- The German Army  1657-1945

Bachem Ba 349 Natter

History and design
On 15 June 1939 at the highly secret Luftwaffe test station called Peenemunde-West, a diminutive aircraft took off from the aerodrome with test pilot Erich Warsitz at the controls. The Heinkel 176 was quite conventional in shape but had no propeller or air-intake. It was propelled by Hellmuth Walter's HWK R 1-203 hvdrogen peroxide rocket motor. The aircraft quickly accelerated to nearly 600 km/h, flew briefly around the aerodrome and landed. In the process it became the first aircraft to achieve a controlled flight powered only by a liquid propellant rocket motor. Five days later Warsitz flew a second circuit of the aerodrome. This trial was announced officiallv and is generally referred to in aviation histories as the first successful flight. Two years earlier Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team, in addition to their A-4 project, were also working on rocket propulsion for the Luftwaffe. The plan was for von Braun's group to develop a more powerful rocket motor for the He 176 using liquid oxygen and methyl alcohol as propellants. Initially von Braun's motor was installed in the tail of a Heinkel 112 aircraft, which still retained its conventional propeller live as a safety measure. It was the success of this aircraft, also flown by Warsitz, that resulted in a development contract for the He 176 all-rocket fighter. But as von Braun reminisced later: "some of the armchair pilots the Air Ministry decided that it would take too long to make a usable military aircraft of it and ordered discontinuation of the project."
Despite the ambiguity of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) concerning rocket powered aircraft, von Braun was considering an even more ambitious concept a VTO rocket interceptor. On 6 July 1939 he. submitted a memorandum entitled 'Proposal for a workable fighter with rocket drive' in which he points out that: "The most important group of problems, in which we need to get away from traditional solutions, concerns the takeoff and ascent. The rolling start of normal planes is needed only because current propulsion systems do not provide enough power for an immediate vertical take-off... The situation changes when propulsion power is available to thrust the aircraft immediately into the air. This possibility is offered now by rocket drive..."
Von Braun's concept was for a fighter weighing 5,080 kg with a liquid propellant rocket motor of 10,160 kg thrust. The aircraft could be mounted vertically "with its wing-tips on two supports about 18 feet [5.5 m] high that could be attached to lorries, for instance." This manned rocket would climb vertically to its operational altitude of eight kilometres in 53 seconds and then turn over into aerodynamic flight. Initially guidance would be effected by the deflection of vanes in the exhaust gas stream, as in the A-4, and then as velocity increased, by movable aerodynamic surfaces. Guidance would be under the control of an autopilot based around a three-axis gyroscopic system. The rocket motor would need to be throttled back from time to time to prevent the aircraft from achieving supersonic speed, an area which was then an unexplored factor for manned aircraft. Upon reaching operational altitude, the aircraft, which von Braun called a 'rocket interceptor', would pitch into horizontal flight under the continuing control of the autopilot or manual control. At the same time the main motor would cut out and a cruising unit with a much smaller thrust of 770 kg would start. The pilot would engage with the enemy and finally land the aircraft on a skid. A whole wing of such fighters could be launched after preparation in a hangar. Prior to take-off, a Würzburg radar would detect the target and then the interceptor would automatically follow a radio beam directed towards its vicinity.
Von Braun's proposal was passed on by the RLM to Dr. Motzfeld, the development team leader at the Heinkel aircraft works, for assessment. On 24 October 1939, Motzfeld tendered his report. In his summary he argues: "The proposal of Dr. von Braun contains several usable suggestions which merit further consideration. But the project will have practical significance only when it becomes possible to increase the height attained with the big rocket [drive] by several kilometres and extend the duration of flight with the smaller rocket drive by a considerable amount."
Later Motzfeld provided a more scathing report to the Ministry in which he comments: "the vertical take-off, which justifies the use of the von Braun propulsion unit, does not appear to me to offer any tactical advantage".
The interceptor project was then handed over to the Gerhard Fieseler Works in Kassel. This concern proceeded with further designs under the code name Fi 166 in collaboration with Peenemunde. Mixed propulsion systems were considered in which a rocket drive would be used for the take-off and a turbojet for the operational flight. The so-called 'horse and rider' system envisaged a jet aircraft mounted on the side of a rocket booster. After the booster was exhausted, the aircraft would proceed under its own power while the booster was recovered by parachute."
Nevertheless the Peenemunde team, led by engineer Roth, held fast to the idea of a pure rocket interceptor and would not countenance a mixed system. On 27 May 1941, von Braun resubmitted the concept again in a more fully developed form adding experience gained in the meantime from rocket-testing. However after two years of vacillation the RLM finally rejected the whole interceptor concept.10 The frustration felt by the Peenemunde team is evident in Walter Dornberger's post-war comment: "I can still see the disdainful smiles on the faces of the Air Ministry officials when our proposal was finally rejected in the autumn of 1941". The idea of a VTO rocket interceptor seemed to have come to a dead end.

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