Thursday, 1 October 2015

Messerschmitt Me163 Komet. Part 3: Flying Me163. Compiler: Luis German Dzib Aguilar

Flying the Me 163 

Captain Eric Brown RN, Chief Naval Test Pilot and commanding officer of the Captured Enemy Aircraft Flight, who tested the Me 163 at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough, said, "The Me 163 was an aeroplane that you could not afford to just step into the aircraft and say 'You know, I'm going to fly it to the limit.' You had very much to familiarise yourself with it because it was state-of-the-art and the technology used."
(36) Acting unofficially, after a spate of accidents involving Allied personnel flying captured German aircraft resulted in official disapproval of such flights, Brown was determined to fly a powered Komet. On around 17 May 1945, he flew an Me 163B at Husum with the help of a cooperative German ground crew, after initial towed flights in an Me 163A to familiarise himself with the handling.
The day before the flight, Brown and his ground crew had performed an engine run on the chosen Me 163B to ensure that everything was running correctly, the German crew being apprehensive should an accident befall Brown, until being given a disclaimer signed by him to the effect that they were acting under his orders. On the rocket-powered "scharfen-start" takeoff the next day, after dropping the takeoff dolly and retracting the skid, Brown later described the resultant climb as "like being in charge of a runaway train", the aircraft reaching 32,000 ft (9.76 km) altitude in 2 minutes, 45 seconds. During the flight, while practicing attacking passes at an imaginary bomber, he was surprised at how well the Komet accelerated in the dive with the engine shut down. When the flight was over Brown had no problems on the approach to the airfield, apart from the rather restricted view from the cockpit due to the flat angle of glide, the aircraft touching down at 125 mph. Once down safely, Brown and his much-relieved ground crew celebrated with a drink. (37)
Apart from Brown's unauthorised flight, the British never tested the Me 163 under power themselves; due to the danger of its hypergolic propellants it was only flown unpowered. Brown himself piloted RAE's Komet VF241 on a number of occasions, the rocket motor being replaced with test instrumentation. When interviewed for a 1990s television programme, Brown said he had flown five tailless aircraft in his career (including the British de Havilland DH 108). Referring to the Komet, he said "this is the only one that had good flight characteristics"; he called the other four "killers". (38)

Me 163 pilots (39)

Hans Bott 

Hans Bott sitting in a Komet at Brandis in 1944. He was the designer of the famous 'Wie ein Floh, aber oho!' emblem of the 2. Staffel of JG400. Photo kindly supplied by George Lucas, who received them from Hans-Hermann Camman
Hans Bott sitting in…

 Manfred Eisenmann

Manfred Eisenmann photographed on the shore of lake Zwischenahn. Eisenmann was killed in a Komet crash.

 Herbert Frömert
In May 2003, I received an e-mail from Uwe Frömert, grandson of Herbert Frömert. Uwe is researching his grandfathers Luftwaffe career, which included Komet flying at the end of the war. But no Komet reference so far listed his name. I was happy to report him that the new Ransom/Cammann book does list the name Frömert, although with the first name misspelled as 'Heribert'. Uwe was kind enough to scan the last two pages of his grandfather's flight log, that show his Komet involvement, and a hitherto unknown photo of Komet White 11. For security reasons, Herbert Frömert didn't tell much to his family, even after the war. He was captured by British troops at the end of the war, and remained in captivity until August 1945. A small piece of Herbert Frömert's Luftwaffe career can be found on this extensive The Luftwaffe, 1933-45 site. It lists 'Hptm Froemert' as the commander of Verbindungskommando (S) 2 from 5.42 to 10.43(?). Uwe is very interested in hearing from anyone who can tell him more about his grandfather's career in the Luftwaffe.
According to the Ransom/Cammann book, Hptm Frömert was 'Einsatzoffizier (Ia)' with II./JG400. The flight log entries confim II. Gruppe. According to Uwe, an 'Einsatzoffizier' is responsible for the training of the pilots, mission and armaments planning, and liaison with weather services and with maintenance. 
Manfred Eisenmann

Flight logs 

Uwe Frömert kindly provided scans of his grandfathers flight logs. Interestingly, two flight logs survived, one showing unpowered flights, and the 'standard' flight log that shows powered flights. The former provides an insight into Komet flight training never seen before. The latter also shows many interesting details. Firstly, it probably shows a typical Komet training program, with two (or three) starts with half-full tanks, and one with full tanks. Three 'operational' flights followed before the war ended. Secondly, it is clear that Hauptmann Frömert was with the II. Gruppe of JG400. After training at Brandis, he went to Stargard, and then took part in the many relocations of II./JG400, to Bad Zwischenahn, Nordholz and finally Husum. Thirdly, the log identifies four code colors used on Komets: white, yellow, red and green. Red and green codes are quite rare it seems, the only other source listing them is Ransom's book about Brandis. 

Flugbuch entries 

The contents of the pages of the 'powered' flight log are shown in table format. This is mainly done because the old-German handwriting can be difficult to read. Two columns are left out for reasons of space, the second-but-last ("Kilometer 1. Führer") and first-but-last ("Kilometer 2. Führer"). These were probably meant for multi-pilot aircraft, and were not used by Herbert Frömert.

Some remarks:• Altdamm is Stettin-Altdamm• Umlauts appear to be written on many 'u' characters (flüg, Hüsüm, etc), but this is something else. They look like a small 'v', and in old German writing they were the opposite the Umlaut, signifying that the 'u' should be pronounced roughly as 'oo' in 'fool' in English (information courtesy of Gilbert Haentjens)• the meaning of 'Tanken geflogen' (flight 341) is not clear.Rolf (Bubi) GlognerRolf Glogner inspecting the Oldenburg Komet (191904) during the 1992 reunion.

Werner Jung photographed at the 1988 JG400 reunion

Otto Krutsch photographed at the 1988 JG400 reunion. On the right: Peter Jorge Wiesner, who led the Me 163 restoration project.

Anonymous pilot account

James Evans from Australia reported an encounter with an anonymous Komet pilot he had in 1979. Over to James:I do not known his name as we never exchanged our names or whether he is even still alive for that matter. I was a young man then working in a hobby store and one quiet morning an old man walked into the store using a walking cane as one of his legs hardly worked. I welcomed him he nodded and looked at our plastic aircraft model kits. After a while he came and spoke to me. He was surprised that so many German World War Two aircraft models were made, he did not see why people would be interested in building models or even remembering the aircraft of the side that lost (in his words). I suggested that this may be because Germany made many aircraft that were not only very good at what they did but the designs tended to be very different. He corrected me saying superior. I asked did he see them in action and he replied yes I saw them in action and I was one of the young men flying them. He said he started flying 109s when they went into France and had flown against French and British fighters, he said Germany's fighters were much better. He continued saying that his fighter crashed one day and he had his leg crushed in the crash.After he had recovered his legs were no good for flying fighters anymore and so he thought that his flying days were over, but he was sent to the Russian front were he piloted assault gliders. This he recalled as the most frightening time of his life. He said when the bomber released you, you had to dive down fast and fly the glider as fast as you could close to the ground and when you reached where you were going you pulled the nose up hard and let it fall out of the sky. About half the people you were carrying had something broken. He said this was much better to do this than to land it safely, you would land too slow and they would have time to kill everyone with their machine guns. He said that the last time he did this he pulled the nose up but it dropped and went straight into the ground and nearly killed himself.He said that he thought that he would never fly again but they called him back and he flew the little fire ball. I question his reference to fire ball and he said you known - Comet. This took me by surprise as I never thought I would ever meet a 163 pilot as there were very few of them and I live in Australia. I took out a catalogue and showed him the artwork of the box of the Airfix 1/72 scale Komet, he said yes that is it. So I asked him what was it like to fly? He seemed very excited as he explained that when you took off it was like being tied to a ball and fired out of a cannon, only the new American fighter pilots would know how this feels. I think he was making a reference to F-15 pilots. He said you went up so fast your ring would be doing this (he made a gesture with his hand suggesting some kind of muscular spasm of the anus) all the way up and then it was like flying with a rocket shoved up your ass. Then you would try and line up on a bomber and come up, shoot at it with everything as you flew past it on the way up and then turn and fly home. You don't get enough time to line up another one if you missed as you can only fly for a few minutes and then you out of fuel and you had to land like a glider. If you glided back all the fighters would come after you rip you apart.Then his mood changed he was almost angry. The fire balls were very dangerous to fly! They sometimes blew up when you went to take off. If you made too many sparks when you land they could blow up. The fighters never tried to shoot you when we were coming up, we were too fast, and they would wait and shoot you when you were coming down and almost out of fuel. You see they were too dangerous to risk good pilots on and they used pilots like me who had a bad leg or arm and it did not matter if we got killed. The fire ball was the last bite from a fox as the hounds ripped it apart. He went on to talk about everything the Germans had were better but they were outnumbered. Before he finished a customer came in to pick up some special silk covering he had ordered, but when I had finished serving this customer I looked up to continue talking to him but he was gone. I never saw him again.He seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the Komet. The excitement of the launch and flying the fastest thing around at the time, but angered by the loss of the pilots he flew with. I have always assumed that he must have flown them in the very last closing stages of the war when Germany was almost out of good pilots and by this stage the Komets would not have been that well maintained, thus making them very dangerous. I belief, perhaps a little too romantically, that he was an ideal candidate to fly the Komet as he was a trained fighter pilot and assault glider pilot, even though he had a stiff leg.I have always had my doubts about the story he told as it has been my experience that veterans do not like talking about the things that they saw and did in combat. The only ones that want to talk and make you listen to them were the one that never made it to the front lines but according to them they won the war single handed. The other thing was that he really only made a passing reference to the Komet being rocket powered. However recently the last two ANZAC veterans died, Australian veterans of 1914 battles in Turkey at the early stages of World War I. In previous years they would not talk about their experiences but when they realised they were the last they started talking and in a similar way to the Komet pilot. It was not about how many people they killed or saw killed, It was about what they had to do and about stating something emotional that had been inside them unspoken for so many years and by the time they had finished speaking they were proud to be ANZACs. The same way this man was proud to be a Luftwaffe pilot. So today I place more belief in what the man had said to me and his first-hand account of the Komet.

Hohmann, Bernhard (40)(1916-1984) German test pilot. Chief of Flight Development at Wright FIeld, consultant on astronaut flight safety on Mercury, Gemini, and MOL programs.A glider pilot and engineer before the war, he joined the Luftwaffe and became a test pilot at Peenmuende, making 37 test flights of the Me-163 rocket fighter and its unpowered prototypes. He survived a crash landing which resulted in the partial destruction of the aircraft as its airframe was consumed by the acid rocket propellants. After the war he surrendered to the Americans, and by January 1947 was working at Wright Field, Ohio. He became the Chief of Flight Development Section at Wright Field, before leaving to work for Aerospace Corporation as a consultant for the space program in 1957. He worked on both Mercury and Gemini programs. He authored two publications along with noted scientist Joseph F. Wambolt.

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