Flying Replica of Messerschmitt Komet Rocketplane at German Airshow

I found this little video of a modern, flying replica of the Messerschmidt 163 Komet over on YouTube, put up by Knight Flight Video. From the some of the speech you can hear, it seems that it was filmed at an airshow in Germany. The Komet was developed by the Germans during the Second World War to intercept allied bombers. Unlike conventional aircraft at the time, it was powered by a rocket engine. However, this also made it a virtual deathtrap to fly. The engine was a liquid fuel rocket motor. The fuels used were hypergolic, which meant that they automatically ignited when mixed together without needing a separate ignition system. However, they were also highly acidic, and so would cause severe burns if spilled onto the pilot. I’ve also got a feeling that once the fuels started burning, they were difficult to put out as the fuel contained its own oxidizer. Which was another serious hazard to the pilot. It also had a very short burn time – about four minutes. By the end of that very brief interval, the plane would have shot past the allied bombers it was supposed to shoot down. It would then have to glide back to Earth. I think the vehicle had originally been developed as a glider for service in one of the Nazi schemes to get German boys interested in flying, and then eventually joining the Luftwaffe as pilots – a sort of Nazi Air Cadets. The rocket engine was added to the design later. The commenters on this video also state that the absence of a conventional tail meant that the plane was difficult to land. It also lacked wheeled undercarriage, and landed on a skid instead. This resulted in many of its pilots breaking their backs on landing.

The replica plane is also painted red, whereas I think most of the Komets that were actually flown were painted standard German military grey. However, its red colour probably comes from a suggestion of one Luftwaffe officer or Nazi apparatchik that the planes should be painted ‘Richtofen red’, after the plane from by Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron, during the First World War. The person, who made this suggestion believed that it would serve to terrify the allied airmen, but others have pointed out that if the Germans had followed his advice, it would immediately mark them out as targets and result in the planes getting shot down sooner by the RAF.

Looking at the video, it appears to me that the replica plane is really glider being towed by the Dornier aircraft that precedes it, although I can’t see a wire between the two. It clearly isn’t using a propeller, and it is very definitely not using a rocket engine. If it was, it would be moving so swiftly that I doubt there’d be much time to see it before it was a small dot in the sky. Plus the fact that I doubt very many pilots would wish to risk their lives in a fully accurate, working replica using the original rocket engine.

For all its horrendous faults, this was a significant advance in the use of rocket technology and in aircraft design. I think the Komet was produced as part of German aircraft engineers’ research into delta wing designs. After the allied victory, this research was seized by the allies, including British aircraft engineers and designers. They developed it further, leading to the creation of the Vulcan bomber, Concorde, and possibly the Space Shuttle.

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4 Responses to “Flying Replica of Messerschmitt Komet Rocketplane at German Airshow”

  1. Ctesias62 Says:

    If you really want to see the desperation stakes stuff the Nazis were reduced to at the end of WWII wiki the Bachem Natter. Late Eric Brown counted himself lucky to have survived a single test flight in Me163 Komet, he refused to try Natter at all.
    However see remarkable Horten flying wing or Dornier Pfeil to realise why outrages like “operation paperclip” took place.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks, Ctesias. I’ve read a little about the Natter, but didn’t realise that it was a complete death trap worse than the Komet. I’ll look up the Horten flying wing and the Dornier Pfeil – I really don’t no much about the flying wing, except that one of the readers of the Fortean Times ages ago suggested that one of them could have been responsible for the first UFO sighting in 1947. And I really hadn’t heard of the Pfeil until you mentioned it.

      As for Operation Paperclip – absolutely disgusting. Werner von Braun said that he and his rocket team surrendered to the Americans because Britain was exhausted, they had contempt for the French and were afraid of the Russians.

  2. Ctesias62 Says:

    Pfeil was prop driven at front + rear strange looking but effective device, too late to make a difference luckily. Paradox of German aero industry was that their aero engines were handicappead by comparison with western allies due largely to fuel tech (see wiki ‘rod’ banks re fuel additives). They required much larger engines for equivalent power output.
    My late father (ex S.african air force/raf) till 1941 shot down always fond of merlin engine as it saved his life!
    My fave engine however is Napier Sabre, a giant swiss watch steam punk sorta device.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Interesting – I think I might have seen pictures of the Pfeil after all. I seem to remember seeing photos of a Nazi plane which had a pusher propeller. I didn’t know that we had the advantage over the Germans in fuel tech. Your South African father also sounds quite a chap! If I’m not mistaken, wasn’t the Merlin engine Rolls Royce, and used in the Spitfire. I’ll have to look up the Napier Sabre, but years ago I managed to find a piece on prop-driven aircraft using steam engines, which is very steam punk. They didn’t use coal though, but oil.

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