The "Deadlies": Killer Rocket Plane (Updated)

Readers of my book, Weapons Grade will have seen the chapter on technologies which looked promising at the time but which failed to deliver. Perhaps the most lethal example is the German WWII Me163 Komet, a rocket-powered interceptor which is surely a hot contender for The Deadlies.komet.jpgOn paper it looked great; the first plane to break the 1,000 kph (625 mph) barrier, it seemed like the ideal weapon to take on Allied bomber formations. It would be much too fast for the fighter escorts to stop.In practice it was the deadliest plane ever built.At the heart of the Komet was a rocket motor which mixed oxidising agent (a hydrogen peroxide mixture known as T-stoff) and a fuel (hydrazine hydrate, methyl alcohol, and water, called C-stoff). These were combined explosively. The small motor generated 1,500kg of thrust for an aircraft that only weighed 1,900 Kg, twice the thrust-to-weight ratio of the Me262 jet fighter which was itself considered awesome for the time.But it was the sheer variety of ways that it could kill you that made the Komet unique.- The controls tended to lock up, leaving the plane going in a straight line. If this happened during the attack dive, the Komet could accelerate to high speed and broke apart. Otherwise, it just ploughed into the ground like a thunderbolt.- The exhaust plumbing could crack on take off. A leak into the cockpit would fill the cockpit with steam making vision impossible.- T-stoff, concentrated hydrogen peroxide, is a powerful corrosive and the pilot pilot sat between two tanks of it."One pilot did get dissolved by T stoff flowing into the cockpit after the aircraft crashed on take-off and inverted," says DefenseTech reader Pat Flannery.- The commonest and cruellest problem was the controlled explosion which drove it. The Komet had a skid rather than wheels, so landings were hard (many pilots suffered back injuries). If there was any fuel left in the tanks, the shock of landing could mix it suddenly, and the returning hero would go up in a fireball.Three hundred and seventy Komets were built; they shot down nine Allied bombers between them. About five per cent of the Komets were lost to Allied fire in the air; fifteen per cent were lost due to problems with the controls and hydraulics. The other eighty per cent were victims of explosions.No wonder pilots nicknamed it The Devils Sled" - a fast ride straight to hell.Can anything beat the Komet for the "Deadlies?" If you've got any ideas E-mail or post it here.-- David HamblingThanks to Pat Flannery for the corrections

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