The scientific tourist #56 — the Me-163

This week’s image comes from the Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio — it’s an Me-163 “Komet” rocket-powered manned interceptor:


The Me-163 was a marvel for its time — it could fly and climb dramatically faster than anything else in the air during World War II. But this incredible performance also kept it from being effective in combat — it would fly past opposing fighters and bombers so quickly that only the best pilots could manage to score a hit with its low-velocity cannon. Meanwhile, it used a mix of hydrazine hydrate and methanol as its fuel — highly energetic, but so volatile that the plane proved to be more dangerous to its pilots than to opposing flyers.

In the end, though, it was the Komet’s limited range that proved to be its undoing — a Komet would burn through its fuel in a mere 7-1/2 minutes of flight. This meant it had to be relegated to point defense, and rings of thousands of the craft would be required to provide an effective defense. Due to a lack of manufacturing capability (much less fuel!) for this many Komets, they were retired, and their pilots retrained to fly the Me-262.

Somewhat ironically, this trailblazing manned aircraft carved out a niche that would later be filled by surface-to-air missiles.

Update: here are some more images of Me-163 craft that I took over the years (on separate trips to the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany):

V-1 / Me-163
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