Monday, 8 October 2012

Luftwaffe weapon inspired by Medway's engineers

As many people will have gathered, I'm a bit of a Luftwaffe geek with far too many books and pointless anecdotes.

As I read the Medway Messenger a while ago, I turned to the history section and was shocked to see a German Mistel on the page. After my initial confusion I read the article to discover that the two aircraft were in fact developed by Short Bros or Borstal and was a way of crossing the Atlantic in one journey rather than short hops to Iceland. The Empire flying boats were able to make the journey on their own but it meant ripping out the passenger or cargo holds and creating room for another fuel tank.

An attempted Composite had been made during World War One but it was no more than an experimental aircraft. Others included fighter or reconnaissance aircraft housed in or a top of Zeppelin or Airships with varying success. As airship travel appeared more and more dicey with the loss of R 101 and Hindenburg (which was lost during production of the composite) travellers were looking more keenly at aircraft.

Major Robert Mayo, the technical director at Shorts suggested the Maia (S.21 Empire flying boat) and Mercury (S.20) composite. Short's chief test pilot said:

All eight engines were used during combined flight but the controls of Mercury were locked. The airfoil designs of the two aircraft were such that Mercury's wings were carrying the major part of the air load at the speed and height chosen for separation. Safety locks prevented separation until this speed and height were reached and both pilots had an unlocking handle, both of which had to be pulled to cause release

The two aircraft were held together by a series of locks that had to be released by the pilots of the two aircraft and a third which would disengage automatically when the strength of 3000lb was applied to it as the craft pulled away. The design of the two aircraft also meant that on seperation the Mercury would climb whilst Maia would drop away thus avoiding collision.

After initial test flights around the Medway towns the first flight from Southampton to Montral with separation off the coast of Ireland took place on 21st July 1938 and a distance of  2930 Miles taking 20 hours at 144 mph.

Other sucessful flights from Dundee to South Africa took place as well!

Unfortunately World War Two interrupted the development of this aircraft and Maia was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in Poole Harbour during the Battle of Britain. Following a successfully career as a reconnaissance aircraft Mercury was scrapped in Borstal by Short and recycled into war aircraft.

The German aircraft developers were always interested, and some historians argue too interested, in aircraft design and developmental craft. Fuhrer and Luftwaffe HQ also liked to throw out challenges to their gifted designers to meet possible needs such as the Amerika bomber plans for the hypothetical plan to bomb the USA.

Clearly composite aircraft and the ideas developed in Medway were rapidly picked up by the Luftwaffe during World War Two. This was in two fold.

The first was on exactly the same line of thinking - trans-Atlantic flight for the Amerika bomber. The plan was for a Heinkel He 177 bomber to fly as far out into the Atlantic as possible with a Dornier Do 217 bomber on her back. At the mid-ocean point the Heinkel would release the Dornier who would continue to New York, bomb the target then fly to a pre -arranged point where the crew would bring the craft to a controlled crash landing and be picked up by a U-boat. This project was abandoned as wasteful of material. This clearly drew its ideas from the Mayo-Short composite of fuel conservation although as a one way probably one off attack on an unprepared America.

The Second was the Mistel project. With a large surplus of bomber aircraft that could no longer be economically used, a shortage of bombs and an excess of fighter aircraft the Luftwaffe command and designers came up with the great idea of using Junkers Ju 88 bombers with a modified crew compartment i.e. filled with explosives and a Focke Wulf FW 190 or Messerschmitt Me 109 (as seen in the picture) strapped to the top. Using the Bomber's fuel they would fly out to the target and the fighter would release the lower portion in the same manner as a bomb before flying back to base.

With the production priority production being on fighters there was an excess with too few pilots to fly them and German Bomber design had fallen way behind the Allies by this late point in the war. In fact it was almost suicidal for the Kampflieger to go into battle as their slow, ponderous aircraft were easy targets. Luftwaffe high command much preferred to use strike fighters and modified Junkers 87s and Henschel Hs 129s for attacking armour.

The Mistel were operated by Kampfgeschwader 200 the elite Military intelligence bomber squadron and used against bridges on the Oder during Operation Beethoven to slow the Russian advance with a limited effect.

Heavy and ungainly they offered the pilot little hope if engaged in close combat by fighters and the only escape was to jettison the lower craft and make a run for it as the pilots of KG 200 were bomber pilots and not skilled in dogfighting as their Jagdflieger colleagues. However using the lower aircraft's engines and fuel capacity gave the whole aircraft a much longer range than a lowly single engine fighter.

Other Mistellin projects included an Arado jet propelled bomb with Heinkell He 162 Salamander atop or even a modified Messerschmitt Me 262 airframe packed with explosives with a bomber variant of the Me 262 as the second aircraft. Though swift and deadly as this craft would have been it would have been massively draining of the small amount of resources left to Germany by 1944-5.

There are no known surviving aircraft of this type however one of the composite fighters does still exist and is housed at the Imperial War Museum, London!!! Thankfully I work there so was able to wander out and take some photographs of the underside of the Fw 190 A8 to show you the strut holes.

Here are two of them either side of the Fighter's redundant bomb rack.

Here on the starboard wing is a small "boil" with another strut hole. This was the key to the whole design. Under the boil is a small explosive charge that once triggered by the pilot will separate the two aircraft sending the lower portion to the ground.

No comments:

Post a Comment