The Bachem Ba 349 Natter
(Viper, Adder) was a World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...
Point-defence is the defence of a single object or a limited area, e.g. a ship, building or an airfield, now usually against air attacks and guided missiles...
rocket powered interceptor
An interceptor aircraft is a type of fighter aircraft designed specifically to prevent missions of enemy aircraft, particularly bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Interceptors generally rely on high speed and powerful armament in order to complete their mission as quickly as possible and set up...
, which was to be used in a very similar way to a manned surface-to-air missile
A surface-to-air missile or ground-to-air missile is a missile designed to be launched from the ground to destroy aircraft or other missiles...
. After vertical take-off, which eliminated the need for airfields, the majority of the flight to the Allied bombers was to be controlled by an autopilot. The primary mission of the relatively untrained pilot, perhaps better called a gunner, was to aim the aircraft at its target bomber and fire its armament of rockets. The pilot and the fuselage containing the rocket motor would then land under separate parachutes, while the nose section was disposable. The only manned vertical take-off flight on 1 March 1945 ended in the death of the test pilot Lothar Sieber
Lothar Sieber was a German test pilot who was killed in the first vertical take-off manned rocket flight, in a Bachem Ba 349 "Natter"....
In 1943 with Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....
air superiority being challenged by the Allies even over the Reich, radical innovations were required to overcome the crisis. Surface-to-air missiles appeared to be a promising approach to counter the Allied bombing offensive and a variety of projects started, but invariably problems with the guidance and homing systems prevented any of these from attaining operational status. Providing the missile with a pilot, who could operate a weapon during the brief terminal approach phase, offered a solution. Submissions for a simple target defence interceptor were requested by the Luftwaffe
in early 1944 under the umbrella of the Emergency Fighter Program. A number of simple designs were proposed including the "Julia" in which the pilot was prone to reduce the frontal area. The "Julia" was the front-runner for the contract. The initial plan was to launch the aircraft vertically, but later this concept was changed to a conventional horizontal take-off.
Erich Bachem's BP-20 (Natter) was a development from a design he had worked on at Fieseler, the Fi 166
In the early 1940s, Erich Bachem, Fieseler's Aircraft's technical manager, developed two designs for a rocket-launched fighter that could reach high altitudes quicker than conventional fighters.-Design One:...
concept, but considerably more radical than the other submissions. It was built using glued and nailed wooden parts with an armour plate bulkhead and bulletproof glass windshield at the front of the cockpit. The initial plan was to power the machine with a Walter HWK 109-509 A2 rocket motor, however, only the 109-509 A1 unit was available as used in the Me 163 rocket aircraft. It had a sea level thrust of 1,700 kg. Four Schmidding SG34 solid fuel rocket boosters were also used at launch to provide an additional thrust of 1,200 × 4 = 4,800 kg for 10 seconds before they were jettisoned. The experimental prototypes slid up a 20 m high vertical steel launch tower for a maximum sliding length of 17 m in three guideways, one for each wing tip and one for the lower tip of the ventral tail fin. By the time they left the tower it was hoped that the aircraft would have achieved sufficient speed to allow their aerodynamic surfaces to provide stable flight.
Under operational conditions once the Natter had left the launcher it would be guided to the proximity of the Allied bombers by an autopilot with the possibility of added beam guidance similar to that used in some V-2 rocket launches. Only then would the pilot take control, aim and fire the armament, which was originally proposed to be a salvo of 19 R4M rockets. Later, 28 R4Ms were suggested. The aircraft would fly up and over the bombers by which time its Walter motor would probably be out of propellants. The pilot would dive his Natter, now effectively a glider, to an altitude of around 3,000 m, flatten out, release the nose of the Natter and a small braking parachute from the rear fuselage. The fuselage would decelerate and the pilot would be ejected forwards by his own inertia and land by a personal parachute.
In an early proposal in August 1944, the Natter design had a concrete nose and it was suggested that the machine might ram a bomber, but this proposal was subsequently withdrawn in later Project Natter outlines. Bachem stated clearly in the initial proposal that the Natter was not a suicide weapon and much effort went into designing safety features for the pilot.
The design had one decisive advantage over its competitors – it eliminated the necessity to land an unpowered gliding machine at an airbase, which, as the history of the Me163 rocket aircraft had clearly demonstrated, made an aircraft extremely vulnerable to attack by Allied fighters.
Bachem's design caught the eye of Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...
. The Reichsführer-SS granted Bachem an interview and fully supported the project. In the middle of September 1944 the Technical Office of the Waffen-SS made an order for Bachem to develop and manufacture the Natter at his Waldsee factory. In December 1944 the project came largely under the control of the SS and Hans Kammler
General Dr Ing. Hans Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler was a civil engineer and high-ranking officer of the SS. He oversaw SS construction projects, and towards the end of World War II was put in charge of the V-2 missile programme.He is most commonly referred to as Heinz Kammler or Hans...
. This decision is said to have been the only time the SS significantly interfered with aircraft design and air fighting strategy. Early in the project the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) undertook an engineering assessment of the Natter, which it reported on 28 October 1944. Various stringent economies were imposed on an already frugal design.
The Natter had no landing gear, which saved weight, expense and construction time. Consequently one of the most unusual features of the machine was the escape of the pilot and recovery of the machine. The proposed sequence of these events was as follows: After the attack, the Natter dives to a lower altitude and flattens out into level flight. The pilot then proceeds with a well-practised escape sequence. He opens the cockpit canopy latch; the canopy flicks backwards on its hinge in the airstream; he undoes his seat belt and removes his feet from the rudder pedal stirrups. By squeezing a lever mounted on the control column, he releases a lock at the base of the column, which allows him to tilt the column forwards where it engages in and undoes a safety latch for the nose release mechanism. He then leans a little further forward and pulls a lever hinged near the floor at the front of the cockpit. This action frees the nose section, which flies off as a result of the reduced aerodynamic pressure at the front of the fuselage. As the nose section separates, it pulls briefly on two cables that release a small ribbon parachute stored on the starboard side of the rear fuselage. The parachute opens and decelerates the Natter. The pilot is ejected from the cockpit by his own inertia and as soon as he is clear of the fuselage, he opens his personal parachute and descends to the ground.
Although it was originally planned to recover the Walter liquid propulsion unit, which was probably the most expensive single component of the machine, using two salvage parachutes, associated problems were still not fully resolved prior to the war's end.
Professor Wilhelm Fucks reportedly calculated the Natter's aerodynamics at the Technische Hochschule, Aachen using a large analog computer. Wind tunnel testing on a wooden model, scaled at 1:2.5, was performed at the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL), Institute for Aerodynamics at Berlin-Aldershof in September 1944 at speeds up to 504 km/h. Results from these tests were reported in January 1945 to the Bachem-Werk. Further model tests were carried out at Luftfahrtforchungsanstalt Hermann Göring (LFA), Braunschweig at speeds close to Mach 1. In March the Bachem-Werk simply received a statement that satisfactory flying qualities should be expected with speeds up to 1,100 km/h.
Construction of the first experimental prototype Natter, Versuchsmuster 1, was completed on 4 October 1944. V1 was subsequently referred to as Baumuster1 (BM1) and later still the "B" was dropped and the machine became known as M1. Most subsequent prototypes were known by ‘M’ codes, as the later prototypes of the Heinkel He 162
The Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger was a German single-engine, jet-powered fighter aircraft fielded by the Luftwaffe in World War II. Designed and built quickly, and made primarily of wood as metals were in very short supply and prioritised for other aircraft, the He 162 was nevertheless the fastest of...
were. Manned glider flights began on 3 November 1944. The first glider M1 was towed to around 3,000 m by a Heinkel He 111
The Heinkel He 111 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried and Walter Günter in the early 1930s in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Often described as a "Wolf in sheep's clothing", it masqueraded as a transport aircraft, but its purpose was to provide the Luftwaffe with a fast medium...
bomber with a cable (Tragschlepp mode) at Neuburg an der Donau
Neuburg an der Donau, literally Neuburg on the Danube River, is a town which is the capital of the Neuburg-Schrobenhausen district in the state of Bavaria in Germany.-Divisions:The municipality has 16 divisions:-History:...
. The pilot was Erich Klöckner who made all four of documented Tragschlepp flights. After carrying out the test programme of M1, he bailed out and the machine was smashed on landing. Unfortunately it was found that the towing cable, and in the case of M3 the undercarriage, interfered with the flight characteristics of the gliders and consequently the results were difficult to interpret. To clear any lingering doubts about the Natter in the glider mode, Hans Zübert made a daring free flight in M8 on the 14 February and showed that the Natter was indeed a very good flying machine.
The vertical take-off (VTO) trials were conducted on high ground called the Ocksenkopf
in the Truppenubungsplatz (military training area) Heuberg near Stetten am kalten Markt. The first successful unmanned vertical take-off from the experimental launch tower occurred on 22 December 1944. The distance between the Bachem factory at Waldsee, Württemberg and the Heuberg test site was approximately 60 km. The test machine M16 was powered by four solid boosters only, without the Walter motor, as were all the early VTO trials. Up to and including 1 March 1945, 16 prototypes had been used, eight in glider trials and eight in VTO trials.
Manned VTO test flight
By January 1945 Bachem was under pressure from the authorities in Berlin to carry out a manned VTO flight by the end of February. On 25 February M22 was in the experimental launch tower. It was as complete an operational machine as possible with the Walter HWK 109-509 A1 motor installed for the first time. A dummy pilot was in the cockpit. The lift off from the tower was perfect. The engineers and ground crew watched spellbound as M22 ascended under the combined power of the four Schmidding boosters and the Walter motor, an estimated total thrust of 6,500 kg (64 kN or 14,330 lbs). The nose separated as programmed and the dummy pilot descended "safely" under its personal parachute. The remainder of the fuselage came to ground under its two large salvage parachutes but when it hit the ground the residual propellants exploded and the machine was destroyed.
Despite Bachem’s concerns that the test programme had been cut short significantly, on 1 March a young volunteer Luftwaffe
test pilot, Lothar Sieber, climbed into the cockpit of the fully fuelled M23. The aircraft was equipped with an FM transmitter for the purpose of transmitting flight data from various monitoring sensors in the machine.
There is no evidence that this transmitter was used for one-way pilot voice communication. A hard wire intercom appears to have been provided between Sieber and the engineers in the launch bunker using a system similar to that used in the manned glider flights. Around 1100 am M23 was ready for take-off. Low stratus clouds lay over the Ocksenkopf. The Walter motor built up to full thrust and Sieber pushed the button to ignite the four solid boosters. With a roar, the M23 rose out of a cloud of steam and rocket smoke straight up displaying its camouflage paintwork. At about 100 to 150 m altitude, the Natter suddenly pitched backwards into an inverted curved flight. Initially it climbed at about 30º to the vertical. At about 500 m, the cockpit canopy was seen to fly off. The Natter continued to climb now at high speed at an angle of 15º from the horizontal and disappeared into the clouds. The Walter motor stalled at this time, about 15 seconds after take-off. It is estimated that the Natter reached 1,500 m at which point it nose dived and hit the ground with great force about 32 seconds later some km from the launch site. Unknown to the engineers at the time, one of the Schmidding boosters failed to jettison. Its remains were dug up at the crash site in 1998.
Bachem surmised that Sieber had involuntarily pulled back on the control column under the effect of the 3 G acceleration. Examination of the canopy, which fell near the launch site, showed that the tip of the latch was bent suggesting that it may not have been in the fully closed position at launch. Most unfortunately the pilot’s headrest had been attached to the underside of the canopy and as the canopy flew off the pilot’s head would have flicked back suddenly for a distance of about 25 cm hitting the solid wooden backboard either knocking Sieber unconscious or breaking his neck.
This tragedy reinforced Bachem's long held belief that the take-off and flight to the vicinity of the target bombers should be fully automated. The canopy latch was strengthened and the headrest was attached to the backboard of the cockpit. Before the introduction of the autopilot in the test programme, the control column would have a temporary locking device on it, which would allow the machine to ascend vertically to at least 1,000 m and then be removed by the pilot. The Walter motor probably ceased operation because the Natter was virtually upside-down and air may have entered the intake pipes in the propellant tanks starving the motor. Tragic as the outcome was for Sieber, he became the first man to take off vertically from the ground by pure rocket power, years before the flights of Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard. He had entered the history books on the steps to manned space flight.
Much debate has surrounded the number of Natters built at the Bachem-Werk and their disposition. According to Bachem 36 Natters were produced at the Bachem-Werk in Waldsee by the end of the war. Up to April 1945, 17 aircraft had been used in unmanned trials comprising five gliders, all slung under an He 111 in the Mistelschlepp configuration prior to launch, and 12 VTO examples. Five aircraft were prepared for manned trials, four gliders and one VTO version. M3 was flown twice, and then rebuilt at which time it was given the new code BM3a but was never flown. The total number of launches to early April 1945 was 22 as was the total number of Natters constructed to that time. Bachem reported further that there were 14 more finished or almost finished aircraft in April 1945. Four of these were prototype A1 operational Natters built for test launching from a wooden pole launcher, which had been designed for field deployment. This new launcher was also constructed on the Heuberg not far from the experimental steel tower. There is documentary evidence for two pole launches in April but not three as claimed by Bachem in his post-war presentation. The documentation for this third flight may have been destroyed by the SS at war’s end. Ten A1 operational Natters, called K-Maschinen, were constructed for the Krokus-Einsatz (Operation Crocus).
The fate of these 14 A1 Natters was as follows:
Three were fired from the pole launcher according to Bachem, four were burnt at Waldsee, two were burnt at Lager Schlatt, Oetztal, Austria, four were captured by U.S. troops at St. Leonhard in the Pitztal, Austria and one, which had been sent as a sample model to a new factory in Thuringia, was captured by the Russians.Consequently, the total of 36 test and operational aircraft constructed at the Bachem-Werk can be accounted for. However, Natter carcases were used for a variety of ground based purposes, for example, static booster rocket, armament and strength testing and pilot seat position tests. Some fuselages were reused after flight testing, for example, the M5, 6 and 7.
Of the four Natters captured at St. Leonhard, Austria, two went to the United States. Only one original Natter built in Germany in the Second World War survives in storage at the Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. The final disposition of the other Natter brought to the US is unknown. There is no documentary evidence that a Natter was ever flown from Muroc Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base
Edwards Air Force Base is a United States Air Force base located on the border of Kern County, Los Angeles County, and San Bernardino County, California, in the Antelope Valley. It is southwest of the central business district of North Edwards, California and due east of Rosamond.It is named in...
). The tail section of one of the Natters at St. Leonhard was broken off while it still rested on its trailer. The remaining machine was possibly destroyed when the CIOS Field Team left the area. Despite being promised one of these Natters, there is no evidence that a machine ever reached UK shores.
In early February 1945 the positions of the centre of gravity for the A1 operational machine during its flight profile were giving the RLM and the SS cause for concern. They wanted these figures to be decided upon for the upcoming construction of the A1 aircraft for Krokus-Einsatz (Operation Crocus), the field deployment of the Natter. The position of the centre of gravity (c. of g.) is expressed as a percentage of the chord (distance between the leading and trailing edges) of the main wing. Thus 0% is the leading edge and 100% is the trailing edge. In the manned glider trials the c. of g. had been varied between 20 and 34%. At a meeting of engineers held on 8 February, the variations in the c. of g. expected in the A1 Krokus machine were discussed. At take-off with the weight of the four solid boosters the c. of g. would be brought back to 65%, but after releasing these rockets it would move forwards to 22%. The free flight by Zübert on 14 February had showed unequivocally that the little Natter had excellent flying characteristics as a glider. The c. of g. problem was solved initially by the addition of one metre square auxiliary tailfins that were released simultaneously with the jettisoning of the boosters. The Krokus aircraft had vanes that would direct the Walter rocket exhaust gases so as to assist vehicle stabilisation at low speed similar to those used in the V-2 rocket.
French forces were in place in Waldsee by 25 April 1945 and presumably took control of the Bachem-Werk. Shortly before the French troops arrived, a group of Bachem-Werk personnel set out for Austria with five A1 Natters on trailers. At Bad Wörishofen, the group waited for another group retreating from Nabern unter Teck with one completed Natter. Both groups then set out for the Austrian Alps. One group with two Natters ended up at the junction of the Inn River and a tributary, the Oetztaler Ache, at Camp Schlatt. The other group went to St. Leonhard in the beautiful Pitztal with four aircraft. US troops captured the first group at Camp Schlatt around 4 May and the second group on the following day.
At some time during the project, the Bachem-Werk was ordered to give complete details of the BP-20 (Natter) to the Japanese, but there was doubt over whether they had received these details. They were, however, known to have a general knowledge of the Natter and showed considerable interest in the project.
Operation Krokus launch pads at Hasenholz wood
An operational launch site for the first A1 operational Natters under the code name Operation Krokus was being established in a small wooded area called Hasenholz just south of the Stuttgart to Munich autobahn and just east of Nabern unter Teck. Around the end of February and the beginning of March the Todt Organisation was in action constructing the three concrete foundations for the pole launchers. These three launch pads were arranged at the corners of an equilateral triangle, 120 m on a side. The specific locations are said to be 48°37′42.2"N 9°29′57.4"E, 48°37′42"N 9°29′53.5"E and 48°37′39.8"N 9°29′54"E. In the center of each of the three concrete plates is a square hole approximately 50 centimeters deep, which once served as the foundation for the launch tower. Beside each hole is a pipe, cut off at ground level, which was probably once a cable pit. These three concrete pads were noticed by a surveyor in autumn 1945, but not rediscovered until 1999. In March 1945 eight pilots, who were experienced, mostly highly decorated and volunteers for the first operational flights, started training at the Heuberg. This training continued until the first half of April at which time they moved to the Hasenholz operational area. The first three manned and fully armed A1 Krokus examples were scheduled to be launched from 20 April, which was Hitler’s birthday. But on that day the US 10th Armoured Division drove its tanks into Kirchheim unter Teck to the northwest of Hasenholz wood. The next day it crossed the autobahn and headed straight for the Natter operational area. The Natter group subsequently retreated to Waldsee.
Survivor and replicas
Only one original A1 Natter survives and is stored in the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland, USA. The evidence supports the proposition that this machine was captured at St. Leonhard in the Pitztal, Austria in May 1945 by US troops. It is in a poor state of repair and is no longer accessible to the general public. The Natter displayed at the Deutsches Museum is said to have been reconstructed partly from sub-assemblies that survived the end of the war. This machine is of the experimental type as launched from the steel tower and is painted to look like M17. There are several replicas of Natters around the world, for example at the "Planes of Fame", Chino, California and "Fantasy of Flight", Polk City, Florida, USA.