The Survivors: Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet “The Devil’s Sled”

Following Germany’s World War Two defeat in 1945, the victorious Allies were keen to gather up as much of their jet and rocket technology and expertise as they could. These wunderwaffe (“wonder-weapon”) aircraft and rocket designs would go on to heavily influence western and Soviet aviation and rocketry in the coming years of the Cold War.

Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet

Alexander Lippisch Designer of the Me 163
Alexander Lippisch – Designer of the Me 163

The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet rocket powered interceptor was a prime example. Designed to quickly intercept the never-ending Allied bomber formations overhead, around 370 Me 163 Komet interceptors were produced for the German Luftwaffe but nowhere near that number were ever operational at one time and with the numerous technical issues, fuel shortages and the dangerous nature of flying the aircraft, they were only operational from July 1944 to May 1945. This being said they were still a revolutionary concept.

Aeronautical Engineer Alexander Lippisch designed the Me 163. He had been experimenting with tailless delta winged aircraft designs since 1931. In 1939 the Reichsluftfahrtsministerium (RLM – Reich Aviation Ministry) transferred him to Messerschmitt to design an aircraft around the rocket engines that were being developed by Hellmuth Walter.

By August 1940 they had test flown under rocket power the DFS 194 aircraft powered by a Walter RI-203 rocket engine producing 882 lb of thrust. It was flown by Heini Dittmar on several successful flights at Peenemunde and reached speeds up to 550 km/h (342 mph). The success of the DFS 194 lead to priority being given to the program and it formed a vital stepping stone to the development of the Me 163 Komet.

Heini Dittmar flew the rocket powered DFS 194 on a number of successful flights in August 1940. This aircraft was the stepping stone to the Me-163
Heini Dittmar flew the rocket powered DFS 194 on a number of successful flights in August 1940. This aircraft was the stepping stone to the Me 163

The production of the Me 163A prototypes commenced in early 1941 and powered flight testing was underway by September 1941. On October 2nd, 1941 the Me 163A V4 prototype flown by Heini Dittmar set a world speed record of 1,004.5 km/h (624.2 mph)! By 1944 the Me 163B Komet production model armed with 2 x 30mm Mk 108 cannons with a relatively low muzzle velocity of 540 meters per second (this would prove to be a problem in high-speed combat) and powered by a Walter HWK 109-509A liquid-fuel rocket engine producing 3,800 lb of thrust was capable of speeds up to 959 km/h (596 mph)!

Messerschmitt Me-163A Komet prototype with a Me-163B production model
Messerschmitt Me 163A Komet prototype with an Me 163B production model
Test pilot Heini Dittmar in the cockpit of an Me-163B
Test pilot Heini Dittmar in the cockpit of an Me 163B
Me-163 Komet the worlds only operational rocket powered fighter
Me 163B Komet the worlds only operational rocket powered fighter
Me-163 pass on USAAF B-17
An Me 163 pilot would really only get one high speed pass at an Allied bomber formation then had to get out of there!

The Me 163B was soon unleashed upon Allied bomber formations but although it had good flight characteristics at high-speed, ultimately the Komet was a design of folly that was more deadly to its pilots than to Allied aircraft! Only 9 Allied aircraft were recorded as shot down for the loss of at least 14 Me 163’s in operational combat and accidents.

The Me 163 pilot would be hurtled into the air, jettisoning the wheeled dolly following take-off, then attempt to get above Allied bomber formations, with the fuel all used up (there was only enough for 7.5 minutes of powered flight), he would dive down for a quick attack (generally it was going too fast for the Mk 108 30mm cannons to hit the target!), then descend by gliding to the ground and touch down on a landing skid (the aircraft was still maneuverable whilst gliding but without the previous rocket generated speed was vulnerable to Allied fighter attack). This entire process was fraught with danger for the poor pilot!

An Me-163 moments before take-off
An Me 163 moments before take-off
A dangerous process refuelling the Me-163
A dangerous process refuelling the Me-163

Apart from the dangers associated with flying so fast, it was dangerous to fly at low speeds and during take-off and landing. The Me 163 used the highly volatile propellants of T-Stoff oxidizer (hydrogen peroxide) and C-Stoff (methanol-hydrazine) to create rocket fuel. The Walter rocket motor basically created propulsion through controlling the explosion that arose when the two types of fuel came into contact with each other!

This fuel combination was also highly corrosive, deadly to touch, and was highly combustible when in contact with organic material (i.e. the pilot)! The pilots wore protective clothing and gloves but it was still a risky situation at all times and some pilots were literally dissolved in fuel related accidents.

The fuel was just as likely to explode the aircraft following a fuel leak before it even reached its target and if you landed with any fuel left it was also likely to explode! This was not ideal in a tiny aircraft with an aluminium fuselage and wooden wings. To protect it from enemy gun fire the Me 163 did have a strengthened nose and bullet proof glass in the cockpit though!

Me 163 pilots suit
The protective pilots suit and gloves were essential when flying the Me 163B given the volatility and corrosive qualities of the rocket fuel!
Once it landed the Me 163 had to be retrieved by a Scheuch-Schlepper fitted with a special pivoting retrieval trailer
Once it landed the Me 163 had to be retrieved by a Scheuch-Schlepper tractor fitted with a special pivoting retrieval trailer

Hanna Reitsch Survives The Komet

German test pilot Hanna Reitsch
German test pilot Hanna Reitsch

With or without fuel, flying “The Devil’s Sled” could be a dangerous prospect. Even the most qualified and experienced Me 163 test pilot Heini Dittmar was not immune to the dangers of flying the Komet. During a test flight in November 1941 he stalled an Me 163A resulting in a heavy landing which badly injured his spine. Dittmar was apparently in hospital for a year following the accident!

Despite knowing well the dangerous associated with the aircraft, in October 1942 famed German test pilot Flight Captain Hanna Reitsch was excited to be at the peak of her career when given the opportunity to become part of the test flying program for the Me 163 Komet at the Messerschmitt factory in Neuburg (it was considered a prestigious post to fly this revolutionary aircraft). Earlier in May 1942 she had flown a rocket powered Me 163A on a single flight describing it as “fascinating, like thundering through the skies sitting on a cannonball”.

Hanna was not permitted to conduct any further powered flights, but on October 30th, 1942 flying  an unpowered Me 163B on a gliding test (her fifth gliding flight that month) she ran into some trouble. Just seconds after her towed take-off she went to release the wheeled dolly but suddenly the aircraft began to vibrate. For what ever reason her radio was not working so she could not communicate with the tow plane that was still attached. A crew member aboard it was waving frantically at her and flares were shot off from the airfield below to alert her to a problem. The wheeled dolly had not jettisoned and the landing skid could not be used!

Hanna Reitsch with Alexander Lippisch (designer of the Me 163) greeting Willy Messerschmitt
Hanna Reitsch with Alexander Lippisch (designer of the Me 163) greeting Willy Messerschmitt

They towed her up higher (above 9,000 feet) and Hanna tried to use positive and negative G’s to release it but with no success. The aircraft continued to vibrate violently. Standard protocol was to bail out if there was any safety doubts but being a true test pilot she was not going to abandon such a valuable aircraft whilst there was still a chance to safely land it! The problem was not just with the dolly as the electrical instruments and landing flaps were also not working!

Hanna decided to take it down and land but the with all the extra weight, the speed and approach height were above the recommended landing parameters. On her final turn to commence a landing approach Hanna lost control of the aircraft. It plowed into the ground at 241 km/h / 150 mph, bounced twice and ended up doing a 180 degree spin on the ground before coming to a halt! The aircraft was demolished but somehow she was still upright and alive!

Hanna opened the cockpit canopy and soon noticed she was bleeding from her nose. It turned out to be completely severed off! Always the conscientious test pilot she grabbed her note pad and scribbled down what had happened then covered her face with a handkerchief to not shock her rescuers! She then not surprisingly passed out! She came to and was driven to a hospital (she walked inside). Following x-rays she was soon operated upon having suffered the following injuries – a severely bruised brain, fractured skull (in six places!), her nose was completely destroyed (reconstructed with an artificial nose), her jaw displaced and she suffered multiple broken vertebrae! Its amazing she survived but we all know if fuel had been onboard she would have been incinerated! Even so her life was still hanging in there by a thread.

Hanna Reitsch with her Iron Cross, First Class - the first German woman to receive this military award
Hanna Reitsch with her Iron Cross, First Class – the first German woman to receive this military award

Hanna Reitsch was a civilian pilot. Despite it being a military honour, she was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class for her courage in flight. She became the first woman to receive the medal and lauded as a German hero.

Against all odds she left the hospital at the end of March 1943. She then stayed in a mountain home to further recover and become physically fit again. Before long she was unofficially flying gliders and powered aircraft at a nearby military flight school. In August 1943, 10 months after the crash she was officially declared medically fit to return to flying. She eventually returned to the Me 163 project but despite her protests the powers that be would not let her fly a powered version again due to the injuries she sustained in the accident.

She soon left the Me 163 program to tour the Eastern Front on a morale boosting visit to the troops, then by 1944 was involved in another rocket project of sorts, the Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg piloted V-1 “Buzz Bomb” (another hasty and thankfully short lived program that was essentially a suicide weapon). She continued to fly for the Third Reich until the end of the war (including famously landing a Fieseler Fi 156 Storch on the street in Berlin whilst under heavy Soviet attack during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945 to facilitate a meeting between General Ritter von Greim and Hitler), was imprisoned for 18 months in American captivity, then continued her postwar flying career and lived on until 1979 (aged 67).

Messerschmitt Me 163C

A prototype of an improved Me 163C variant with a more powerful dual chambered (added cruising chamber) rocket engine that Helmuth Walter was working on,  the Walter HWK 109-509.B, larger wing, increased fuel capacity and a pressurized cockpit with a bubble canopy to improve visibility was developed (3 were planned but only 1 flew and apparently not with the intended engine). These improvements increased the fuel range and increased the maximum altitude of the Me 163 but the C variant did not go into production.

A Me-163C schematic by designer Alexander Lippisch
A Me 163C schematic by designer Alexander Lippisch

Messerschmitt Me 263 Scholle

Further design work was assigned to Junkers. In 1944 Junkers developed 3 prototypes of an improved and larger rocket interceptor with a planned retractable tricycle undercarriage (it was fixed in the prototypes), increased wing size, increased fuel capacity, a pressurized cockpit and a bubble canopy. It was designated as the Junkers Ju-248 Flunder (“Flounder”) but in November 1944 it was reassigned and redesignated as the Messerschmitt Me 263 Scholle (“Plaice”) to reflect its Me 163 association. The intention was to install a more powerful BMW rocket engine into the production version of the Me 263 but this did not eventuate (or possibly the Walter HWK 109-509.C dual chambered rocket that was being developed).

Messerschmitt Me-263 Scholle prototype
Messerschmitt Me 263 Scholle prototype
Walter HWK 109-509.C rocket motor
Walter HWK 109-509.C rocket motor (Photo Source: The Helmuth Walter Website)

The first unpowered test flights of the Me 263 were conducted in February 1945 but as the war turned against Germany, no powered flights of the Me 263 were ever conducted. The plant was captured by the Allies in April 1945 and a prototype was taken by the United States and the Soviet Union (the latter developed it into the Mikoyan Gurevich I-270). Unfortunately it would seem that none of the prototype Me 263’s avoided the scrapyard. By May 1945 the concept of the rocket fighter itself was abandoned in Germany and Me 163 pilots were reassigned to fly the more capable Me 262 jet fighter.

Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet and Me-262A Schwalbe at the Deutsches Museum in Munich
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet and Me 262A Schwalbe at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (June 2010)

Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet Survivors

Of all the aircraft that survived the conflict, around 48 Me 163 interceptors were captured intact and at least 29 of these airframes were shipped out of Germany with 24 directly going to Great Britain where some testing was conducted (towed and unpowered flights only) and others were distributed to Australia, Canada and the United States. Most of the captured aircraft came from Jagdgeschwader 400 (JG 400) at Husum, Germany. JG 400 was formed on February 1st, 1944 to become the only military unit in the world to fly operational rocket-powered fighter aircraft in July 1944.

Former JG 400 Me-163B Komet's loaded up on US Army trucks to be transported for shipment to Great Britain in 1945
Former JG 400 Me 163B Komet’s loaded up on US Army trucks to be transported for shipment to Great Britain in 1945
A former JG400 Me-163B captured in 1945 for testing by the RAF
A former JG 400 Me 163B captured and repainted in 1945 for testing by the RAF

Only 10 survivors of those captured Me 163 interceptors are known to be on display in museums today. I have been lucky enough to personally see 7 of these surviving Me 163 Komet interceptors. The UK examples are the ones I have missed out on to date. It is quite interesting to see the various camouflage schemes, markings and squadron emblems that have been applied to the aircraft. Most have a sky blue underside with upper green, brown and sometimes grey camouflage and a mottled tail scheme. The survivors:

Australia

Australian War Memorial in Canberra – Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191907 manufactured in 1945. This aircraft is believed to have been part of a group of aircraft stored as replacements for JG400. Given this particular airframe does not feature any unit marking and by 1945 rocket fuel was scarce, it is not believed to have been flown operationally.

The Australian War Memorial Me-163B Komet rocket fighter was captured in 1945 in Germany and sent to Australia in 1946
The Australian War Memorial Me 163B Komet rocket fighter was captured in 1945 in Germany and sent to Australia in 1946 (photo taken during my January 2016 visit)

Shipped to Australia in 1946, it was stored until the 1980’s within the RAAF Museum at Point Cook, Victoria where it was repainted in 1978 based off the existing paint scheme and stencils (up until that point it had the original scheme). Additional restorative work was completed by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in 1982 before being sent to the Australian War Memorial annex in 1986 for further restoration. It was painted again in 2003 and later put on display in the main museum.

Australian War Memorial Me-163B Komet rocket fighter
Australian War Memorial Me 163B Komet rocket fighter (photo taken during my January 2016 visit)
The small propeller on the nose of the Me-163 was used to generate power (with a backup battery) for onboard systems such as the radio, control circuits etc.
The small propeller on the nose of the Me 163 was used to generate power (with a backup battery) for onboard systems such as the radio, control circuits etc. (photo taken during my visit to the AWM in January 2016)

Canada

Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Ontario – Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191916 manufactured in 1945. It was shipped to Canada in 1946 with one other that is now in the National Museum of the USAF.

Me-163B-1a Werknummer 191916 at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in 2013
Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191916 at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in 2013

Werknummer 191916 was in good condition and was refinished in JG 400 markings for museum display between 1966 and 1967 (the other was gifted to the USAF in exchange for a Convair Atlas missile). Further restoration was completed between 2000 and 2001 and museum staff discovered some of the original paint colours and markings underneath accumulated layers of paint that had been applied over the years.

Me-163B-1a Werknummer 191916 at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in 2013
This Me 163B in Canada was manufactured in 1945
Me-163B-1a Werknummer 191916 at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in 2013
The aircraft does not have a squadron emblem painted on it but was from JG 400
Me-163B-1a Werknummer 191916 at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in 2013
Upon take-off the wheels would be jettisoned and the Me 163 would land on that skid

Germany

Luftwaffe Museum at Berlin-Gatow – Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191904 “Yellow 25”. It was most likely manufactured in 1945 and is displayed with a JG 400 squadron emblem of Baron Münchhausen’s cannonball ride (no doubt what it felt like to fly in the Me 163!).

Me 163B Werknummer 191904 “Yellow 25” at the Luftwaffe Museum at Berlin-Gatow during my visit in June 2010
Me 163B with the JG 400 squadron emblem of Baron Münchhausen’s cannonball ride (June 2010)
Me 163B Werknummer 191904 “Yellow 25” (June 2010)
The banner on the wall stating “Ich weiß es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehn” roughly translates to “I know it will happen once a miracle”

Deutsches Museum in Munich – Me 163B-1a the Werknummer has previously been listed as 120370 but it is believed to be either Werknummer 191309 or 191912. Manufactured in 1944 it features an emblem showing Baron Münchhausen flying skyward on an uncorked champagne bottle – this was the symbol of the 7 Staffel (squadron) of JG 400 and again kind of summed up what it was like to fly the Me 163 I guess (just pop that cork!).

Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet (Werknummer 120370) at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (July 2010)
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet (Werknummer 120370) at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (July 2010)
Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet at the Deutsches Museum in Munich
Baron Münchhausen flying skyward on an uncorked champagne bottle – this was the symbol of the 7 Staffel (squadron) of JG 400

This Me-163B is displayed hanging from the ceiling with some fuselage panels removed and the landing skid deployed above the more successful Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (“Swallow”) jet fighter. Suspended next to the Me 163 is an infamous Fieseler Fi 103 / V-1 flying bomb. The livery of the Me 163B includes a mottled camouflage on the fuselage, solid edged camouflage on the upper wings and sky blue underneath.

V-1 flying bomb Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet and Me-262A Schwalbe at the Deutsches Museum in Munich
Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, Me-262 Schwalbe and an infamous Fieseler Fi 103 / V-1 flying bomb displayed at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany (June 2010)
Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet and Me-262A Schwalbe at the Deutsches Museum in Munich
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet and Me-262A Schwalbe at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (June 2010)
Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet (Werknummer 120370) at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (July 2010)
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet (Werknummer 120370) at the Deutsches Museum in Munich – note the removed panels (June 2010)
Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet and Me-262A Schwalbe at the Deutsches Museum in Munich
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet and Me-262A Schwalbe at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (July 2010)
Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (July 2010)
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (July 2010)
163B Komet at the Deutsches Museum in Munich
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (June 2010)

United Kingdom

RAF Museum at RAF Cosford, UK – Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191614. Believed to have been manufactured in 1945, it last flew on April 22nd, 1945 when it shot down an RAF Avro Lancaster bomber. This is thought to be the Komet displayed at the Rocket Propulsion Establishment in Westcott, Buckinghamshire before being transferred to RAF Cosford in circa 1975. The Rocket Propulsion Establishment was set up in April 1946 by the Ministry of Supply for the development of all types of rocket propulsion. Initially they studied German rocket technology including the Me 163’s Walter HWK 109-509 rocket engine, V-1 flying bomb, V-2 rocket and various German anti aircraft/shipping missile systems. Back in 1947 they had a team of 12 German scientists on hand including Dr. Johannes Schmidt who had been primarily responsible for the development of the Walter rocket engine used in the Komet (a 1947 Flight magazine article indicates they were granted limited access to current developments – the war was over but obviously full trust of an old enemy was not quite there yet!)

Apparently during restoration of Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191614 between 2000 and 2005 and again between 2008 and 2009 a number of paint schemes were applied to this aircraft that were not overly authentic (possibly this first occurred in the 1970’s at the propulsion establishment. The most recent is a grey mottled livery with a yellow nose cone but this is also said to be a non authentic scheme.

Science Museum in London, UK – Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191316 “Yellow 6”. This aircraft was taken to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) research establishment at Farnborough in 1945 and then seems to have been moved around to various RAF establishments and maintenance units for storage, as a ground training aircraft for RAF apprentices and for restoration work. It was also displayed at various RAF events until arriving at the Science Museum in 1964. Of photos I have seen it is displayed hanging from the ceiling with a mottled camouflage pattern not only on the tail but also the undersides of the fuselage. The rocket engine has been removed and is displayed separately.

National Museum of Flight at East Fortune Airfield near Edinburgh in Scotland – Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191659 “Yellow 15” was manufactured in 1945. Shipped to RAE Farnborough from Husum in 1945 it was transferred to the RAF No.6 Maintenance Unit at Brize Norton on July 26th, 1945 then onto the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield in May 1947 where it remained on display in their museum until 1975 (other than brief showings at RAF events) before being refurbished and once again transferred to its current home in Scotland.

Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown's flight logbook page from 1945 including his Me-163 flights in Germany (photo source: Scottish National Museum of Flight)
Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown’s flight logbook page from 1945 including his Me-163 flights in Germany (photo source: Scottish National Museum of Flight)

There has been extensive overpainting of the fuselage since arriving in the UK in 1945. From the museum’s website it appears that Komet “Yellow 15” is currently painted in a quite glossy single tone dark green upper camouflage with sky blue underneath. There is some also splinter camouflage markings on the upper wing with dark green matt paint. The 30mm cannons have been removed but the Walter rocket engine remains inside the fuselage.

Famous Royal Navy test pilot and Scotsman Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown (1919 – 2016) flew this Me 163B Komet on June 1oth, 1945 at Husum. In doing so he became the only Allied pilot ever to fly a Komet with the rocket engine running.

On May 26th, 1945 Brown had completed 3 unpowered flights at 20,000 feet in an Me 163A that was towed by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 flown by a German crew to gain some familiarity with the aircraft. He then flew the Me 163B up to 32,000 feet and wrote in his logbook “Fantastic!” but he has also said it was a difficult and highly dangerous aircraft to fly!

Scotsman Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown beside the Me-163B Komet he flew in June 1945 (September 2015 photo source: Scottish National Museum of Flight)
Scotsman Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown beside the Me 163B Komet he flew in June 1945 (September 2015 photo source: Scottish National Museum of Flight)

United States

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia – Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191301 is on display in an unrestored condition minus it’s 30mm cannons. This was one of 5 Me 163 aircraft shipped to the United States in 1945. It was test flown on unpowered flights being towed by a B-29 bomber then released to glide back to the ground in 1946 but before powered flights could commence, delamination of the wooden wings was discovered and it was placed in storage until presented to the Smithsonian in 1954. The Smithsonian example is displayed next to a Walter HWK 109-509A liquid-fuel rocket engine.

Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet (rocket powered interceptor)
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet rocket powered interceptor at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (photo taken during my 2013 visit to the museum)
Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet rocket powered interceptor at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum - Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (photo taken during my 2013 visit to the museum)
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet rocket powered interceptor at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (photo taken during my 2013 visit to the museum)
Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet rocket powered interceptor at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum - Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (photo taken during my 2013 visit to the museum)
Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is just one of many Axis treasures to be found in this amazing museum (photo taken during my 2013 visit to the museum)
Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet rocket powered interceptor at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum - Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (photo taken during my 2013 visit to the museum)
The unrestored condition is remarkably good after 70+ years!
Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet rocket powered interceptor at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum - Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (photo taken during my 2013 visit to the museum)
Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191301 is displayed next to a Walter HWK 109-509A liquid-fuel rocket engine (photo taken in 2013)
Message of defiance from a forced French labourer who worked on Me 163B (W/N 191301): “Manufacture Ferme” (“Plant Closed.”) “Mon coeur est en chomage” (“My heart is not occupied”). Photo Source: Canada Aviation and Space Museum

National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio – Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191095 was gifted from Canada in 1999. Restoration work had begun in 1976 and it was temporarily loaned to the USAF first in 1978.

It is believed that this Komet was sabotaged by forced labourers during construction in Germany, as a stone was found wedged under the fuel tank between a supporting strap that could have led to an explosive fuel leak. The wing glue was also contaminated which could have resulted in wing failure in flight and a defiant message was written in French inside the aircraft stating: “Manufacture Ferme” (“Plant Closed.”) “Mon coeur est en chomage” (“My heart is not occupied” even though France was)!

Messerschmitt Me-163B (W/N 191301) on display at Wright Field on October 14th, 1945
Messerschmitt Me 163B (W/N 191301) on display at Wright Field on October 14th, 1945
Me-163B Komet (S/N 191095) with a Walter HWK 509A rocket motor at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
Me 163B Komet (S/N 191095) with a Walter HWK 509A rocket engine at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
Me-163B Komet (S/N 191095) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
Me 163B Komet (S/N 191095) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
Me-163B Komet (S/N 191095) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
Me 163B Komet (S/N 191095) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
Me-163B Komet (S/N 191095) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
This Me 163B was formerly part of the Canada Aviation & Space Museum collection until 1999
Me-163B Komet (S/N 191095) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
Me 163B Komet (S/N 191095) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
Me-163B Komet (S/N 191095) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio in 2009
Head on! To provide some protection to the aircraft and pilot the Me 163 had a strengthened nose and bullet proof glass in the cockpit

Flying Heritage Collection at Paine Field in Everett, Washington – Me 163B-1a Werknummer 191660 “Yellow 3” was manufactured in 1944 by Junkers rather than Messerschmitt. It is unknown if it saw combat. This example was previously part of the Imperial War Museum collection in the UK where restoration commenced in 1997 before being sold to the FHC in 2005. Most of their collection are flyable but I doubt anyone would ever be brave enough to take off in a volatile little Komet ever again!

Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet at the Flying Heritage Collection Paine Field Washington USA
“The Devil’s Sled” at the Flying Heritage Collection (August 2016)
The FHC Me-163B Komet features an emblem showing Baron Münchhausen flying skyward on an uncorked champagne bottle - this was the symbol of the 7 Staffel (squadron) of Jagdgeschwader 400
The FHC Me 163B Komet features an emblem showing Baron Münchhausen flying skyward on an uncorked champagne bottle – this was the symbol of the 7 Staffel (squadron) of Jagdgeschwader 400 (photo taken during my June 2016 visit to the museum)
Me 163B Komet rocket interceptor Flying Heritage Collection Paine Field WA
Head on with the Komet!
1944 Messerchmitt Me-163B Komet rocket interceptor at FHC in June 2016
1944 Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet rocket interceptor at FHC in June 2016
Walter HWK 109-509A liquid-fuel rocket engine of the Me 163B displayed at the Flying Heritage Collection (September 2016)
Rocket power! Walter HWK 109-509A liquid-fuel rocket engine of the Me 163B displayed at the Flying Heritage Collection (September 2016)
Mk 108 30mm cannon of the Me 163B (FHC September 2016)
Mk 108 30mm cannon of the Me 163B (FHC September 2016)
The bullet proof glass in the cockpit of the Me 163B and the 7 Staffel (squadron) of JG 400 emblem showing Baron Münchhausen flying skyward on an uncorked champagne bottle
The bullet proof glass in the cockpit of the Me 163B and the 7 Staffel (squadron) of JG 400 emblem showing Baron Münchhausen flying skyward on an uncorked champagne bottle (FHC September 2016)

None are on display in Russia that I am aware of. I wonder what happened to their captured examples? The rest of the originals captured in 1945 unfortunately seemed to have all been lost to the scrap yard in years gone by.

Captured by the Soviets in 1945 – Me 163 Komet and Me 163S “Habich” two-seat trainer glider

The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet provided an interesting technology leap in World War Two but ultimately proved that rocket power was not the answer for interceptor aircraft. Jet propulsion was the future and remains so today.

Despite the problems experienced with the Me 163, the Japanese were facing a similar dire situation of constant Allied bombing and rapidly approaching defeat and pursued their own variant of the Me 163, the Mitsubishi J8M Shusui. More on this aircraft in my next post.

 

References:

Australian War Memorial

Canada Aviation and Space Museum

Flight Global – Rocketry at Westcott

Flying for the Fatherland – Judy Lomax, July 1991 (about Hanna Reitsch)

Flying Heritage Collection

Me 163B Komet

National Museum of Flight

National Museum of the USAF

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The Helmuth Walter Website

Wikipedia – Messerschmitt Me 163

Wikipedia – Messerschmitt Me 263

Wikipedia – JG 400

 

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11 thoughts on “The Survivors: Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet “The Devil’s Sled”

  1. Awesome post and amazing pictures – lots I never knew, and I totally had no idea so many ME-163’s were preserved! Thanks for sharing. It was one incredible aircraft for its day – and when you think it was partly wooden, fuelled by toxic acids, and flew at unheard of speeds until the fuel ran out – at which point it became a kind of winged brick – you can only call it an aircraft for hero-pilots. Actually, when you consider that hypergolic fuelling today is done by specialists wearing what amount to armoured total pressure suits, you have to call the guys in the T- and C-Stoff trucks heroic too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad that you mentioned some of the brave pilots like Hanna Reitsch who were involved in the operation of this aircraft. There were brave pilots on both sides of the war. I am reminded of the “Galland’s Circus” JG 44 squadron of Me 262s which tried to protect their country while under relentless attack from allied aircraft in 1945. Also, it is sad to think of the millions upon million lost in the war but at the same time, the war brought about technological advances like the rocket powered and jet powered aircrafts. Really appreciate your work! G’day mate!

    Liked by 1 person

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