Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet

The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, 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.

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".

In service, 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, 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, though other sources say it was a Boeing B-17.

Capt. Eric Brown RN, Chief Naval Test Pilot and commanding officer of the Captured Enemy Aircraft Flight, 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."

General characteristics
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 5.70 m (18 ft 8 in)
  • Wingspan: 9.33 m (30 ft 7 in)
  • Height: 2.75 m (9 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area: 18.5 m² (200 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 1,905 kg (4,200 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 3,950 kg (8,710 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 4,310 kg (9,500 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Walter HWK 109-509A-2 liquid-fuel rocket, 17 kN (3,800 lbf)

  • Maximum speed: 1,060 km/h (596 mph)
  • Range: 40 km (25 mi)
  • Service ceiling: 12,100 m (39,700 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 160 m/s (31500 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 213 kg/m² (43 lb/ft²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.42

  • 2 × 30 mm (1.18 in) Rheinmetall Borsig MK 108 cannons

** Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet - Warbird Fare

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