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WATCH: Testing of the German ME-163 Komet aircraft in Germany during World War II

Aeronautical equipment in Germany during World War 2. German soldiers bring Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet aircraft pulled by a mobile dolly (trailer). ME-163 aircraft stands stationary in the ground of test area. Soldiers make it ready for the test. The aircraft takes off from the ground and is seen in flight. Views of aircraft landing, smoke from the rocket and landed aircraft. German soldiers gather around the aircraft and place it again on the mobile dolly (trailer). Aircraft is towed back. (The Me 163 was the only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to have been operational.)

The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet is a German interceptor aircraft designed for point-defence that is the only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to have been operational and the first piloted aircraft of any type to exceed 1000 km/h (621 mph) in level flight.

Designed by Alexander Lippisch, its performance and aspects of its design were unprecedented. German test pilot Heini Dittmar in early July 1944 reached 1,130 km/h (700 mph), an unofficial flight airspeed record unmatched by turbojet-powered aircraft for almost a decade.

Over 300 Komets [aprox. 370] were built, but the aircraft proved lackluster in its dedicated role as an interceptor and destroyed between 9 and 18 Allied aircraft against 10 losses. Aside from combat losses many pilots were killed during testing and training, at least in part due to the highly volatile and corrosive nature of the rocket propellant used in later models of the aircraft.

In this video, you’ll get to see footage that is very rare. Not only is it of the test flights of this rocket-powered aircraft, but a woman, Hanna Reitsch, talking about being one of the test pilots.

Reitsch was born in what is now Jelenia Gora in Poland in 1912. Interested in flying at a very early age, she became a glider pilot and instructor as well as a stunt pilot. Once World War II began, she was was a test pilot for the Luftwaffe. From the first helicopter to the Stuka and Komet, she was the only woman to test these machines.

Watch the video and the interview of her flying the Komet. It’s really interesting.

The first actions involving the Me 163B in regular Luftwaffe active service occurred on 28 July 1944, from I./JG 400’s base at Brandis, 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 10 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 exhausted its propellant, pounce on the unpowered Komet. However, the Komet was extremely manoeuvrable in gliding flight. Another Allied method was to attack the fields the Komets operated from and strafe them after the Me 163s landed. Due to the skid-based landing gear system, the Komet was immobile until the Scheuch-Schlepper tractor could back the trailer up to the nose of the aircraft, place its two rear arms under the wing panels, and jack up the trailer’s arms to hoist the aircraft off the ground or place it back on its take-off dolly to tow it back to its maintenance area.

At the end of 1944, 91 aircraft had been delivered to JG 400 but lack of fuel had kept most of them grounded. It was clear that the original plan for a huge network of Me 163 bases would never be realized. Up to that point, JG 400 had lost only six aircraft due to enemy action. Nine were lost to other causes, remarkably few for such a revolutionary and technically advanced aircraft. In the last days of the Third Reich, the Me 163 was given up in favor of the more successful Me 262. At the beginning of May 1945, Me 163 operations were stopped, the JG 400 disbanded, and many of its pilots sent to fly Me 262s.

In any operational sense, the Komet was a failure. Although it shot down 16 aircraft, mainly four-engined bombers, it did not warrant the effort put into the project. 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”. The Komet also spawned later weapons like the vertical-launch, similarly rocket-powered Bachem Ba 349 Natter, and the postwar, American turbojet-powered Convair XF-92 delta wing interceptor. 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.

As part of their alliance, Germany provided the Japanese Empire with plans and an example of the Me 163. One of the two submarines carrying Me 163 parts did not arrive in Japan, so at the time, the Japanese lacked all of the major parts and construction blueprints, including the turbopump, which they could not make themselves, forcing them to reverse-engineer their own design from information obtained in the Me 163 Erection & Maintenance manual obtained from Germany. The prototype J8M crashed on its first powered flight and was completely destroyed, but several variants were built and flown, including: trainers, fighters, and interceptors, with only minor differences between the versions.

Header: Messerschmitt, Me 163, Komet