EASY MODEL superb ready assembled plastic 1/72 scale model of Messerschmitt Me.163 B-1a Komet “White 13” of ll./JG400, Luftwaffe in 1945. Complete with stand and wheel trolley used for ground handling and takeoff (this was detached from the aircraft as soon as it left the ground and the ME 163 landed on a skid under the fuselage) Length 3.25″ Width 5.25″
The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, designed by Alexander Lippisch, was a German rocket-powered fighter aircraft. It is the only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to have been operational. Its design was revolutionary, and the Me 163 was capable of performance unrivaled at the time. Messerschmitt test pilot Rudy Opitz in 1944 reached 1,123 km/h (698 mph). Over 300 aircraft were built; however, the Komet proved ineffective as a fighter, having been responsible for the destruction of only about nine Allied aircraft (16 air victories for 10 losses, according to other sources)
The Me 163B had very docile landing characteristics, mostly due to its integrated leading edge slots, located directly forward of the elevon control surfaces, and just behind and at the same angle as the wing’s leading edge. It would neither stall nor spin. One could fly the Komet with the stick full back, and have it in a turn and then use the rudder to take it out of the turn, and not fear it snapping into a spin. It would also slip well. Because it was derived from a glider, it had excellent gliding qualities, and had tendency to continue flying above the ground due to ground effect. On the other hand, making a too close turn from base onto final, the sink rate would increase, and one could quickly lose altitude and come in short. Another main difference from a propeller-driven aircraft is that there was no slipstream over the rudder. On takeoff, one had to attain the speed at which the aerodynamic controls become effective—about 129 km/h (80 mph)—and that was always a critical factor. Pilots used to flying propeller driven aircraft had to be careful the control stick was not somewhere in the corner when the control surfaces began working. These, like many other specific Me 163 problems, would be resolved by specific training.
The performance of the Me 163 far exceeded that of contemporary piston engine fighters. At a speed of over 320 km/h (200 mph) the aircraft would take off, in a “sharp start” from the ground, from its two-wheeled dolly. The aircraft would be kept at low altitude until the best climbing speed of around 676 km/h (420 mph) was reached, at which point it would jettison the dolly, pull up into a 70° angle of climb, and rapidly climb to a bomber’s altitude. It could go higher if required, reaching 12,000 m (39,000 ft) in an unheard-of three minutes. Once there, it would level off and quickly accelerate to speeds around 880 km/h (550 mph) or faster, which no Allied fighter could match. The usable Mach number was similar to the Me 262, but because of the high thrust to drag ratio, it was much easier for the pilot to lose track of the onset of severe compressibility and loss of control. A Mach warning system was installed as a result. The aircraft was remarkably agile and docile to fly at high speed. According to Rudolf Opitz, chief test pilot of the Me 163, it could “fly circles around any other fighter of its time”.
By this point, Messerschmitt was completely overloaded with production of the Bf 109 and attempts to bring the Me 210 into service. Production in a dispersed network was handed over to Klemm, but quality control problems were such that the work was later given to Junkers, who was, at that time, underworked. As with many German designs of World War II’s later years, parts of the airframe (especially wings) were made of wood by furniture manufacturers.
The older Me 163A and first Me 163B prototypes were used for training. It was planned to introduce the Me 163S, which removed the rocket engine and tank capacity and placed a second seat for the instructor above and behind the pilot, with its own canopy. The Me 163S would be used for glider landing training, which as explained above, was essential to operate the Me 163. It appears the 163 Ss were converted from the earlier Me 163B series prototypes.
In service (with only 7.5 minutes powered flight time) the Me 163 turned out to be difficult to use against enemy aircraft. Its tremendous speed and climb rate meant a target was reached and passed in a matter of seconds. Although the Me 163 was a stable gun platform, it required excellent marksmanship to bring down an enemy bomber. The Komet was equipped with two 30 mm (1.18 inch) MK 108 cannons which had a relatively low muzzle velocity of 540 meters per second (1,207 mph, 1,944 km/h), with the characteristic ballistic drop of such a weapon. The drop meant they were only accurate at short distance, and that it was almost impossible to hit a slow-moving bomber when the Komet was traveling very fast. Four or five hits were typically needed to take down a B-17.
A number of innovative solutions were implemented to ensure kills by less experienced pilots. The most promising was a unique weapon called the Sondergerät 500 Jägerfaust. This consisted of a series of single-shot, short-barreled 50 mm (2-inch) guns pointing upwards. Five were mounted in the wing roots on each side of the aircraft. The trigger was tied to a photocell in the upper surface of the aircraft, and when the Komet flew under the bomber, the resulting change in brightness caused by the underside of the aircraft could cause the rounds to be fired. As each shell shot upwards, the disposable gun barrel that fired it was ejected downwards, thus making the weapon recoilless. It appears that this weapon was used in combat only once, resulting in the destruction of a Halifax bomber, although other sources say it was a Boeing B-17.
Active combat operations began in May 1944, although on a small scale. As expected, the aircraft was extremely fast; and for a time, the Allied fighters were at a complete loss as what to do about it. Singly or in pairs, the Komets attacked, often faster than the opposing fighters could dive in an attempt to intercept them. A typical Me 163 tactic was to zoom through the bomber formations at 9,000 m (30,000 ft), rise up to an altitude of 10,700–12,000 m (35,100–39,000 ft), then dive through the formation again. This approach afforded the pilot two brief chances to fire a few rounds from his cannons before gliding back to his airfield. The pilots reported that it was possible to make four passes on a bomber, but only if it was flying alone.
As the cockpit was unpressurized, the operational ceiling was limited by what the pilot could endure for several minutes while breathing oxygen from a mask, without losing consciousness. Pilots underwent altitude-chamber training to harden them against the rigors of operating in the thin air of the stratosphere without a pressure suit. Special low-fiber diets were prepared for pilots, as gas in the gastrointestinal tract would expand rapidly during ascent.
More than three years passed before Major Wolfgang Späte could form the first Me 163 combat wing, (Jagdgeschwader 400 (JG 400) ), in Brandis near Leipzig, which followed the establishment of the Erprobungskommando 16 Me 163B-dedicated test and evaluation unit at Peenemunde-West eleven months earlier. JG 400’s purpose was to provide additional protection for the Leuna synthetic gasoline works which were raided particularly heavily and frequently at the end of 1944. A further group was stationed at Stargard near Stettin to protect the large synthetic plant at Pölitz (today Police, Poland). Further defensive units of rocket fighters were planned for Berlin, the Ruhr and the German Bight.
The first actions involving the Me 163 occurred at the end of July, when two USAAF B-17 Flying Fortress were attacked without confirmed kills. Combat operations continued from May 1944 to spring 1945. During this time, there were nine confirmed kills with 14 Me 163s lost. Feldwebel Siegfried Schubert was the most successful pilot, with three bombers to his credit.
Allied fighter pilots soon noted the short duration of the powered flight. They would wait, and when the engine died they would pounce on the unpowered Komet. However, the Komet was extremely manoeuvrable and could pull out of a turn much later than any Allied fighter. Another Allied method was to attack the fields the Komets operated from, and strafed them after the Me 163s landed. Establishing a defensive perimeter with anti-aircraft guns ensured that Allied fighters avoided these bases. At the end of 1944, 91 aircraft had been delivered to JG 400 but a continuous lack of fuel had kept most of them grounded. It was clear that the original plan for a huge network of Me 163 bases was never going to happen. Up to that point, JG 400 had lost merely six aircraft due to the enemy actions. Nine were lost to other causes, remarkably low for such a revolutionary and technically advanced aircraft. In those last days of the Third Reich the Me 163 was given up in favour of the more successful and threatening Me 262. In May 1945, Me 163 operations were stopped, the JG 400 disbanded, and many of their pilots sent to fly Me 262s.
In any operational sense, the Komet was a failure. Although they shot down 16 aircraft, mainly expensive four-engined bombers, that did not warrant the efforts put into the project. With the projected Me 263, things could have turned out differently, but due to fuel shortages late in the war, few went into combat, and it took an experienced pilot with excellent shooting skills to achieve “kills” with the Me 163.
The Komet also spawned later weapons like the Bachem Ba 349 Natter and Convair XF-92. Ultimately, the point defense role that the Me 163 played would be taken over by the surface-to-air missile (SAM), Messerschmitt’s own example being the Enzian. The airframe designer, Alexander Martin Lippisch went on to design delta-winged supersonic aircraft for the Convair Corporation.
Capt. Eric Brown RN, Chief Naval Test Pilot and commanding officer of the Captured Enemy Aircraft Flight, who tested the Me 163 at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough, said, “The Me 163 was an aeroplane that you could not afford to just step into the aircraft and say ‘You know, I’m going to fly it to the limit.’ You had very much to familiarise with yourself with it because it was state-of-the-art and the technology used.”.
Acting unofficially, after a spate of accidents involving Allied personnel flying captured German aircraft resulted in official disapproval of such flights, Brown was determined to fly a powered Komet, and on around 17 May 1945, he flew an Me 163B at Husum with the help of a co-operative German ground crew, after initial towed flights in an Me 163A to familiarise himself with the handling. The day before the flight, Brown and his ground crew had performed an engine run on the chosen Me 163B to ensure that everything was running correctly, the German crew being apprehensive should an accident befall Brown, until being given a disclaimer signed by him to the effect that they were acting under his orders. On the take-off the next day, after dropping the take-off dolly and retracting the skid, Brown later described the resultant climb as “like being in charge of a runaway train”, the aircraft reaching 32,000 ft (9.76 km) altitude in 2 minutes, 45 seconds worth of time. During the flight, while practicing attacking passes at an imaginary bomber, he was surprised at how well the Komet accelerated in the dive with the engine shut down. When the flight was over Brown had no problems on the approach to the airfield apart from the rather restricted view from the cockpit due to the flat angle of glide, the aircraft touching down at 125 mph. Once down safely, Brown and his much-relieved ground crew celebrated with a drink.
Apart from Brown’s unauthorised flight, the British never tested the Me 163 under power themselves, due to the danger of its hypergolic propellants—it was only flown unpowered, Brown himself piloting RAE’s Komet VF241 on a number of occasions, the rocket motor being replaced with test instrumentation.
It has been claimed that at least 29 Komets were shipped out of Germany after the war and that of those at least 10 have been known to survive the war to be put on display in museums around the world. Most of the 10 surviving Me 163s were part of JG 400, and were captured by the British at Husum, the squadron’s base at the time of Germany’s surrender in 1945. According to the RAF museum, 48 aircraft were captured intact and 24 were shipped to the United Kingdom for evaluation, although only one, VF241, was test-flown (unpowered).
A flying reproduction Me 163 was constructed between 1994 and 1996 by Joseph Kurtz, a former Luftwaffe pilot who trained to fly Me 163s, but who never flew in combat. He subsequently sold the aircraft to EADS. The reproduction is an unpowered glider whose shape closely matches that of an Me 163, although its weight and internal construction differ considerably. Reportedly, it has excellent flying characteristics.