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The rocket-propelled fighters Me 163 and J8M

By Sakhal

The rocket-propelled fighter was realized as prototype the 13th August 1941. In that day the test pilot of Messerschmitt, Heini Dittmar, fastened the seat belts onboard the prototype Me 163A, ignited the rocket engine and departed, leaving behind a trail of flames, across the lawn of Peenemunde-West, the experimental airfield of the Luftwaffe. The Me 163A pointed directly to the sky until exhausting the fuel; then Dittmar turned and, after performing a series of wide circles while gliding, landed happily. This was the first flight of the first rocket-propelled interceptor which, however, in the end revealed itself as unsuccessful. The investigation had been started some years before, with the project of fitting with such propulsion plant a tailless glider designed by Dr. Alexander Lippisch. Working in the DFS (Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fur Segelflug or German Institute for Research of Ascensional Flight), Lippisch and his collaborators had brought forward the project of their aircraft, the DFS-194, to the point that an industrial organization was needed to continue the development.

It was chosen the company Messerschmitt, to whose establishment in Augusta was sent the equipment of Lippisch. The aircraft worked well, but not so the rocket engine, due to which the DFS-194 no longer effectuated any flight with engine, but it was used for the ground tests of the rocket engine. It was finally prepared a new rocket engine of small dimensions and of controllable thrust, and modifications were made: the result was the series Me 163A, composed of prototypes used to arrive to the version usable for interception. On an aircraft from the first group of 13 prototypes, Dittmar effectuated the aforementioned flight of the 13th August 1941. But long time passed between that flight and the first operative sortie of the aircraft; the Me 163 saw action for the first time the 13th May 1944, and that attempt to engage in combat was carried by a prototype of the new version Me 163B. When this version entered serial production the war was already reaching its epilogue, and the German dream of seeing hundreds of small rocket-propelled fighters hitting and unhinging the formations of Allied bombers that raged over Germany was vanished; actually there were only several interceptions and some incidents of explosions in flight.

The rocket-propelled fighters Me 163 and J8M

The Me 163 entered service in May 1944, being assigned to the defense of the production plants of synthetic fuels. Its first combat happened in the late July, attacking bombers B-17 of the USAAF without positive results. Albeit it equipped a Jagdgruppe between mid 1944 and the spring of 1945, the Me 163 was underused. Also its very limited operational range and the scarcity of fuel and trained pilots made that the Me 163 achieved only nine combat victories, suffering in turn 14 combat losses. The development started in Japan could not be effectuated, flying only one prototype J8M1 before ending the war in the Pacific.

The unbiased exam of the prestations of the rocket-propelled fighter convinced the technicians about a fact: that it was very fast and hence it should have a good combat capability. The Me 163 had been projected as an interceptor against diurnal bombers. It was able to take off instantly and reach a very high ascensional speed (it could reach 10000 meters of altitude in less than three minutes). Its task, given the very limited operational range, was to attack the enemy bombers with the two 30-millimeter cannons installed in its wings; then it should disengage from the combat and return to the base. In practice, the speed of the rocket-propelled interceptor was so superior to the one of the bombers that the pilot had only a couple of seconds available to align the target in the gunsight and open fire. This demonstrated to be almost impossible; the Me 163 was not suitable to attack the bombers. Still, it managed to shoot down a certain number, but it was then too late. The factory that produced one of the essential components of the fuel was bombed in August 1944. The land transport was constantly hammered by the enemy and several loads of fuel for the rocket engines ended in flames under the attacks of Allied aircraft. With the arrival of the winter, the conditions worsened because the Me 163 was not adapted to fly with bad weather or during night. The operations with rocket-propelled aircraft were halted, excepting some interceptions of photographic scouts.

The rocket-propelled fighters Me 163 and J8M

Messerschmitt Me 163B-1a "Komet" from the II/JG 400, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein, May 1945; "Ten Yellow" belonged to the 7 Staffel, being this one the only unit equipped with this aircraft at the end of the war (theoretically belonging to the 2 Jagddivision, with its High Staff in Hackstedt, albeit actually it could not take part in operations due to lack of fuel).

Development record

The Me 163A were six prototypes (V1 to V6) fitted with rocket engine HWK RII-203b of 750 kilograms of thrust. The Me 163A-0 was the preseries model, training version without engine; 10 units built by Hirth. The Me 163B were six prototypes (V1 to V6) with important modifications in the design of the fuselage, the vertical tail surfaces and the lower part of the fuselage, with a landing skid and tail wheel; bulky canopy; rocket engine RII-211 (HWK 529A) of 1700 kilograms of thrust. The Me 163Ba-1 (V7 to V41) were test and preseries models armed with two MG 151 20-millimeter cannons in the wings; 70 units built. The Me 163B-1a was the initial series model, armed with two MK 108 30-millimeter cannons in the wings; VHF transceiver FuG 16ZY and IFF transceiver FuG 25a; modifications in the cockpit and the rear part of the fuselage; addition of armor; built by Klemm. The Me 163S was the two-seater training version; glider. Total production for Me 163B-1a and 163S reached approximately 300 units. The Me 163C were three prototypes (V1 to V3) with elongated fuselage, two exhaust nozzles in the tail, auxiliary combustion chamber for cruising speed and armament installed in the fuselage. The Me 163D V1 was an improvement over the Me 163B, with increased length and landing gear with retractable fore wheel; unarmed; one unit built. The Me 163 V1 was a development from the Me 163D, with armament in the wings; one unit built. Total production for Me 163 reached over 400 units.

The MXY8 "Akigusa" (Autumn Grass) was the equivalent in the Japanese Navy to the training glider Me 163A; built by Yokosuka and Maeda. The Ki-13 "Shusui" (Swinging Sword) was the equivalent in the Japanese Army to the training glider Me 163A; built by Yokoi. Total production for MXY8 and Ki-13 reached approximately 60 units. The J8M1 "Shusui" was the equivalent in the Japanese Navy to the Me 163B. The Ki-200 "Shusui" was the equivalent in the Japanese Army to the Me 163B. Total production for J8M1 and Ki-200: 7 units built by Mitsubishi.

Specifications for Me 163B-1a "Komet"

Type: Interceptor

Wingspan: 9.33 meters

Length: 5.85 meters

Height: 2.76 meters

Wing area: 18.50 square meters

Weight (empty): 1900 kilograms

Weight (maximum): 4300 kilograms

Engine: Walter HWK 509A-2 rocket engine of 1700 kilograms of thrust

Time to reach an altitude of 9100 meters: 2 minutes 36 seconds

Service ceiling: 12000 meters

Maximum speed at sea level: 830 kilometers/hour

Maximum speed at an altitude of 3000 meters: 960 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 80 kilometers

Armament: Two MK 108 30-millimeter cannons installed in the attachment of the wings

The Japanese version

In the morning of the 7th July 1945, in the runway of the military base at Yokosuka, a group of technicians prepared a new type of aircraft that shortly later should take off for its first test flight. It was a strange aircraft, short and quite chubby, fitted with two wide wings and totally lacking of tail stabilizers. The test pilot, engineer Inuzuka, occupied the cockpit and the runway was cleared; after some moments, the aircraft rushed at an impressive speed, leaving behind a trail of flames. Reached the minimum sustentation speed, the aircraft climbed burdensomely, leaving in land the special takeoff carriage, and started the flight. But unexpectedly, the engine stopped and the aircraft fell like a stone, crashing against the ground and causing the death of the pilot. Technicians and projectists immediately sought the causes of the breakdown in the engine, and found them in a defect in the feeding system, which was modified in a matter of few days. But the 15th August Japan capitulated. The hopes deposited in the secret weapons were already null.

The rocket-propelled fighters Me 163 and J8M

The history of this unfortunate prototype, built by Mitsubishi and denominated J8M "Shusui" (Swinging Sword), started in July 1944, when it was attempted to transfer to Japan the prototypes of the German turbojet (Me 262) and rocket (Me 163) aircraft along with their corresponding plans and construction instructions. All of this material had to be carried by two submarines, but after several "adventures" little thing arrived to Japan. Of the Me 163 arrived only the plans and the rocket engine build by Walter. But after few months the technicians from Mitsubishi managed to reconstruct the aircraft in an almost identical way to the original one. Meanwhile, to remove dead times, it had been started a program to train a certain number of pilots. These trained with aircraft without engine identical to the Shusui, and hence of the same aerodynamical characteristics, built by Maeda and Yokoi. When the J8M was ready (apart from the prototype another six exemplars with engine had been built), we already know what happened...

The rocket-propelled fighters Me 163 and J8M

The Shusui was a middle-winged monoplane lacking tail stabilizers, of metallic structure and mixed coating. Lacking as well a landing gear, it took off by means of a small two-wheeled carriage, detachable and placed under the cockpit, which was left in the ground at the moment of taking off. For landing it was provided a retractable skid that allowed to land even in grasslands. The propulsion was given by a rocket engine Toko Ro2 fed by liquid fuel - Japanese version of the Walter HWK 509 - which provided 1500 kilograms of thrust, around 200 less than the original German engine, but enough to impulse the aircraft at speeds of almost 900 kilometers/hour. The armament comprised two 30-millimeter cannons or only one cannon, if one of them was replaced by an additional fuel tank to allow for more operational range. Given the very limited range of these aircraft (little more than five minutes in flight), they were intended to be used only during alarms, intercepting the formations of enemy bombers when these were close to their airfields to, after a brief combat, quickly return to land by gliding, for the fuel would be depleted during the action.

Specifications for J8M "Shusui"

First flight: 7th July 1945

Wingspan: 9.50 meters

Length: 6.05 meters

Height: 2.70 meters

Wing area: 18 square meters

Weight (empty): 1510 kilograms

Weight (full load): 3885 kilograms

Engine: Mitsubishi Toko Ro2 rocket engine of 1500 kilograms of thrust

Service ceiling: 12000 meters

Maximum speed at an altitude of 12000 meters: 900 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 5 minutes 30 seconds

Armament: One or two 30-millimeter cannons installed in the attachment of the wings

Categories: Aircraft - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-07-02

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