Revell AG 1/48 Me-163B 'Komet'

KIT:

Revell AG 1/48 Me-163B 'Komet'

KIT #

?

PRICE:

$?

DECALS:

Two Aircraft

REVIEWER:

Tom Cleaver

NOTES:

Ex-Dragon/DML kit

HISTORY

      Alexander Lippisch had a long history in creating tailless or all-wing gliders during the 1920s, leading to the creation of some of the most high-performance gliders ever seen.  His first involvement with rocket power was in 1928, when he used solid-fuel rockets as a method for launching a glider.  In the 1930s, Lippisch worked with the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fur Segelflug - the German Glider Research Institute - in developing even more advanced gliders and powered aircraft. (Editor's note: there is some conjecture that much of Lippisch's tail-less research was, shall we say, borrowed from the work of the Horton brothers who worked at DFS about the same time.) In 1938, he was asked by the RLM to research the application of Helmuth Walter's bi-fuel controllable rocket motor for aircraft propulsion.  The D.F.S. did not have the facilities for construction of such an aircraft, and Lippisch began his association with Messerschmitt in January 1939.  The result of this work was the development of the Me-163 rocket-powered point-defense interceptor, later that year. (Equally as intriguing is that Messerschmitt wanted nothing to do with the Me-163 so dragged his feet on the project as much as he possibly could. It is only through the tenacity of the design team that the plane was even built. Even after that, Messerschmitt pawned off construction of nearly all the planes on Klemm and other builders, and continuously failed to provide any technical assistance when problems arose. Ed)

          German military successes in 1939-40 slowed the development of the Me-163A, which did not fly until August 13, 1941.  By September, speeds of 500 m.p.h. were achieved with ground takeoffs.  Test pilot Heini Dittmar complained that the fuel supply was so small that the aircraft was still accelerating when it ran out of fuel.  On October 2, 1941, Me-163A CD+IM was towed aloft by a Bf-110 over Peenemunde and cast loose at 13,000 feet, where Dittmar switched on the motor.  At approximately 600 m.p.h., Dittmar lost control due to compressibility effects.  As it plunged into a dive, he turned off the engine and regained control and executed a normal landing.  Technical instruments showed he had achieved 623.85 m.p.h., or Mach 0.84 - the fastest speed ever achieved by an aircraft to that date.

      The Me-163B was designed in 1941.  Armed with two 30mm cannon and carrying an increased fuel load, it was to be an operational point defense fighter.  The Me-163B V1 was first flown on June 26, 1942 in unpowered flight.  The first powered flight occurred on February 21, 1943, using the "cold" R II-209 rocket motor. These motors were extremely dangerous, since they were fueled with "T-Stoff" (80% hydrogen peroxide) and "C Stoff" (an aqueous solution of sodium permanganate), which literally exploded when brought into contact with each other; even a minute quantity could cause a fatal explosion.

     The 8th Air Force raid on the Messerschmitt factory at Regensburg on August 17, 1943, was nearly fatal to the Me-163 program, with 11 Me-163B-0s destroyed.  The factory was dispersed and major construction responsibility for the Me-163 was given to Klemm, a small company inexperienced in modern mass-production aircraft construction techniques. Though Junkers would later be brought in to manage production, the problems would never be successfully resolved. The RAF raid that same night on the Peenemunde research station resulted in the Me-163 program being moved to another research station in eastern Germany; both of these events delayed production and introduction of the fighter operationally.  The first operational unit was formed in January 1944.  Hauptmann Wolfgang Spate - the man more responsible than anyone for the success the program ever achieved - wanted to set up rings of large bases within gliding distance of each other athwart the major bomber routes in western, north-western and northern Germany for use by the proposed force of 1,000 Me-163s scheduled to be operational by the summer of 1944.

      Fortunately for the Allied air campaign, Klemm was completely incapable of achieving the necessary production rate and the definitive Walter 109-509 rocket engine continued to prove difficult to use.  Initial tests showed that as the aircraft nosed over from its initial zoom climb, the engine would shut off prematurely, which was traced to an automatic cutoff for the T-Stoff and C-Stoff; as the aircraft nosed over, the fuel sloshed in the tanks and the fuel outlet of one or the other would become air locked, with the result that the automatic system cut off the engine to prevent explosion. Rules for takeoff were that if the pilot was not airborne at the first marker on the field, he could shut off the engine and come to a stop; if not airborne by the second marker, the pilot was to open the canopy, climb onto the wing and pull his ripcord to escape, because, when the aircraft crashed at the end of the field, an explosion was inevitable when the two fuels came together.  If all the fuel was not used in flight, there was also the possibility of an explosion on touchdown.

      On May 13, 1944, Spate flew the first combat mission from Bad Zwischenahn in the Me-163B V41. As he began an attack on two P-47s, he inadvertently maneuvered the airplane so that the engine cut out.  With two P-47s above and the two ahead, he maintained his glide for the two minutes it took for the engine to clear for a re-start, which he achieved without harm.  As he closed in again at an indicated airspeed of 550 m.p.h., the Me-163 suddenly snapped to the left and began vibrating due to compressibility.  Spate had just run into "the sound barrier" and exceeded his Me-163s limiting Mach number!  Spate was able to regain control as the airplane slowed, and made a successful landing. Five other missions were flown in May; none were successful in intercepting enemy aircraft.

      The Me-163 was first used against USAAF bombers on July 28, 1944, when four from EK16 - the development unit - were encountered by the P-51 escort; one other made an attack on a damaged B-17 escorted by P-38s of the 479th FG.  The 8th Air Force visited Bad Zwischenahn on August 15, badly damaging the base and reducing the number of serviceable Me-163s to six; further flights could not be made until mid-September.

      While the Me-163 was a good gun platform, it was difficult for any but the most experienced pilot to make a successful attack, since it was necessary to make the approach at 550-580 m.p.h. to outrun the escorts, giving a closing rate on the bombers of 500 feet per second.  Accurate fire could only be opened at ranges under 650 yards.  To avoid the possibility of collision, the pilot had to break off the attack and commence a dive no closer than 200 yards to the target.  This gave him less than two seconds to assess range and deflection, and less than one second to open fire.

      I/JG400 - the first operational unit - had its most successful sortie on August 24, 1944, when Feldwebel Schubert and his wingman shot down a B-17.  Other Me-163s of the unit shot down an additional 3 B-17s.  Two days later the factory producing the C-Stoff was destroyed by Allied bombing, while several tanker trains of fuel were lost to air attacks. From late September on, only occasional missions could be flown as a result of these events.  Winter knocked the me-163 out of service, since it could only be flown in conditions of good visibility. A few missions were flown against reconnaissance aircraft in the spring of 1945, but there were no claimed victories. 

    On May 8, 1945, Hauptman Rudolf Opitz's II/JG400 surrendered with 48 Me-163Bs to the RAF Regiment in Schleswig-Holstein.  25 of these aircraft were taken over by the British, with four handed over to the French.  Others found in Bavaria were taken by US forces, while an unknown number were captured at the Junkers factory by the Soviets.

      The Germans had provided the Me-163 to the Japanese in 1944, transporting plans by U-boat.  The J8M1 Shusui was approaching flight status at the end of the Pacific War; it became the first airplane acquired by Ed Maloney when he purchased it for $100 as scrap from NAS Los Alamitos in 1947 and is today on display at The Air Museum, Planes of Fame. Ten other Me-163s exist at other museums around the world. (An interesting note on the J8M is that blueprints for the plane and tooling were sent on one sub and a broken down 163 on another. The ship with the blueprints was sunk en-route so the J8M was basically built by reverse engineering the extant 163 airframe. Ed)

THE KIT

     Hawk first released an Me-163B 1/48 kit in the late 1950s. It has been re-released over the years by Testors and Italerei. While crude by today's standards, it is essentially accurate in outline and can be turned into a good model with some scratchbuilding and modification. Flashback Models released an accurate Me-163A in this scale in 1998; while now out of production, it is worth getting hold of if you find it on a dealer's table.   Trimaster first released their 1/48 Me-163B in about 1992.  When they went out of business, the molds were obtained by DML, who released the kit until the mid-1990s.  Through their deal with DML, Hasegawa has released this kit as a Japan-only product.  The kit is now released by Revell of Germany and can be found at mail order shops.

      This kit is accurate and well-detailed.  As a DML release, it had photo-etch parts including the seat belts, though these are probably not included by Revell of Germany.  The decals are not great, but provide two different aircraft of I and II/JG400. Aeromaster released a sheet for the Me-163 and He-162, which is very good, providing three Me-163s and 3 He-162s; the sheet has been out of production for several years but may be re-released in the future.

CONSTRUCTION

     The kit is fiddly, as are most Trimaster/Dragon kits, which were originally designed for "advanced" modelers.  Following the instructions and applying "some modeling skills required," things go together easily.  The kit can be assembled with the tail section separate to display the HWK-509 rocket motor, and has a very well-done takeoff trolley.  Using this and the lowered skid are the only way to display the model, and they are quite fragile.  I have repaired both skid and trolley several times when the model has been nudged on the shelf, resulting an a quick break of one joint or another. 

     The cockpit is as detailed as one needs.  With the canopy Futured, it can easily be displayed on the closed position - which then shows the smooth lines of the airframe to best effect - without losing the ability to see the nice cockpit inside.

CAMOUFLAGE & MARKINGS

Painting:

      I first painted the upper wings with RLM81 Braunviolett and RLM82 Lichtlgrun.  When this was dry, I masked off the upper wings and painted the whole fuselage and lower wings RLM76 Lichtblau, then dappled the fuselage with RLM81 and RLM 82, per a photograph of the airplane I was doing.  When this was all dry I Futured the model and was ready for decals.

 Decals:

      I used the Aeroclub sheet to do an Me-163 "White 18" of I/JG400. There were no problems with the decals, which went down under a coat of Micro-Sol.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

      The Me-163 was covered with a thick coat of polish to increase its speed.  I applied a second coat of Future to finish this. The takeoff trolley was then attached to the lowered landing skid.

CONCLUSIONS

     It is good to hear that this kit is now being re-released, as this is the most accurate kit of this airplane ever produced.  The me-163 may never have lived up to the operational expectations of its creators, but it was an important airplane in the history of technological development. Its tailless design was later used on the D.H.108, the first British airplane to achieve supersonic speed in 1948. 

Kit courtesy of my wallet.

January 2003

REFERENCES

I know that Tom doesn't usually do references, but there is no better book than the Classic Publications Me-163 book, volume 1 of which was released in 2002. Ed

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