The German air force (Luftwaffe) at the time of the Second World War was certainly considerable, but it was eventually annihilated by the RAF (Britain). So Germany created to counter the allies a new generation weapon with which he hoped to turn the tide of war in his favor: theHorten Ho 229.
Great Britain won the battle of Britain thanks to the Dowding defense system, perhaps the most advanced in the world at that time mainly thanks to radar, which detected and tracked enemy aircraft. The Luftwaffe thus ordered its best engineers to design a new high-speed bomber able to evade Allied radars.
The Horten brothers, Reimar and Walter worked on the project in question, who decided to abandon the turboprop engines in favor of a new turbojet engine; in this case – especially during the period – jet engines burn fuel very quickly and it seemed physically impossible to have an aircraft that could fly very fast but at the same time have a large range.
And it is here that the brothers had the stroke of genius: they opted for a tailless aircraft, also called a “flying wing”, which instead of having a distinct fuselage and tail it only had the wing itself serving as the main structure of the aircraft. This design, because it did not have tail fins which bounce off radar waves more easily, would have been difficult to detect in detector devices, which would appear with a weak signal.
A 2008 reconstruction, think, found that the Ho 229 would have been detected after a distance flown of more than 80% of that of the standard Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter: a stealth that combined with its speed would have left little time to respond to the attack on the allies.
The Horten brothers got the go-ahead to start work on their ambitious concept in August 1943 and were also faced with instability problems. Following successful testing of the last glider in March 1944, German engineers fitted two Jumo 004B turbojet engines to the later V2 prototype, each nestled within either side of the cockpit. The V2 also featured an early ejection seat system (btw, what would happen if you exit a jet at the speeds we see in Top Gun?) and a parachute deployed during landing to compensate for the jet’s high speed.
On February 2, 1945, the Ho 229 V2 made its maiden flight, which by all accounts turned out to be a great success. The bat-shaped jet was capable of 975 kilometers per hour and exhibited smooth handling and good stall resistance. However, a disaster occurred during another test flight on 18 February and one of the V2’s engines caught fire killing the test pilot.
Despite this, the Luftwaffe were so pleased with the speed they could achieve that the aircraft was repurposed to serve as a cannon-armed fighter rather than the originally intended role of a bomber, but as you can imagine the model was never built.
This was because the war for Germany was going very badly and the clashes even reached within the borders of the German motherland. Indeed, in April 1945, American troops entered the Friedrichroda plant where the Ho 229 was being produced finding cockpit sections of prototypes in various stages of development.
The most complete of the four, a V3 prototype, was shipped to the United States to be studied by American engineers. The transfer of technology to the USA gave birth to stealth bombers developed by Northrop, such as the iconic B-2 (although some parts are produced in China). Overall, Horten Ho 229 was it a fantastic aircraft, decades ahead of its time. Its impact can be felt in many of today’s most advanced modern jets, which owe much of their design to the pioneering work of the Horten brothers.