The German Me 163, a rocket-powered defensive fighter, was one of the most unusual aircraft of World War II. Fortunately, its potential impact was minimized by technical problems and the small number produced.
The Me 163 was the end result of a long line of tailless research aircraft designed by Dr. Alexander Lippisch. The first Me 163A prototypes were tested in 1941, but powered flight testing of the more advanced Me 163B was delayed until August 1943 due to engine and fuel problems. Although the Komet's rocket engine gave it a exceptional climb rate, range was severely limited by its high fuel consumption. Furthermore, the fuels used were extremely hazardous and sometimes exploded without warning, killing a number of pilots.
Production Me 163Bs were not ready for operational use until July 1944. The Luftwaffe planned to have small units of Komets dispersed to intercept Allied bomber formations, but only 279 Me 163Bs were delivered by the end of the war. The sole operational Komet group, JG 400, scored nine kills while losing 14 of its own aircraft.
This Me 163B (S/N 191095) may have been sabotaged while under construction, perhaps by the forced laborers building it in Germany. A small stone was wedged between the fuselage fuel tank and a supporting strap (which could have eventually caused a dangerous fuel leak), and there was contaminated glue in the wing structure (which could have caused a failure of the wing in flight).
Inside the aircraft's skin are these words, perhaps written by a defiant French laborer: "Manufacture Ferme" means "Plant Closed." "Mon coeur est en chomage" translated directly means "My heart is not occupied" (as opposed to France being occupied by the Germans).
The aircraft on display was owned and restored by the Canadian National Aviation Museum and acquired by the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in 1999.
TECHNICAL NOTES: Armament: Two 30 mm MK 108 cannons Engine: Walter HWK 509A-2 rocket with 3,748 lbs. thrust Maximum speed: 596 mph Initial climb rate: 16,000 ft. per minute Combat range: about 50 miles Ceiling: 39,500 ft. Maximum powered endurance: 7.5 minutes Span: 30 ft. 7 1/3 in. Length: 19 ft. 2 1/3 in. Height: 9 ft. 2/3 in. (on takeoff dolly)
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