Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet

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Information on the Me 163 Komet

The Me 163 Komet was the only operational rocket-powered fighter aircraft during the Second World War. Although revolutionary and capable of performance unrivalled at the time, it proved dangerous to operate and resulted in the destruction of very few Allied aircraft.


Work on the design started under the aegis of the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt f?r Segelflug (DFS) ? the German Institute for the Study of sailplane flight. Their first design was a conversion of the earlier Lippisch Delta IV known as the DFS 39 and used purely as a glider testbed of the airframe.

A larger follow-on version with a small propeller engine started as the DFS 194. This version used wingtip-mounted rudders, which Lippisch felt would cause problems at high speed, and he later redesigned them to be mounted on a conventional vertical stabilizer at the rear of the aircraft. The design included a number of features from its glider heritage, notably a skid used for landings, which could be retracted into the aircraft's keel in flight. For takeoff, wheels were needed due to the weight of the fuel, but these were released shortly after takeoff. It was planned to move to the Walter R-1-203 cold engine of 400 kg (882 lbf) thrust when available.

Heinkel had also been working with Walter on his rocket engines, mounting them in the He 112 for testing, and later the first purpose-designed rocket aircraft, the He 176. Heinkel had also been selected to produce the fuselage for the DFS 194 when it entered production, as it was felt that the highly volatile fuel would be too dangerous in a wooden fuselage, with which it could react. Work continued under the code name Project X.

However the division of work between DFS and Heinkel led to problems, notably that DFS seemed incapable of building even a prototype fuselage. Lippisch eventually requested to leave DFS and join Messerschmitt instead. On January 2 1939 he moved along with his team and the partially completed DFS 194 to the Messerschmitt works at Augsburg.

The delays caused by this move allowed the engine development to "catch up", and once at Messerschmitt the decision was made to skip over the propeller-powered version and move directly to rocket power. The airframe was completed in Augsburg and shipped to Peenem?nde West in early 1940 to receive its engine. Although the engine proved to be extremely unreliable, the aircraft had excellent performance, reaching a speed of 342 mph in one test.

Me 163 A

Production of a prototype series started in early 1941, known as the Me 163. Secrecy was such that the number, 163, was actually that of the earlier Bf 163 project to produce a small two-passenger light plane, which had competed against the Fieseler Fi 156 Storch for a production contract, as it was thought that intelligence services would conclude any reference to the number would be for that earlier design. Me 163 A V1 was shipped to Peenem?nde to receive an updated engine, and on October 2 1941, a successor aircraft, the Me 163 A V3, bearing the radio call sign letters "CD+IM", set a new world speed record of 1,004.5 km/h (623.8 mph). This would not be officially approached until the post-war period by the new jet fighters of the British and US, and was not surpassed until the American Douglas Skystreak turbojet-powered research aircraft did so on August 20, 1947. Five prototype Me 163 V's were built, adding to the original DFS 194, followed by eight production examples designated Me 163 A-0.

During testing the jettisonable main landing gear arrangement proved to be a serious problem and caused many planes to be damaged at take-off when the wheels rebounded and crashed into the plane. Malfunctioning hydraulic dampers in the skid could lead to back injuries for the pilot on landing , and the airplane lacked steering or braking control during the landing run, leaving the pilot unable to avoid obstacles. Once on the ground, it had to be retrieved by a specialized tractor-like vehicle as the Komet was unpowered and lacked wheels at this point.

During flight testing, the superior gliding capability of the swept-wing Komet proved detrimental to safe landing. The plane would rise back into the air with the slightest updraft. Since the approach was made unpowered, there was no opportunity to make another landing pass if the plane failed to stop at the proper airfield. For production models, a set of landing flaps allowed somewhat more controlled landings. This issue remained a problem throughout the program, however.

Nevertheless the performance was tremendous and plans were made to put Me 163 squadrons all over Germany in 25 mile (40 km) rings. Development of an operational version was given the highest priority.

Me 163 B

Meanwhile Walter had started work on the newer HWK 109-509 hot engine, using a hypergolic fuel formula, which added a true fuel of hydrazine hydrate and methanol, designated C-Stoff, that burned with the oxygen-rich exhaust from the T-Stoff, used as the oxidizer, for added thrust. (See List of Stoffs.) This resulted in the significantly modified Me 163 B of late 1941. Due to the RLM requirement that it should be possible to throttle the engine, the originally simple power plant grew complicated and lost reliability. The new fuel proved an unfortunate choice as well, since hydrazine hydrate was also used in the launcher of the V-1 "Buzz Bomb" and was in short supply throughout the 1943-45 period.

Two prototypes were followed by thirty Me 163 B-0 aircraft armed with two MG 151/20 cannon and some four hundred Me 163 B-1s armed with two MK 108 cannon, but which were otherwise similar to the B-0. Occasional references to B-1a or Ba-1 subtypes are found in the literature on the aircraft, but the meanings of these designations are somewhat unclear. Early in the war the a was added to export variants (B-1a) or to foreign-built variants (Ba-1) but there were neither export nor a foreign-built versions. Later in the war the a was used for planes using different engine types (Me 262 A-1a with Jumo engines, A-1b with BMW engines). As the Me 163 was planned with an alternative BMW P3330A rocket engine it's quite safe to assume the a was used for this purpose on early examples. Only one Me 163, the V10, was tested with the BMW engine so this designation suffix was soon dropped.

The performance of the Me 163 far exceeded that of contemporary piston engine fighters. After take-off from a two-wheeled dolly, it would be traveling over 200 mph (320 km/h) at the end of the runway, at which point it would pull up into an 80-degree angle of climb, jettison the dolly, and rapidly climb to the bombers' altitude. It could go even higher if need be, reaching 40,000 ft (12,000 m) in an unheard-of three minutes. Once there, it would level off and quickly accelerate to speeds around 550 mph (880 km/h) or faster, which no Allied plane could hope to match. The Me 163 was a highly efficient glider by necessity, and it suffered from serious compressibility problems and became impossible to control at times when at full speed (especially in a powered dive). This was disconcerting to pilots as the phenomenon only occurs in transonic speed ranges not previously encountered by production aircraft.

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 WWII, parts of the airframe (esp. wings) were made of wood, which allowed furniture manufacturers to act as subcontractors.

For training purposes it was planned to introduce the Me 163 S, which removed the rocket engine and tank capacity and placed a second seat for the instructor behind the pilot. The 163 S would be used for glider landing training, which proved to be a serious problem in practice. It appears the 163 S's were converted from the earlier 163A series prototypes.

In service the MK 108's low muzzle-velocity proved to be a serious problem. The Komet traveled so fast that it was almost impossible to hit a slow-moving bomber with the two cannons (three 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 Sonderger?t 500 J?gerfaust. This consisted of a series of single-shot short-barreled 50-mm 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.

Later versions

Another major concern about the design was the short flight time, which never met the projections made by Walter. With only eight minutes of powered flight, the plane truly was a dedicated point interceptor. In order to improve on this, work started on the development of an engine with two separate combustion chambers, oriented one above the other, with the upper one tuned for "high power" for takeoff and climb, the lower chamber for efficient lower-power cruise. This HWK 109-509.C would improve endurance by as much as 50%. Two 163 Bs, V6 and V18, were experimentally fitted with the new engine and tested in 1944. July 2 1941 the Me 163 B V18 set a new world speed record of 1,130km/h (702 mph), Pilot Heini Dittmar.

Waldemar Voigt of Messerschmitt's Oberammergau offices started a redesign of the 163 to incorporate the new engine, as well as fix other problems. The resulting Me 163 C design featured a larger wing through the addition of an insert at the wing root, an extended fuselage with extra tank capacity through the addition of a "plug" insert behind the wing, and a new pressurized cockpit topped with a bubble canopy giving dramatically improved visibility. The additional tank capacity and cockpit pressurization allowed the maximum altitude to increase to 52,000 feet, as well as improving powered time to about twelve minutes, doubling combat time from about five minutes to nine. Three prototypes were planned, but it appears only one was flown, and not with its engine.

Meanwhile another redesign was taking form as the Me 163 D, which retained the original overall design of the 163 B, but included the fuselage plug for increased tank capacity and a new tricycle undercarriage. Work on this version was "farmed out" to Focke Achgelis, who produced a single prototype in late 1944 or early 1945.

But by this time it appears that Willy Messerschmitt had tired of the entire project, and moved all work on the advanced models to Junkers. Here a new design effort under the direction of Heinrich Hertel at Dessau attempted to combine the 163 C's advanced features with the landing gear from the 163 D. The resulting Junkers Ju 248 used a three-section fuselage to ease construction. The V1 prototype was completed for testing in August 1944, and was glider tested behind a Junkers Ju 188. Apparently the Walter 109-509.C engine was fitted in September, but it is not clear if it was ever tested under this power. At this point the RLM re-assigned the project to Messerschmitt, where it became the Me 263. This appears to have been a formality only, with Junkers continuing the work and planned production.

However, by the time the design was ready to go into production, after many delays, the plant it was to be made at was overrun by Soviet forces. While it did not reach operational status, the work was briefly continued by the Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) design bureau as the Mikoyan-Gurevich I-270.


Operations began in 1944. As expected, the plane 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 the bomber formations, 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 30,000 ft (9,000 m), up to an altitude of 35,000?40,000 ft (10,700?12,000 m), then dive down through the formation again. With luck, this would afford the pilot two brief chances to fire off a few rounds from his cannons before he had to glide back to his airfield.

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. Test pilots were able to arrange several skiing vacations on the pretext of altitude training. Special low-fiber diets also had to be prepared for pilots as any gas in the gastrointestinal tract would expand rapidly as the aircraft rocketed toward the high-flying bomber formations.

One fighter wing, Jagdgeschwader 400 (J.G. 400), was equipped with the craft in two groups, with the mission of defending synthetic gasoline installations during May 1944. First actions occurred at the end of July, attacking two USAAF B-17 Flying Fortress bombers without confirmed kills and continuing in combat from May 1944 to spring 1945. During this time, there were nine confirmed kills with 14 lost.

The Allied pilots quickly noted the short lifetime of the powered flight. They would wait it out, and as soon as the engine went off would pounce on the unpowered, gliding Komet. They also quickly identified the fields the planes operated from and started strafing them after the Me 163s landed. More of the planes were being lost than pilots could be trained on them, and it was clear that the original plan for a huge network of Me 163 bases was never going to happen.

In any operational sense the Komet was a failure. More were lost to landing accidents than they ever accounted for in bomber kills, which stand at only 16. Due to fuel shortages late in the war, very few actually went into combat, and it took an experienced pilot with excellent shooting skills to achieve "kills" with the Me-163. At the same time the Komet was a remarkable design that pointed the way to the future. It was one more piece of strong evidence that the day of the propeller fighter was over, and it also spawned improved 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.

Surviving aircraft

Most of the ten surviving Me 163s were part of squadron JG400 and were captured by the British at Husum, the squadron's base at the time of Germany's surrender in 1945.

United States

* Five Me 163s were originally brought to the United States in 1945. An Me 163 B-1a, Werknummer (serial number) 191301, arrived at Freeman Field, Indiana, during the summer of 1945, and received the foreign equipment number FE-500. On April 12, 1946, it was flown aboard a cargo aircraft to the U.S. Army Air Forces facility at Muroc dry lake in California for flight testing. Testing began on May 3, 1946 in the presence of Dr. Alexander Lippisch and involved towing the unfueled Komet behind a B-29 to an altitude of 9,000 to 10,500 m (30,000 to 35,000 ft) before it was released for a glide back to Earth under the control of test pilot Major Gus Lundquist. Powered tests were planned, but not carried out after delamination of the aircraft's wooden wings was discovered. It was then stored at Norton AFB, California until 1954, when it was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. The aircraft remained on display in an unrestored condition at the museum's Paul E. Garber Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland, until 1996, when it was lent to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Heritage Museum in Savannah, Georgia for restoration and display. It will eventually be returned to the Smithsonian for display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington D.C. Werknummer 191095 is held at the USAFM and was gifted from the National Aviation Museum, Ottawa in 1999. Werknummer 191301 is held by NASM, Silver Hill.

* Me 163 B, Werknummer 191095, was placed on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio on December 10, 1999. The aircraft had been owned and restored by the Canadian National Aviation Museum. Komet test pilot Rudolf "Rudi" Opitz was on hand for the dedication of the aircraft and discussed his experiences of flying the rocket-propelled fighter to a standing room only crowd. During the aircraft's restoration in Canada it was discovered that the aircraft had been assembled by French "forced labourers" who had deliberately sabotaged it by placing sharp objects between the rocket's fuel tanks and its supporting straps. There are also indications that the wing was improperly assembled. Inside the fuselage was found patriotic French writing. The aircraft is displayed without any unit identification or Werk Nummer.

* Me 163 B, Werknummer 191660, "Yellow 3", is held by the Flying Heritage Collection. Between 1961 and 1976, this aircraft was displayed at the Imperial War Museum in London. In 1976, it was moved the Imperial War Museum Duxford. It underwent a lengthy restoration, beginning in 1997, that was frequently halted as the restorers were diverted to more pressing projects. In May 2005, it was sold, reportedly for ?800,000, to raise money for the purchase of a de Havilland/Airco DH.9 as the Duxford museum had no examples of a WW1 bomber in its collection. Permission for export was granted by the British government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport as three other Komets were held in British museums. "Yellow 3" has since been sold to Paul Allen.

United Kingdom

* Me163 B, Werknummer 191316, "Yellow 6", has been on display at the Science Museum in London, England since 1964 with the Walter motor removed for separate display. A second Walter motor and a take-off dolly are part of the museum's reserve collection and are not generally on display to the public.

* Me 163 B, Werknummer 191614, has been at the RAF Museum site at RAF Cosford, since 1975. Before then, it was at the Rocket Propulsion Establishment at Westcott in Buckinghamshire.

* Me 163 B-1a, Werknummer 191659 and RAF Air Ministry number AM215, "Yellow 15", was captured at Husum in 1945 and was sent to the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield, England in 1947. After many years of touring airshows and various outdoor gatherings around the UK it was finally loaned to the Museum of Flight at East Fortune Airfield, East Lothian, Scotland in 1976.


* A Me 163 B, Werknummer 191904, "Yellow 25", belonging to JG 400 was captured by the RAF at Husum in 1945. It was sent to England, arriving first at Farnborough, than transferred to Brize Norton on August 8 1945, before finally being placed on display at the Station Museum at Colerne. When the museum closed in 1975 the aircraft went to RAF St. Athan, receiving the ground maintenance number 8480M. On May 5 1988 the aircraft was returned to the Luftwaffe and moved to the Luftwaffe Alpha Jet factory at the air base in Oldenburg (JBG 43). The airframe was in good condition but the cockpit had been stripped and the rocket engine was missing. Eventually an elderly German woman came forward with Me 163 instruments that her late husband had collected after the war, and the engine was reproduced by a machine shop owned by Me 163 enthusiast Reinhold Opitz. The factory closed in the early 1990s and the "Yellow 25" was moved to a small museum created on the site. The museum contained aircraft that had once served as gate guards, monuments and other damaged aircraft previously located on the air base. In 1997 "Yellow 25" was finally moved to the official Luftwaffe Museum located at the former RAF base at Berlin-Gatow, where it is displayed today alongside a restored Walter HWK 109-509 rocket engine. Interestingly, a correct hakenkreuz was painted on its tail. This is notable as German law is very strict on the display of Nazi symbols, and most Luftwaffe aircraft in museums are displayed lacking swastikas.

* Me 163 B, Werknummer 191316, "Yellow 6" of JG 400, is displayed at the Deutsches Museum, Munich.


* Me 163 B, Werknummer 191659 or 191914, is held at the Canada Aviation Museum, Ottawa. Like two of the British Komets, this aircraft was part of JG 400 and captured at Husum. It was shipped to Canada in 1946.


* Me 163 B, Werknummer 191907, is part of the collection of the Australian War Memorial. This aircraft was also part of JG 400 and captured at Husum.

Japanese versions

As part of their alliance, Germany provided the Japanese Empire with plans and an example of the Me 163. The Japanese versions were designed as trainers, fighters, and interceptors. Differences between the versions were fairly minor. The Mitsubishi Ki-200 Shusui ("Shu" means "autumn", "sui" means "water" in Japanese) was the equivalent of the 163 B, armed with two 30 mm Ho 155-II cannon. The Navy version, the Mitsubishi J8M1 Shusui, simply replaced the Ho 155 cannon with the Navy's 30 mm Type 5.

Mitsubishi also planned on producing a version of the 163 C for the Navy, known as the J8M2 Shusui Model 21. A version of the 163 D/263 was known as the J8M3 Shusui for the Navy with the Type 5 cannon, and Ki-202 Shusui-kai ("kai" means "modified" in Japanese) with the Ho 155-II for the Army.

Trainers were planned, roughly the equivalent of the Me 163 A-0/S. These were known as the Yokoi Ku-13 Akigusa ("Aki" means also "autumn" and "gusa (kusa)" means "grass" in Japanese) or Ki-200 Syusui Rocket Interceptor practice glider.

Other trainer variants included:

* Yokoi Experimental Ki-13 Shusui Heavy Glider. This glider was created as the Ki-200 Syusui Rocket Interceptor practice glider. The project was cancelled due to high costs.
* Kugisho/Yokosuka MXY-8 Akigusa Rocket Interceptor practice glider (Experimental Shusui Light Glider). Created as the J8M1 Syusui Rocket Interceptor practice glider.
* Kugisho/Yokosuka MXY-9 Experimental Shusui Heavy Glider. This glider was created as the J8M1 Syusui Rocket Interceptor practice glider, but was cancelled due to high costs.
* Kugisho/Yokosuka MXY-9 Shuka Rocket Interceptor Operative training glider. This plane would have used the Hitachi "Hatsukaze-11" fan jet engine on the MXY-8 "Akigusa" airframe.

Source: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Messerschmitt Me 163".

Me 163 Komet Specifications

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 m? (200 ft?)
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: 960 km/h (Mach 0.73) (596 mph)
Range: 40 km (25 miles)
Service ceiling: 12,100 m (39,700 ft)
Rate of climb: 3,666 m/min (11,730 ft/min)
Wing loading: 213 kg/m? (43 lb/ft?)
Thrust/weight: 0.42
Armament: 2? 30 mm Rheinmetall Borsig MK 108 cannons (60 rounds per gun = 120 rounds total)

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