Wednesday, December 08, 1999

Air museum shows Nazi rarity

Fast fighter was late, risky

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Restored German Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet was brought into the U.S. Air Force Museum Tuesday for display.
(Michael Snyder photos)
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        FAIRBORN — Now it resembles a porpoise with wings, but in World War II, it was among Adolf Hitler's arsenal of secret weapons.

        On Tuesday, an unusual German Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet rocket fighter was towed from the U.S. Air Force Museum's restoration division to the Hall of Honor for display.

        The aircraft, now owned by the museum, will be shown to the public for the first time 9 a.m. Friday. At 10 a.m., original Komet test pilot Rudi Opitz will discuss his experiences flying the volatile interceptor.

        “It's a great coup for the museum to obtain this rare aircraft,” said spokeswoman Diana Bachert. “We're also excited to have Rudi Opitz come here. He must have many stories.”

        The museum acquired the fighter this year from the Canadian National Aviation Museum.

        The aircraft, carrying serial number 191095, might have been sabotaged during construction. Restorers found a small stone wedged between the fuselage tank and a support strap, possibly intended to cause a fuel leak. Somebody had scrawled inside the 191095's skin the French words for “plant closed” and “my heart is not occupied,” apparently a reference to German-occupied France.

        The Komet originated in 1937 as “Project X,” under the direction of Dr. Alexander Kippisch, but engine troubles delayed flight testing until August 1943. The aircraft was developed as a high-speed, fast-climbing defensive fighter that could go from a standing start to an altitude of 40,000 feet in 31/4 minutes, Ms. Bachert said.

        Curators at the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa say the 191095 was captured with Komet 191916 on a German airfield in 1945. Both planes were taken to Canada after the war and restored. They are about 30 feet wide, 19 feet long and 9 feet high, and their maximum speed was 596 mph.

        Though the 163B Komet did not become a significant player in the European air war, curators said, the Luftwaffe ordered 339 of them and flew them until the war ended.

        Only 279 Me 163B jets were deployed at the end of the war. The sole Komet group, JG 400, scored nine kills but lost 14 of its own. The aircraft was troubled by small production numbers and technical problems, Ms. Bachert said.

        “Hazardous fuels ... sometimes exploded without warning, killing a number of pilots,” she said.

        • Where: The U.S. Air Force Museum, Fairborn.

        • Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

        • Admission: Free.

        Information: (937) 255-3286.


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