The Komet was the world’s first (and so far only) operational rocket-powered fighter. Although the prototype Me 163A first flew in August 1941, it was not until February 1944 that production Me 163Bs entered service in any number, official disinterest playing a part in the slow progress of development. Although its performance was fantastic, the Komet carried only enough fuel for four minutes powered flying.
The fuel was an extremely volatile cocktail mixed in flight, which would in the wrong proportions readily explode. Unlike some other Luftwaffe ‘last ditch’ aircraft, the Komet required exceptional piloting skills, particularly on landing, and a shortage of trained pilots restricted deployment as much as did fuel supplies or production delays. Destruction of the fuel plant by bombing added to the Me 163 squadrons’ woes in the last months of the war. Each mission, however, saw the available aircraft and pilot numbers reduced by fighters, off-field landings and landing crashes.
With a range of only 40km (25 miles), the Komet was only good for point defence. Once combat was over, the pilot faced the most dangerous part of the mission – a safe landing.
Armament was two powerful but slow-firing 30mm (1.18in) cannon. The pilot had little time to aim and hold his fire before he was past the target. One or two hits was usually enough to destroy a bomber, however.
The fuels in the Komet were highly corrosive and would dissolve organic material (such as the pilot). To avoid this, the pilots would wear special asbestos fibre suits.
Combat tactics were to climb to altitude above the target and then turn off the motor to make diving attacks before restarting to climb again. When fuel was exhausted the Komet became a glider and very vulnerable to fighter attack.
The Komet took off on a two-wheeled trolley, which was quickly jettisoned. A retractable skid was used for landing, a bumpy process which sometimes caused unburned fuels to mix and ignite.
- CREW: 1
- POWERPLANT: one 16.67kN (3748lb) thrust Walter rocket motor
- MAX SPEED: 960km/h (597mph)
- SPAN: 9.40m (30ft 7in)
- LENGTH: 5.85m (19ft 2in)
- HEIGHT: 2.76m (9ft)
- WEIGHT: loaded 4310kg (9502lb)