Aeroplane Aviation Archive — Issue 33 The World’s Fastest Aircraft

(Jacob Rumans) #1



esigned by Alexander Lippisch, the
revolutionary Messerschmitt Me 163
has the distinction of being the only
rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to have
seen service. The Komet was capable of
performance unrivalled at the time (it was
the first aircraft to exceed 600 and 700mph)
but this ‘wonder weapon’ would always
be hampered by its limited endurance, its
temperamental powerplant and its landing
gear. As a result, the most immediate threat
posed by the Komet was to its own pilots.

Messerschmitt Me 163

Allying cutting-edge technology with
blistering performance, the Me 163 was an
ultra-short range fighter designed to make
devastating slashing attacks against the Allied
bomber streams that were wreaking daily havoc
upon Germany’s industrial heartlands and its
population centres.
The origins of this deadly little fighter owed
much to a more peaceful form of flight. Its
chief designer, Dr Alexander Lippisch, had
accumulated many years of experience in the
design of tailless sailplanes, and it was this

configuration that served as the template for
what would emerge as the Me 163. In 1937
the research section of the RLM commissioned
Lippisch to draft a design for an aircraft that
would serve as a testbed for a new type of
rocket engine, the Walter R I-203 with a rating of
400kg thrust. The key to the impressive power
output of the new powerplant was its use of
two highly reactive chemicals that were mixed
together: T-Stoff, which consisted mainly of
concentrated hydrogen peroxide, and Z-Stoff,
based on a solution of calcium permanganate
in water. Lippisch and his design team were
brought within the fold at Messerschmitt
in Augsburg, and work began to adapt an
existing tailless research glider to receive
rocket propulsion. In early 1940 the aircraft
was transported to Peenemünde, Germany’s

Left: A pilot climbs into his Komet at Bad
Zwischhenahm. His one-piece flying suit and
overboots were made from a special acid
resistant material which was supposed to protect
the occupant from the corrosive T-Stoff, in the far
from likely event of a bad landing – assuming his
aircraft did not explode.

Below: The prototype V1(A), KE + SW, taking off
on a test flight from Kallshagen, Peenemunde,
with the record breaking test pilot, Heini
Dittmar at the controls, in September 1941.
Propelled by a rocket engine fuelled by a
volatile combination of chemicals, the Me 163
offered only around 6min of powered flight,
but was capable of climbing to a height of over
30,000ft in just 2.5min.
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