Encore 1/72 Ba.349 Natter & Fi.103
KIT #: 1001
PRICE: $7.00 when new
DECALS: One option each
NOTES: Reboxed Heller tooling


Things were desperate for the Third Reich in late 44, and some innovative, if strange, aircraft emerged from that desperation. As a kid obsessed with World War 2, I never knew about the Fi 103 "Reichenberg," a manned version of the V-1. The aircraft was designed for ramming attacks on shipping and other big targets such as strategic bombers, with the pilot bailing out at the final moment, at least in theory. After ejecting the canopy, he would climb out directly in front of an Argus pulse-jet's intake. Good luck with that, lad.

With its one-ton warhead, however, a hit would have been devastating to its target. The Reichenberg project was canceled on Hitler's direct orders, after he was persuaded not to pursue suicide attacks. At the time the plan got scrubbed, pilots had been training to fly the pulse-jet aircraft, which included a two-seater for that purpose.

Unlike this strange suicide weapon, Bachem's Natter was something I knew about as a kid, from way back in the 70s when I found a copy of the provocatively titled German Secret Weapons: Blueprint for Mars. My fascination with World War II can be traced to Ballantine's series of many dozens of titles. On rainy Saturdays like today, when a kid could not do things outside, we geeks built models, played Avalon Hill games, or devoured the Ballantine titles.

To me, the tiny Natter ("Viper") was the star of the book, a vertically launched interceptor. It was truly pint-sized. My Chevy pickup, at 18' long, is half again larger. But size did not matter for a Natter. With a nose full of unguided rockets, 24 73mm Henschel Hs 217 Föhns, or 33 55mm R4Ms, and a flying speed of over 600 mph, on paper it looks deadly.

Using solid-fuel boosters for 10 seconds and a liquid-fuel Walter rocket in the aircraft's fuselage, a Natter pilot would zip to the altitude of the bomber streams, an estimated 7.5 miles high in 62 seconds, make an attack run consisting of looking through a metal gun sight, spraying the formation with a salvo of rockets, then parachuting to safety by pulling a lever which would detach the front of the Natter. A second lever would activate a drogue parachute, slowing the back half of the interceptor, and throw him free. Interesting tidbit in the history of reusable rockets: the Natter's Walter rocket motor, after landing, would be reused just as in the Me-163.

What could possibly go wrong? The one crewed flight of this Rube Goldberg approach to a combat aircraft, on 1 March 1945, ended up with the death of its test pilot, Lothar Sieber. Ballantine's history notes that other Natters were set up for combat when the site was overrun by US forces. Wikipedia adds a detail that three Natters were to be used in combat on 20 April, Hitler's Birthday. The launch pads, however, were not quite ready. If you find yourself in the Hasenholz Wood on holiday, you can see the remains of the launchers, forbidding-looking concrete footings left to crumble in the forest.

I saw the one of two surviving Natters we I visited the Smithsonian's Paul E. Garber facility in Maryland, back in the 90s. Today the Natter is apparently not on public display, but reproductions exist in the US and a restored Natter, painted as a test aircraft, resides at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.


Encore Models, part of Squadron, had the habit of reboxing sometime improved versions of Heller and other subjects. This kit proves no exception. With four medium-gray sprues, one for each aircraft, and one sprue of clear parts, Encore packs a lot into a small box that opens on the ends.

With only 11 parts for the Fi-103 and 29 for the Ba-349, this could truly be a weekend project. Details are petite and raised, with engraved control surfaces, and I've seen some excellent builds, though one example showed the Natter's canopy fitting poorly. I plan to pose it open, as the kit has a two-piece canopy, with a technician getting in. Fitment will await my build review. The Fi-103's tiny canopy is one piece. The kit's Natter nose-cap is clear, which I'll overpaint, as on the actual vehicle. In my diorama I plan to pose it on a cart with a worker servicing the craft's nose before it launches. That will let me display the rockets under the cap.

The decal sheet is printed by Scalemates, including little seat belts. Given the age, I'll scan the decals before coating them with Microscale's liquid decal film before I try to put them on the kits. Instructions show a clear and simple process for assembly. Both kits include nice display stands that I'll work into a diorama as wooden supports to hold these two strange birds.

With a pang of nostalgia, as I unboxed the kit I saw a receipt dated October 1993, about the time I started building kits seriously again after grad school. I'd scored the model at The Hobby Center, which had been Bob's, my childhood dealer of kits. Bob had moved his business at that point to a new and, frankly, nicer location. It's long gone of course; so this will be my final Bob's kit in this life, anyhow. Along with MM's frequent contributor Spiros Pendedekas I share a history of seeing my favorite local shops go out of business, one by one. Thus I'll be saving that receipt in my display case. As for the kit, I stored it in a larger top-opening box, as I plan to build both subjects soon for a diorama and don't want to lose tiny and hard-to-source parts.


Both of these subjects are crazy enough to make the Me-163 Komet look like a sensible aircraft. Yet both were ready for operational use. Had a few decisions been different, they would have been used in Germany's last-ditch efforts to stop the Allied bomber offensive.

If you like Whiffers and Luft-46 subjects, you can have a lot of fun for Natter-sized money with these two well made kits. You can find Encore's boxing online for reasonable prices, and it was last issued in the early 2000s.


ord, Brian. German Secret Weapons: Blueprint for Mars. New York, Ballantine, 1969.

National Air & Space Museum, "Bachem Ba 349 B-1 Natter (Viper)" https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/bachem-ba-349-b-1-natter-viper/nasm_A19600313000

Wikipedia pages on the Fi-103 and Ba 349A.

Joe Essid

March 2024

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