The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
THE SECRET WEAPONS OF SECRET WEAPONS
If the "steak" in Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe is in its interactive game engine, the marketing "sizzle" is in its fantastic collection of "secret weapons."
The Go-229 didn't just look stealthy; it was the first aircraft to be covered with radar-absorbent paint. It was developed by the Horton brothers, glider experts who calculated that a flying wing with a deeply scalloped trailing edge would need no vertical stabilizer, thus making it even less visible to radar. With no fuselage (which also lowers its radar "signature"), a flying wing is all lift and little drag, so the Gotha would have had an enormous range—almost 2,000 miles with drop tanks. Its top speed, over 600 miles per hour, would have been 50 miles per hour faster than the Me-262, which in turn was almost 100 miles per hour faster than the P-51. In Secret Weapons, the Gotha handles like a dream, but its overtaking speed leaves little time for targeting slow-moving, objects like B-17s, which poked along at 200 miles per hour. The Gotha is a great "what-if" weapon, and the Allies can be thankful that it never materialized during combat.
The Me-262 Sturmvogel (Stormbird), despite its "just right" appearance, was not without its teething troubles. For one, Hitler arbitrarily declared it a bomber (a role for which it was ill-suited, even as a fighter-bomber), sidetracking airframe development for several years.
More seriously, development of its jet engines (the same type used in the He-162 Salamander) dragged on forever—nobody had any experience with the metal-melting temperatures generated by turbojets. Then, long before its bugs were ironed out, the design was "frozen" for production. Result: the engines often caught fire—in the air and on the ground.
Finally, in its original configuration as a tail dragger, the then-straight wings blanked the tail and the prototype didn't want to leave the ground. It was only when a very brave test pilot, Fritz Wendel, tapped the brakes at takeoff speed, pitching the nose forward and allowing the airstream to get at the elevators, that the design finally got airborne.
Clearly, tricycle landing gear was called for, but rather than relocating the wing spar or wheel attachment points so late in its development, Willi Messerschmitt simply swept the Me-262's wings back to get the center of gravity forward of the wheels, allowing the fighter to rest on its new nosewheel. (And you thought it was for aerodynamic reasons.) Surprise! The handling improved with the swept-back wings. But it wasn't until Edgar Schmued's F-86 Sabrejet (see Chapter Eight) nearly ten years later that an American fighter adopted the new swept-wing configuration.
The rocket-powered Me-163 Komet was not only the fastest aircraft of the war but also, at 16 feet (about the length of a pirogue), the smallest; making it hard to see and hard to hit. A pure interceptor, the Komet had only a few minutes of fuel. It would shoot straight up, at 16,400 feet per minute, punch through the bomber formations, run out of fuel, and glide back to earth, landing dead-stick on a ski-like skid. The fuel, a volatile mixture of methyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, was often detonated by the jarring touchdowns. On at least one occasion, the fuel lines ruptured during a hard landing, and when emergency crews reached the aircraft, they discovered the pilot had literally been dissolved in his seat.
At the opposite end of the scale, the Do-335 Pfeil (Arrow) was a giant—45 feet long. With its great speed and enormous firepower, it was supposed to harass departing formations and hunt down stragglers, but during high-speed test flights, it had a tendency to snake violently from side to side, and pilots learned to avoid it like the plague.
Similarly, the Heinkel He-162 Salamander (aka Volksjager, or People's Fighter) was so treacherous that even experienced Luftwaffe pilots couldn't handle it, although it was intended to be so simple that Hitler Youth cadets could fly it. Hastily engineered (in sixty-seven days), it was built largely of wood to conserve Germany's dwindling supply of strategic war materials. The landing gear was made of iron pipe instead of lightweight forgings, for example, and the wheels were huge to accommodate heavily damaged runways and unimproved airstrips.