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The Me 163
The development and use of the Luftwaffe's jet aircraft was crippled by interservice wrangles and Hitler's maniacal meddlings, such as his concept of the Messerschmitt Me-262 as a bomber rather than a fighter. All this ensured that the four operational Luftwaffe jets, to which Messerschmitt made another contribution, the Me-163, were never employed to their full potential.
Of the four, the Me-163 seems the most futuristic in the context of contemporary piston-engined aircraft. Its arrowhead, delta-shaped outline foreshadowed the jets of the post-war period, as did the speed of 623 mph (1002.5 kph) which it reached on its first full-power test on 2nd October 1941. On this test, too, the pilot experienced the effects of flying too close to the 'sound barrier' - vigorous tail flutter, and buffeting as pressure waves built up to hammer the insufficiently streamlined outline of his plane. The dangers facing pilots flying the operational version, the Me-163B 'Komet', were hardly less.
These pilots belonged to the Luftwaffe's first rocket interceptor unit, and were flying a plane powered by a literally explosive fuel: T-Stoff (hydrogen peroxide) mixed with C-Stoff (alcohol/ hydrazine). Many were killed when their aircraft blew up on landing after the last of their fuel ignited in the tanks. Operationally, the great drawback of the Me-163 was that full power duration lasted only about eight minutes. However, the diminutive, gnat-like jet, which had a wing-span of 30 ft 7.5 ins (9.33 meters), length of 19 ft 2.5 ins (5.85 meters) and height of 9 ft (2.76 meters), could go spearing up on its Walter HWK508-A-1 or -2 bi-fuel rocket motor (thrust-rating 3,748 lbs or 1,700 kgs) at a then phenomenal rate of 29,370 ft (8952 meters) in three minutes 25 seconds.
This remarkable little plane, nicknamed 'the Powered Egg' did not enter combat until 16th October 1944, and when the war ended was still being developed towards the efficiency it would certainly have reached given more time. However, an increase to 12 minutes' endurance was as far as its designers got, in the Me-163C.