Thursday, April 1, 2010
Did the Nazis almost succeed in building the world's first stealth fighter at the very end of World War II? I'd never heard anything about that before. Usually when there's any mention of Nazi super-weapons under development at the end of WWII (so-called "Wunderwaffen"), you hear about the V-2 rocket, or, as you head into the realm of the X-Files, maybe that supposedly gravity-defying, bell-shaped UFO device called "Die Glocke."
But I recently watched a 1 hour documentary on the National Geographic Channel about the Horten 229, a prototype German fighter made almost entirely of wood, including a plywood skin. The only surviving version of the plane, the v3, was captured by the Allies at the end of the War and is now being stored by the Smithsonian in a warehouse outside Washington, D.C. In this documentary, a group of engineers from Northrop Grumman painstakingly reconstruct a life-size model of the fighter. Then they take it out to a secret testing facility in the California desert and perform real-life radar tests on it to see whether it did, in fact, have "stealth-like" characteristics.
The 229 looks amazingly futuristic for a plane built 65 years ago, as you can see from the photo below of the new replica built for the show. I thought that the whole documentary was fascinating, including the explanation of why this might have been such a "killer app" given Britain's radar defenses at the time. If you're interested in seeing what the remains of the original German Horton 229 v3 look like today in that Smithsonian warehouse, you can watch a 3 minute clip from the show by clicking HERE.