one point called for a number of interconnected bases that would allow for a broader defensive sphere; but the Me 262 proved to be a more useful aircraft and the Me 163 was not further supported.
No doubt this aircraft scared the daylights out of allied bomber crews. It was virtually untouchable at speed. But it came with too many limitations and hazards, and was not what we could call successful.
This subject is from the DML kit, with Cutting Edge decals. It flew with JG 400 in early 1945.
Up Next: North American P-51B Mustang
The ME 161 was limited but it showed the future.
Yeah, certainly in terms of aeronautics; swept wing, tailless design. Although liquid fueled rockets were more of a dead end.
My father served in WW2 (The Aleutians) and so had a collection of things like collected comics from Stars and Stripes and other Army publications. One collection was obviously for the 8th Air Force, and several dealt with new airmen’s reactions to seeing their first German rocket plane. It definitely made an impression. But then that often seems to have been the German goal. Even if the weapon is tactically flawed and of no strategic value, if it seemed to hurt enemy morale, they considered it worth it at some level.
Oh yeah, and of course the “V” weapons were all about terror. But looking at the expense of some of their terror projects it’s not hard to imagine where their money and resources might have been better spent. Especially when you look at far ahead the allies were on useful things like radar, signals intelligence, and pure output.
But I have no doubt it would be terrifying to be a Bomber crewman and watch a rocket blaze through your formation, that you can’t begin to get a shot at.
Yes, certainly the non-flashy things like logistics, code breaking, and sheer overwhelming force make a difference, but don’t forget, the people making the decisions were both convinced of, and desperately trying to prove their inherent superiority.
Yeah. It’s no wonder we responded to their strutting with so much mockery and ridicule, they made it just too easy.
There’s one story I like though about a smart bomb (Fritz X, radio guided) that sank the battleship Roma (after the Italians switched sides) and how the Luftwaffe decided to cover it up; for fear Hitler would insist ALL their bombs had to be smart bombs.
I’ve done several builds of this plane, and one thing has constantly bothered me. Compared to other planes, it has a remarkably short fuselage, especially compared to the wingspan and area. Why didn’t they make it bigger to hold more fuel? I’m sure there is an explanation, based on the technology at the time, but that always bothered me.
There was an Me263 in the works with a significantly better range. It’s available in kit form and popular with the “Luftwaffe ’46” crowd. But like so many such projects, it was overtaken by events.
But I guess the bottom line is, the Komet was a new concept, not fully refined.
I suppose I should add the production “B” model was already 50% bigger than the development “A” model. The engine, the airframe. All of it was a growing technology.
And that certainly makes sense. We should remember that this aircraft had to function as a glider in addition to as a fighter. Compromises were baked in to the concept.
I know Eric Brown, the only allied pilot to ever admit to having flown a Komet in powered flight, described it as feeling like he was strapped to the front of an out of control locomotive. But it’s gliding properties were very good; he described it as the best tailless design he ever flew.
I’ve always wondered about it’s handling. Theoretically, with a two fuel mixture some throttling should be possible, but I always wondered about that.
Yeah you would think it would have some sort of mixture/throttle. But most descriptions I’ve read sound like more of an on/off sort of thing.
It may be like the old Rotary engines and their “blip” switch They technically had a throttle, but due to the finicky nature of the things they usually flew either all on or all off.
The carburetor was a wonderful thing in its time.
Pingback: The Best/Worst Airplane of World War II | Plane Dave