Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Messerschmitt Me 163
|Messerschmitt Me 163B-1|
|First Flight||September 1 1941 (Me 163A)|
|Manufacturers||Messerschmitt, Hirth, Klemm|
|Length||5.70 m||18 ft 8 in|
|Wingspan||9.33 m||30 ft 7 in|
|Height||2.75 m||9 ft|
|Wing area||18.50 m²||200 ft²|
|Empty||1,905 kg||4,191 lb|
|Loaded||3,950 kg||8,690 lb|
|Maximum takeoff||4,310 kg||9,500 lb|
|Engines||1x Walter 109-509A-2 rocket|
|Thrust||17 kN||3,750 lbf|
|Maximum speed||960 km/h||596 mph|
|Service ceiling||12,100 m||39,700 ft|
|Rate of climb||3,666 m/min||11,733 ft/min|
|Wing loading||213 kg/m²||43 lb/ft²|
|Thrust/Weight||4.3 N/kg||0.43 lbf/lb|
|Guns||2x 30 mm MK 108 cannons|
Prior to the start of World War II, Hellmuth Walter had started experimenting with the use of hydrogen peroxide as a fuel for various engines. The fuel was particularly useful as a rocket fuel, as it would "ignite" (although it was actually just decomposing) simply by being passed through a metal catalyst. That meant that one could build an engine with nothing more than a pump and a tube with a wire mesh in it.
However the engine had very real problems being scaled up to any useful size. Although a number of missiles and RATO systems would eventually be built using this engine design, any aircraft based on it would have to be very light weight. At the same time the fuel consumption of the engine was such that the plane would also require a huge internal volume for the tankage. This appeared to be a Catch 22.
Enter Alexander Lippisch. Lippisch had been working for a number of years on tail-less glider designs. Without a tail the gliders were smaller and lighter than their more conventional counterparts, although they required to the wing to be "bent back" in order to be stable. Although Lippisch had not invented the design with rocket power in mind, a tail-less aircraft could be built with much larger internal volume and still have the same drag as a smaller conventional design. Combining the Walter rocket with a larger Lippisch glider seemed to offer the potential to create a powerful short range rocket interceptor.
Works started under the aegis of the DFS (Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug—the German institute for sailplane flight). They produced a design using an early cold engine under the name DFS 194. When work had progressed to the point that it was likely to reach production, the effort was moved to Messerschmitt and became the Me 163. Secrecy was such that the number, 163, was actually that of an earlier project to produce a small two-passenger light plane, as it was thought that intelligence services would conclude any reference to the number would be for that earlier design.
The first Me 163A models were essentially cleaned up DFS planes, and started production in 1941. At this point in time the engine was nowhere near ready. A small number of flights took place as gliders to test airworthiness, and then powered flights started. The flights could not be considered wildly successful, the engines tended to explode rather easily and the aircraft was difficult to land. Nevertheless, between the mishaps the performance was clearly untouchable and plans were made to put Me 163 squadrons all over Germany in 25 mile (40 km) rings.
Five prototype Me 163As were built, followed by eight production examples designated Me 163A-0.
Meanwhile Walter had started work on a newer hot engine which added a fuel of hydrazine hydrate and methanol, designated C-Stoff, that burned with the oxygen-rich exhaust for added thrust. This resulted in the slightly modified Me 163B of late 1941. Once again the engine would prove to be nowhere near ready for use, and it would be another two years before the B models would be ready for widespread testing.
As good as the performance was, it was also clear that the 163 was a rather impractical aircraft. Based on a glider, the plane landed on a small skid running down the centerline of the plane. This might work for a slow plane, but the 163 was nothing of the sort. Landings were often very hard with the pilots injuring their backs, and minor upsets on landing could cause the plane to tip over and clip a wingtip and go spinning down the field. Even if the pilot did manage to land the plane safely, it was immobile on the field until it could be towed away. Another major concern was the short flight time. With only 8 minutes of powered flight, the plane truly was an interceptor and nothing more.
Nevertheless the plane was astonishing in flight. After take-off from a dolly it would be traveling over 200 mph (300 km/h) at the end of the runway, at which point it would pull up into an 80 degree climb all the way 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.
Two prototypes were followed by thirty Me 163B-0 aircraft armed with two MG 151/20 cannons and some four hundred Me 163B-1s armed with two MK 108 cannons, 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 is now unclear.
The 163S was an unpowered trainer version of the 163B. A second cockpit was added for an instructor in the space normally taken up by one of the fuel tanks.
The Me 163C was designed to overcome the range limitations of the earlier model. It featured a new, stretched fuselage and a new Walter engine that had two combustion chambers, one for take-off and climb, and a less powerful (and therefore less fuel-hungry) "cruise" chamber. Only three Me 163Cs seem to have been built, and only one flight tested, probably only as a glider.
The Me 163D was larger again than the 163C. It was built by inserting new sections into an Me 163B fuselage, stretching it to accommodate larger fuel tanks. It also featured a tricycle undercarriage. Only one was built, and its development was continued as the Messerschmitt Me 263 (redesignated Junkers Ju 248 when that firm took over the project).
Operations first started in 1944. As expected the plane was simply untouchable and for a time the Allied fighters were at a complete loss as what to do about it. In fact the plane often climbed to the bombers faster than the opposing fighters could dive in an attempt to intercept it. But that high speed was to prove a problem in that the builders were never able to make a truly effective weapon for the plane, one that could fire fast enough to allow it to kill a bomber before running right past it.
It wasn't long before the Allied pilots noted the extremely short lifetime of the powered flight. They simply waited it out, and as soon as the engine went off they would hunt them down. 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.
Attempts were made to address these issues, culminating eventually in the Me 263. This included a new version of the engine with a smaller "cruise" chamber which was tuned to be most efficient at lower power. The new engine allowed the plane to have 12 minutes of powered flight, roughly doubling the time at combat altitudes. It also included tricycle landing gear for better takeoff and landing, a "bubble" canopy for better visibility, a pressurized cockpit and a host of other improvements. 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 Russia by the Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) design bureau.
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. But at the same time the Komet was a successful design in pointing 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 defence role that the Me 163 played would be taken over by the surface-to-air missile (SAM).
Specifications (variant described)
- Length: m ( ft)
- Wingspan: m ( ft)
- Height: m ( ft)
- Wing area: m² ( ft²)
- Empty: kg ( lb)
- Loaded: kg ( lb)
- Maximum takeoff: kg ( lb)
- Powerplant: Engine type(s), kN (lbf) thrust or
- Powerplant: Engine type(s), kW ( hp)
- Maximum speed: km/h ( mph)
- Range: km ( miles)
- Service ceiling: m ( ft)
- Rate of climb: m/min ( ft/min)
- Wing loading: kg/m² ( lb/ft²)
- Thrust/weight: or
|Related Aircraft||DFS 39 - DFS 194 - Me 263 - Mitsubishi J8M - Mikoyan-Gurevich I-270|
|Similar Aircraft||Berezniak-Isaev BI-1 - Bachem Ba 349|
|Designation Series||Bf 161 - Bf 162 - He 162 - Me 163 - Me 164 - FK 166 - Fi 166|
|Related Lists||List of military aircraft of Germany - List of fighter aircraft - WW2 Luftwaffe -|
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