The Horten Flying Wing will always have it’s place in history.
Early investigations into delta wings piqued the interest of designers. They wondered, could an aircraft consist solely of a wing, omitting the fuselage entirely? This design promised extraordinary payload and range capabilities.
Less drag is produced compared to conventional aircraft, mainly due to the absence of the tail and fuselage.
Erasing these elements means reducing drag significantly, optimizing performance, decreasing fuel needs, and enhancing handling.
Such innovative ‘flying wing’ designs remained a visionary concept for a long time, largely impractical due to inherent instability, struggling to maintain level flight.
The unveiling of the Northrop B-2 in Palmdale, California on November 22, 1988, marked the resurrection of the ‘flying wing’.
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This configuration, now known as optimal for evading enemy radar, leverages advanced technology in materials, electronics, and computing.
However, the essence of this configuration dates back to 1930. The initial jet-powered all-wing aircraft flew in Germany on February 2, 1945, featuring mixed construction and was practically radar-invisible.
John Knudsen Northrop in the United States pioneered in all-wing aircraft in the late 1920s. However, economic constraints during the 1930s delayed the realization of Northrop’s all-wing N1M until 1940, and the N9M until 1942.
Countries globally pursued individual projects, but numerous promising endeavors surfaced in the Soviet Union, aiming to uncover the mysteries of all-wing aircraft.
Boris Ivanovich Chernanovski stands out as the most successful Soviet designer, having conceptualized a number of projects between 1921 and 1940.
Horten Flying Wing Inspired by Alexander Lippisch’s Stork
In Germany, Reimar and Walter Horten envisioned an innovative all-wing aircraft, devoid of any vertical control surfaces. Their inspiration stemmed from Alexander Lippisch’s Stork and Delta-type tailless aircraft, leading to explorations starting the late 1920s.
Their first tailless glider successfully flew at Bonn-Hangelar airfield in July 1933. By 1934, their pursuits led them to the Wasserkuppe, Germany’s “Gliding Mecca,” marking the first practical success of the all-wing concept.
Designers from Germany, the Soviet Union, and America independently ventured into the development of the all-wing aircraft around the same time.
Although isolated, each team passionately believed in the superior configuration of the all-wing aircraft and pursued their visions zealously.
Given this history, it’s unsurprising that the concept has found relevance today. The Northrop “Flying Wings” and the Horten brothers’ twin-engined H V, H VII, and H IX can be viewed as precursors to the B-2.
The H V served as a research aircraft, equipped with two counter-rotating pusher propellers. The H IX, conceptualized as a twin-engined, turbojet fighter-bomber, and the H VII, intended as a trainer with two pusher propellers, furthered the all-wing exploration.
In 1936/37, the H Va was constructed in collaboration with Dynamit AG in Troisdorf, near Cologne, incorporating synthetic material (Trolitax) in its build.
Despite previous successful builds with this material, like the glider HoL’s der TeufeL, various problems emerged. Solutions to these were patented by Dynamit.
The H Va’s nose was enveloped in clear Cellon, hosting two pilots in prone positions. It sported a tricycle undercarriage with faired main members, and only the nosewheel was retractable.
Its two Hirth HM.60-R engines drove two-bladed pusher propellers directly, created by Peter Kumpel from Lignofol.
This aircraft, introducing innovative movable wingtip control surfaces, made its sole flight at Bonn-Hangelar in early 1937, with the Horten brothers aboard. However, due to the extreme aft location of the engines, it suffered instability and control issues, leading to a brief lift before crashing.
The brothers sustained minor injuries and the crash prompted Dynamit AG to conduct tests on the materials used in the aircraft’s construction.
Horten V b, W-NT. 9
Luftwaffe-Inspektion 3 (Lln 3), led technically by Walter Horten, convinced Generalflugzeugmeister Ernst Udet to return the H V to flying status.
By August 1941, a special Lln 3 detachment was established in Minden, overseeing the aircraft’s reconstruction by the Peschke Firm. Peschke, a WW I veteran, operated a flying school and an aircraft repair facility.
This facility serviced various aircraft, and Peschke had prior acquaintance with the Horten brothers. Luftwaffe Leutnant Reimar Horten led the detachment, consisting of specialists in all-wing glider designs. The team later moved to Göttingen and expanded to thirty members.
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The Horten Vc, converted from the weather-damaged H Vb, underwent modifications in Minden, transitioning to a single-seat aircraft retaining the original engines and construction but featuring standard Luftwaffe camouflage and assigned code PE + HO.
Its inaugural flight occurred on May 26, 1942, and it later moved to Göttingen for further tests under Flugkapitän Prof. Dr. Josef Stüper.
However, a 1943 accident resulted in its substantial damage. Despite plans for restoration post-war, it, along with other aircraft, was destroyed following Germany’s surrender. The anticipated glider tug based on the H Vc was never constructed.
Horten VII, W-Nr. 29
The construction of H VII took place at the Gottingen Bureau. The Lln 3 workshop built its wooden wings and the Peschke Firm in Minden created the center section.
The first flight was in May 1943 with Heinz Scheidhauer and Walter Horten. Originally, it was a test-bed for the Argus-Schmidt pulse-jet engine, but this plan was abandoned, and it was proposed as a fighter training aircraft.
The H VII had two Argus AS-b-C engines and featured a retractable twin nosewheel undercarriage and “wingtip rudders”.
It had the RLM-Number 8-226. Heinz Scheidhauer, Erwin Ziller, and Walter Horten piloted the aircraft. Oberst Knemeyer demonstrated it to Hermann Goring in 1944. Impressed, Goring ordered twenty examples from the Peschke Firm.
However, construction of the H VII V2 started in 1944 but remained incomplete when the war ended. Heinz Scheidhauer made an emergency landing in February 1945 due to hydraulic failure. The damage wasn’t repaired, and US troops likely destroyed the aircraft in April 1945.
Horten H IX, Werk-Nr.39, 1 944/45
The H IX V2, assigned the RLM number 8-229, was a prototype powered by two Jumo 004 turbojets, marking it as the world’s first all-wing aircraft with turbojet power. The V2 featured a fully retractable undercarriage and did not have armaments. The pilot sat in a standard seated position.
When the planned BMW 003 engines needed replacement with more powerful Jumo 004s, significant difficulties and delays in construction occurred. The larger diameter of the Junkers engine necessitated a redesign of the engine bays.
Similar to its predecessors, the aircraft featured mixed construction. The V2’s undercarriage included a tailwheel from a damaged He 177 bomber, repurposed as a nose-wheel, and the main undercarriage from a Bf 109 fighter.
The initial test flight occurred on February 2, 1945, from Oranienburg, with Leutnant Erwin Ziller piloting, lasting roughly 30 minutes. The Horten brothers were acquainted with Ziller from competitions at the Wasserkuppe.
Ziller had acquainted himself with all-wing aircraft in December 1944 and January 1945, conducting multiple flights in the Horten H IX Vi glider, towed by an He 111, and the twin-engine Horten H VII at Oranienburg.
Successful Second Test Flight
In the final three days of December 1944, Ziller was at Erprobungsstelle Rechlin, completing five flights in the Me 262. These flights allowed Ziller to familiarize himself with the Jumo 004 turbojet engine’s functionalities and traits.
After a successful second test flight on February 3, 1945, Ziller prematurely deployed the aircraft’s braking parachute during landing, leading to a harsh landing and damaging the main undercarriage.
Thus, the third test flight in the Horten H IX wasn’t conducted until February 18, 1945. After about 45 minutes in flight, Ziller was observed making several dives and pull-ups at approximately 800 meters, seemingly attempting to restart an engine.
The undercarriage was lowered unusually early, at about 400 meters. The V2’s speed diminished, and amidst escalating engine noise, the aircraft’s nose lowered, entering a right-hand turn.
The H IX executed a 360-degree turn, wings at a 20-degree bank. It then sped up, completing a second and third circle, continuously increasing its bank angle.
Upon initiating a fourth turn, it collided with the frozen ground outside the airfield’s limits. Walter Rosier, a Horten employee, reached the crash site approximately two and a half minutes post-accident.
In his report, he noted: “First, I spotted the two Junkers engines beyond the embankment. The turbine of the still-warm left power plant was winding down, contrasting the silent, cooled-off right engine beside it.
The scent of fuel was potent, but there was no flame. Except for the jet engines and the Plexiglas canopy, the aircraft was utterly annihilated.”
Upon impact, like the engines, Ziller was expelled from the aircraft. He collided with a large tree and died on the spot. He hadn’t communicated via radio and persisted in piloting the aircraft despite an engine failure and an extended undercarriage.
He made no attempt to eject and deploy his parachute for safety, nor was the aircraft’s canopy jettisoned. It’s likely he was striving to preserve the invaluable aircraft.
What transpired? The found empty compressed air bottle among the debris revealed that, after an engine failed causing a loss of hydraulic power, the undercarriage had been lowered using compressed air.
Could there have been a stall initiating at the right wingtip? Could the test pilot have been incapacitated by carbonizing oil from the remaining overheated engine, leaving him unable to respond? (There were no bulkheads separating the cockpit from the engine bays.)
Regrettably, only Leutnant Ziller could have provided answers to these questions, and he didn’t survive. According to the experts investigating, the possibility of sabotage couldn’t be dismissed.
Horten H IX 113, RLM-Number 8-229
The H IX VS was a single-seat, twin-jet, and unarmed aircraft. The task of further producing this fighter-bomber was given to Gothaer Waggonfabrik (GWF), famed for its Go 241 cargo glider and deemed the most suitable for manufacturing Horten aircraft.
The jet engines of the aircraft were positioned 15 degrees to the left and right of the centerline and angled 4 degrees downward.
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This new arrangement was experimented with in a center section mock-up. The construction of the H IX V3 was almost finished when American 3rd Army’s VII Corps troops overran the Gotha Works at Friederichsroda on April 14, 1945. The Americans assigned the number T2-490 to the aircraft.
The official RLM designation of the aircraft remains ambiguous, being labeled as both Ho 229 and Go 229.
Several other prototypes at different construction stages, including a two-seater version, were also discovered in the ruined and deserted works.
The V3, along with other seized aircraft, was shipped to the United States and ultimately became part of the H. H. “Hap” Arnold collection at the Air Force Technical Museum.
There were plans to make the all-wing aircraft airworthy at Park Ridge, Illinois, but budget reductions in the late forties and early fifties halted these plans.
The V3 was subsequently transferred to the current National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington D.C.
Walter Horten (born 13 November 1913 in Bonn; passed away 9 December 1998 in Baden-Baden, Germany) and Reimar Horten (born 12 March 1915 in Bonn; passed away 14 March 1994 in Villa General Belgrano, Argentina) were German aircraft pilots collectively recognized as the Horten Brothers.
After the conclusion of the war, Reimar Horten relocated to Argentina following unsuccessful discussions with the United Kingdom and China, where he persisted in creating and constructing gliders.
This included an experimental supersonic delta-wing aircraft and the quad-engined flying wing FMA I.Ae 38 Naranjero, conceptualized to transport oranges from producers to Buenos Aires.
Conversely, Walter chose to stay in Germany post-war, eventually becoming an officer in the post-war German Air Force. Reimar passed away on his ranch in Argentina in 1994, and Walter passed away in Germany in 1998.
In the latter part of the 1940s, the members of Project Sign, an initiative by the U.S. Air Force to investigate flying saucers, earnestly explored the idea that UFOs could be clandestine aircraft produced by the U.S.S.R., drawing inspiration from the designs of the Horten Brothers.
The Hortens are renowned for designing the Horten Ho 229, the first-ever jet-powered flying wing in the world.
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