Ba 349 Natter
|Primary Role||Prototype Aircraft|
|Maiden Flight||1 March 1945|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseBy 1944, Germany had already embarked on the research of surface-to-air missiles to intercept Allied bombers that had become a major threat. At this point, an effect guidance system had not yet been created, thus there was a school of thought that perhaps a manned missile would remedy the accuracy problems by introducing human control for the critical final stage of the rocket flight. Engineer Erich Bachem began working on his BP20 manned rocket aircraft design toward this goal, which called for aircraft built with wooden parts that were glued and screwed together, with armored cockpits. They were to be controlled from the ground via radio signals, with the pilots taking over only near the end of the flight as the rockets approached the targeted bombers. The pilots would then trigger the firing of either 33 R4M or 24 Hs 217 rockets at the hostile bombers. The aircraft themselves could also be used to ram Allied bombers to cause further damage. Whether ramming was done or not, the pilots would eject from the rocket and return to the ground via parachutes. Bachem's innovative approach failed to persuade German Air Force, Luftwaffe, leadership, but he was clever enough to circumvent the usual steps by going directly to Heinrich Himmler, who lobbied for Bachem to continue his work; if successful, Himmler thought this would bring prestige to his SS organization, and such success could be used against his political rival Hermann Göring.
ww2dbaseNow effectively working for the SS, Bachem simplified the design by removing the ramming option. The new designed called for each aircraft to be launched vertically with the aid of four solid fuel booster rockets, then further propelled by the main engine. After the attack took place, the design allowed the aircraft to glide down to about 3,000 meters in altitude, break up into two pieces (one containing the cockpit with pilot and the other the engine), with each piece landing on the ground via separate parachutes.
ww2dbaseOn 3 Nov 1944, test pilot Erich Klöckner manned the prototype BP20 M1 for a successful gliding test at Neuburg an der Donau, Germany. In the next two months, several unmanned tests were done to improve flight characteristics. One of the conclusions was that it was nearly impossible to save any additional parts beyond the engines and the cockpits, as the speed in which the aircraft traveled was simply too high.
ww2dbaseWhile the testing was still going on, preparations for production already began. The design was named Ba 349 Natter ("Colubridae", a family of snakes). Although on 14 Feb 1945 test pilot Hans Zübert conducted yet another successful gliding test, Himmler demanded a manned launch by rocketry to take place in the following month. Despite not being ready, Bachem complied. On 1 Mar 1945, test pilot Lothar Sieber climbed aboard the prototype rocket interceptor Ba 349A M23 at the Lager Heuberg military training area near Stetten am kalten Markt in southern Germany. The result was disastrous. With one of the boosters failing to release, the aircraft became out of control, and Sieber was killed when the aircraft crashed into the ground 5 miles from the launch site after only 50 seconds of flight time; as the canopy was observed to have come loose, another theory was that the act of canopy snapping open might have broken Sieber's neck before crash. Later, another manned test also resulted in a crash.
ww2dbaseThe program never reached a satisfactory status to move into full production. At the end of the European War, ten of them were destroyed by retreating German personnel, four were captured by Americans, one was captured by the British, and one was captured by the Soviets.
Robert Dorr, Fighting Hitler's Jets
Last Major Revision: May 2008
Ba 349 Natter Timeline
|3 Nov 1944||Test pilot Erich Klöckner manned the prototype BP20 M1 for a successful gliding test at Neuburg an der Donau, Germany.|
|14 Feb 1945||Ba 349 prototype aircraft M8 flew as a glider with Hans Zübert in the cockpit.|
|23 Feb 1945||Ba 349 prototype aircraft conducted its first unmanned vertical launch with rocket power.|
|1 Mar 1945||Test pilot Lothar Sieber became the first pilot to launch a Ba 349 aircraft. The aircraft was launched from the Lager Heuberg base near Stetten am kalten Markt, Germany. After 50 seconds of flight, the aircraft crashed about 5 miles from the launch site, killing Sieber. The cause was either one of four booster rockets failing to function, or a loose canopy that might have fatally injured Sieber.|
|Machinery||One Walter HWK 509A liquid fuel rocket engine, four Schmidding 109-533 solid fuel booster rockets|
|Armament||24x73mm Hs 217 Föhn rockets or 33x55mm R4M rockets|
|Wing Area||4.80 m²|
|Weight, Empty||800 kg|
|Weight, Loaded||2,232 kg|
|Speed, Maximum||1,000 km/h|
|Service Ceiling||14,000 m|
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Captain Henry P. Jim Crowe, Guadalcanal, 13 Jan 1943