"Hitler’s Stealth Fighter" Re-created

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Nazi Wunderwaffenmiracle weapons — continue to sing their siren song. Now Nat Geo has brought together a team of Northrop Grumman contractors to rebuild a replica Ho 2-29 — a jet-powered plane built primarily of wood and shaped like a modern stealth fighter — from the original blueprints:

Lead designer Reimar Horten was a glider designer “obsessed with the all-wing [design] because of the possibilities it created for low drag and exceptional performance,” said Florida-based aviation historian David Myhra, who interviewed the Horten pair numerous times from the early 1980s until their deaths in the late 1990s.

Walter Horten was a military man who had lost hundreds of Luftwaffe colleagues during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

“That loss never left him to the day he died,” said Myhra, author of The Horten Brothers and Their All-Wing Aircraft.

“He was burning with revenge and felt the need for a plane that would be pretty much invisible to Britain’s Chain Home radar system. That’s what he wanted his brother to design.”

The result of their collaboration was unique among Luftwaffe designs.

“It has no vertical surfaces for stability or control. Every exterior surface of that aircraft contributes lift,” said Russell Lee, curator for the only remaining Horten 2-29 aircraft, at the National Air and Space Museum’s Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility outside Washington, D.C.

“That had been tried before and failed time and time again,” Lee said. “Reimar Horten took the idea further and made it more practical than any other designer really up until the B-2.”

In the end, Hitler’s stealth fighter wasn’t especially stealthy:

“This design gave them just about a 20 percent reduction in radar range detection over a conventional fighter of the day,” Dobrenz said.

According to tests on the replica, World War II British radar would have picked up the Horten over the English Channel at about 80 miles (129 kilometers) out, versus 100 miles (160 kilometers) for a conventional World War II fighter.

But because of the Ho 2-29′s tremendous speed, the time from detection to target—the British mainland—would have been lowered from the usual 19 minutes to just 8 minutes, making it difficult for Allied defenders to respond.

“Probably, for at least a short amount of time, it could have been a game changer, until a counter was developed for it,” Dobrenz said.

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