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

(Jacob Rumans) #1


Left: Messerschmitt Me 163B, BV41, PK+QL,
was  own by Hptm Wolfgang Späte, with
Erprobungskommando 16, at Bad Zwischenahn,
on 14 May 1944.

Below: Messerschmitt Me 163B, White 54 of

While its ensuing combat record was less
than stellar, the Me 163 was nonetheless a
milestone in aviation history. In the event, the
Me163 accounted for just a handful of the
daylight raiders, while sustaining heavy attrition
among its own ranks. Ultimately, the two
operational squadrons of Me 163s claimed just
nine bomber kills, while 14 of their own number
fell to enemy  ghters and bombers. In fact, the
enemy had downed two Komets before the

Left: A Luftwa e Me 163 being shot down by a
USAAF P-47 of the 8th Air Force, as seen from the
P-47’s gun camera.

German  ghter even had a chance to open its
tally. However, these combat losses represented
a relatively moderate toll of just 5 per cent, and
a staggering 80 per cent of attrition was as a
result of take-o or landing accidents, often in
association with the unstable rocket fuels.
By the time Komet production ceased in
February 1945, almost 400 examples of all
versions had been completed, perhaps 300 of
which made it as far as front-line service.

The need for speed
Propelled by a rocket engine fuelled by a
volatile combination of chemicals, the Me 163
o ered only around six minutes’ of powered
 ight, but was capable of climbing to a height
of over 30,000ft in just 2.5 minutes.
On 2 October, a Me 163A was towed to an
altitude of around 4,000m, with test pilot Heini
Dittmar at the controls. Dittmar engaged the
rocket engine and proceeded to reach a speed
of 623mph, thus becoming the  rst person to
exceed 600mph. At this point, however, the
aircraft su ered the e ects of compressibility
and quickly lost stability, the nose pitching
down violently. Dittmar managed to regain
control of his mount, and after a successful
recovery, the design team set to work on
modi cations to the wing to defeat the onset
of compressibility. In 1944 the Me 262 reached
a speed of 624mph, but this was blitzed
once again by Heini Dittmar in Me 163B V18
when he broke the 700mph mark on 6 July,
an uno cial speed record that would stand
until Chuck Yeager broke the speed of sound.
This was perhaps the highlight of the Me 163’s
troubled career.
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