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Messerschmitt Me 163B

An example of the Me 163 in the USAF museum

The Messerschmitt Me 163 (also known as the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet) was a rocket-powered interceptor fighter, which was used by the Luftwaffe during World War II. It had a top speed of nine hundred and thirty-nine kilometres per hour, and it was armed with two 30 mm cannons. Around three-hundred and seventy were built before Germany was defeated by the Allies. It was the only rocket-powered aircraft ever used in operational service, besides the similar Mitsubishi J8M, which was based on the Me 163.


Development of the Me 163 was inspired by the work of Alexander Lippisch, which had resulted in the fitting of a 882-pound st (3.92 kN) Walter R I-203 rocket motor in an DFS 39 Delta IVc research aircraft.[1] This led to project X, which was eventually developed by Lippisch and his team, who joined Messerschmitt AG on 2nd January 1939, working as Section L. Lippisch and his team modified the DFS 194 to take a rocket engine. This combination was tested at Peenemunde in 1940, leading to development of the Me 163 V1, which was completed during the winter of 1940-41.[2]After being put into service, it had achieved only nine kills before the end of World War II, in 1945.

Proposed Italian use

During the second half of 1944, the Supreme Command of the Luftwaffe requested the collaboration of Italian pilots in the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, to carry out the transfer of new Messerschmitt Bf 109Gs, as part of preparations for Operation Bodenplatte, to a number of airfields in Northern Italy. Luftwaffe appreciation for the Ilatian's efforts led to a group of 17 pilots, drawn from 1 Gruppo Caccia of the Aviazione della Repubblica Sociale Italiana, undergoing preliminary glider training, using modified Habicht gliders, at Berlin-Rangsdorf during December 1944 and January 1945, prior to receiving training to operate the Me 163 at Sprottau. Consisting of a theory course and initial flights in an unpowered Me 163 towed by a Messerschmitt Bf 110, this would have been followed by flights using an unfueled Me 163, before transfer to Liegniz for operational flying. Unfortunately, a combination of bad weather, limited fuel and advancement by Soviet forces prevented the Italian pilots from completing their conversion training before the end of the war.[3]

Related aircraft

During early 1943, Lippisch became concerned by delays in completion of the Messerschmitt Me 163. This prompted him to submit a proposal for a piston engine fighter based on the airframe of the Me 163. Designated Me 334, this would have a DB 605A liquid cooled engine in the nose, driving a three bladed pusher propeller in the tail via an extension shaft, which was presumed to give the type superior performance to the Bf 109G. Armament would have consisted of a pair of MG 131 machine guns in the upper nose. Work on the Me 334 was eventually halted in June 1943.[4]

The Messerschmitt design team later produced two other designs, both of which were based on the Me 163. The first of these was the Me 163C, equipped with fully retractable tailwheel, improved body, increased span centre section and a new motor with an auxiliary chamber of reduced thrust for extended cruise flight. This was refined to form the second design, the Me 263, which was originally developed by Junkers as the Ju 248.[5]

Japan acquired manufacturing rights for the design, resulting in the construction, before the end of the war, of five Mitsubishi J8M1 Shushi (Swinging Sword) powered aircraft, together with over fifty examples of the MXY 8 Akigusa (Autum Grass) training glider.[6]



Constructed from light alloy in a tear drop like shape, the fuselage of the Me 163 started with a nosecone containing an electrical generator, compressed air bottle, battery packs and a FuG 25a radio. Behind this was the cockpit, which had pair of tanks, each containing 13 imp gal (60 litres) of T-Stoff, alongside the seat. This was followed by the main tank, containing 229 imp gal (1,040 litres) of T-Stoff, and the R II-211 rocket motor.[7]


Smaller and simpler than those fitted to the precursor aircraft, this was of tapered configuration, with quarter chord sweep of 23 degrees 20 minutes, and used a simple wooden structure with two widely spaced spars and a fabric covered ply skin 0.31 in (8 mm) thick. The trailing edge featured large plain hinged flaps inboard, and large manual elevons, covered with fabric, for pitch and roll outboard, with plain metal tabs bent on the ground with pliers. The outer forty percent of the leading edge had fixed low drag slots, which removed the danger of tip stalling, and made the Me 163 unspinnable.[7] Each wing contained a pair of C-stoff tanks adjacent to the wing root - a sixteen Imperial gallon (seventy-three litre) tank in the leading edge, and a thirty-eight Imperial gallon (173 litre) main tank.[8]



The Me 163 was a single-seat aircraft powered by a single 3,750 lb st (1,700 kg st) Walter HWK 509A-2 bi-propellant rocket motor. The aircraft measured 18 ft 8 in (5.69 m) in length and 9 ft (2.74 m) in height, with a 30 ft 7 in (9.3 m) wingspan, with an empty weight of 4,191 pounds (1,905 kilograms), and loaded weight of 9,042 lb (4,110 kg). Max speed was 596 mph (960 km/h) at 32,800 ft 910,000 m). Initial climb was 16,400 ft (5,000 m) per minute, with service ceiling of 54,000 ft (16,500 m). Range was dependent on the flight profile, but was generally less than sixty-two miles (100 km). Endurance was 2 minutes 30 seconds from the top of the climb, out of a total endurance of 8 minutes.[9]

Surviving Aircraft

According to the RAF Museum, forty-eight examples were captured intact after the war. A Me 163B aircraft is currently on display at the Science Museum in London. Another is located at the RAF Museum. One is preserved in Ottawa, at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, as well in the ACT, at the Australian War Memorial. Several others are exhibited in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia, as well as in Germany, across various museums and displays.


  1. Chant, Chris. German Warplanes of World War II. Spellmount Limited. 1999. ISBN 1 86227 049 X Page 121
  2. Kay, Antony L and J R Smith. German Aircraft of the Second World War. Putnam Aeronautical Books. 2002. ISBN 0 85177 920 4 Page 248
  3. Aeroplane Monthly. Key Publishing. July 2014 Pages 44-46
  4. Schick, Walter and Ingolf Meyer. Luftwaffe Secret Projects - Fighters 1939-1945. Midland Publishing Limited. 1994/1997. ISBN 1 85780 052 4 Page 20
  5. Wood, Tony and Bill Gunston. Hitler's Luftwaffe. Salamander Books. 1997. ISBN 0 86101 935 0 Page 228
  6. Kay, Antony L and J R Smith. Pages 252-253
  7. 7.0 7.1 World Aircraft Information Files Aviation Partwork. Midsummer Books Ltd. File 201 Sheet 1 (World Military Aircraft: Messerschmitt Me 163 - Briefing)
  8. Wood, Tony and Bill Gunston. Pages 228-229
  9. Wood, Tony and Bill Gunston. Page 227

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