Monday, November 28, 2005

Too Cool For Words

Via Z Geek (WARNING: Not Safe For Work) comes word about The Me 262 Project. That's a group of Americans who are building five flightworthy Messerschmidt Me262s.

The Me262 was the world's first operational jet fighter, and served the Nazi Luftwaffe in the waning days of World War II. The stories of Allied pilots and bombers crews encountering them for the first time are some of my favorite stories of WWII. Most planes of the time flew around 200 or 300 mph, so when bomber crews spotted them on the horizon, they knew they had several minutes to prepare before the attacks and dogfights began.

Until the Me262. Crews would spot them from afar and begin the preparations for the attack, only to be shocked when these jets, with their hellish roar, screamed immediately past them. They were unnerving and frightening, to say the least, not only for air crews but for Allied Command.

Fortunately, the Nazis production capacity was seriously crippled, and the willingness to embrace innovation that characterised the early Nazi military was long past. The war ended soon after their introduction. We were very lucky never to have to face designs like these.

I should also point out that the German rocket scientists at Peenemunde (including Werner Von Braun) were experimenting with a two-stage, atmosphere-skipping manned intercontinental missile that could be launched from Germany. It had just enough power and aimability to have been considered as a "V weapon" against New York City! The possibilities of this kind of terror weapon are sobering to consider.

Oh! While I'm on the Nazi rocket program, I remember reading somewhere a story, almost certainly apocryphal, that the Germans actually launched the first man on a rocket into the upper atmosphere. Apparently, so the story goes, an engineer was stuffed into one of their V-2s with an oxygen canister, but did not survive the flight, hence the suppression of the story. Anyone heard of this?

Anyway, while noting the atrocity that was the Third Reich, I'm also very envious of the men who will get to fly those Me262s. I hope they tour the air show circuit and make it to Millington or Halls sometime soon. The Me262 is one of those sleek, beautiful designs that matches form with intent, to create a shark-like appearance of menace. Scary beautiful.

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