The Messerschmitt Me 163 was a rocket powered interceptor used by Germany during the final months of World War 2.
Of all aircraft engaged in World War ll the Me 163 Komet (Comet) was the most radical and, indeed, futuristic. The concept of the short-endurance local-defence interceptor powered by a rocket engine was certainly valid and might have been more of a thorn in the Allies’ side than it was. Even the dramatically unconventional form of the Me 163. With no horizontal tail and an incredibly short fuselage. did not lead to great difficulty; in fact, the production fighter was widely held to have the best and safest characteristics of any aircraft in the Luftwaffe. But the swift strides into uncharted technology were bold in the extreme. It was partly to save weight and drag that the tailless configuration was adopted, and partly because the moving spirit behind the project was at first Dr Alex Lippisch. who liked tailless designs. Choice of two rocket propellants that reacted violently when they came into contact solved the problem of ignition in the combustion chamber but added an extremely large element of danger.
Moreover. the 163 had no landing gear, taking off from a jettisoned trolley and landing on a sprung skid, and the landing impact often sloshed residual propellants together causing a violent explosion. Many aircraft were lost this way. and the original test pilot. glider champion Heini Dittmar, was badly injured when the skid failed to extend. Nevertheless by 1944 these bat-like specks were swooping on US bomber formations with devastating effect. Numerous improved versions were flying at VE day, but only 370 Komets had seen service and these had suffered high attrition through accidents.
The roots of the project went back to the 1920s, with both Lippisch aerodynamics and the various rocket research projects that led to the Hellmuth Walter development of engines suitable for manned aircraft from 1936 It is worth emphasizing that nothing remotely like either the airframe or the engine was attempted in Britain, nor in any other country except the Soviet Union.
The early aircraft research was centred at the DFS (German sailplane research institute), where the first tailless rocket aircraft was planned as the DFS 194. In March 1938 the design was complete, but in January 1939 it was transferred to Messerschmitt. Shortly after this the Walter R l-203 rocket flew (very badly) in the He 176 research aircraft. Results with this aircraft were poor, but when a similar motor was fitted to the DFS 194 tailless aircraft the speed reached 342mph (55Okm/h) and climb was fantastic.
Swiftly sanction for a rocket fighter was gained, and gliding trials with the Me 163 V1 began in the spring of 1941. Again the tailless machine floated like a bird (the main snag being that instead of landing where the pilot wanted, it kept floating) and in July—September 1941 Dittmar pushed the speed under rocket power higher and higher, far beyond the world speed record until, on 2 October 1941, he reached about 1004km/h (623-85mph), a speed measured by theodolites on the ground. At all times the flight characteristics of all 163 versions were exemplary, but there were countless snags and catastrophes due to the dangerous propellants, the failure of hydraulics, the extreme difficulty of taking off exactly into wind on the unsprung dolly, and the equally rigorous constraints upon the pilot in landing. Everything had to be exactly right, because if the aircraft yawed, swung or ran too far on to rough ground, it would turn over and the propellants explode.
The final developments were the Me 163C, with fully retractable tail-wheel, long body of improved form, increased-span centre section and new motor with a small chamber to give 660lb (300kg) for cruising flight, and the derived Me 263.
- Origin: Messerschmitt AG.
- Type: Single-seat interceptor.
- Engine: One 3.75Olb (1700kg) thrust Walter HWK 509A-2 bi-propellant rocket burning concentrated hydrogen peroxide "(T-stoff) and hydrazine/methanol (C-stoff).
- Dimensions: Span 30ft 7in (9.3m); length 18ft 8in (5.69m); height 9ft 0in (2.74m).
- Weights: Empty 4,191 lb (1905kg); loaded 9,042|b (411Okg).
- Performance: Maximum speed 596mph (960km/h) at 32.800ﬁ (10,000m); initial climb 16.400ft (5000m)/min; service ceiling 54,000ft (16,500m); range depended greatly on flight profile but under 100km (62 miles); endurance 2%min from top of climb or eight min total.
- Armament: Two 30mm MK 108 cannon in wing roots, each with 60 rounds.
- History: First flight (Me 163V1) spring 1941 as glider. August 1941 under power; (Me 163B) August 1943; first operational unit (l/JG400) May 1944.