Horten H.III – The Flying Wing Concept that Shaped Modern Aviation

In the annals of aviation history, few aircraft have sparked as much intrigue and fascination as the Horten H.III.

Born in the heart of the Second World War from the genius of the Horten brothers, this flying wing glider stood at the forefront of an aviation revolution, one that aimed to combine aesthetics, aerodynamics, and unparalleled performance.

The Horten H.III, while an underexplored aircraft, exemplifies the adage: “the future is often built from the scraps of the past.”


The Horten Brothers and the Birth of the H.III

Walter and Reimar Horten were born in Bonn, Germany, in 1913 and 1915, respectively.

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From an early age, both boys demonstrated an intense interest in flight—a passion that would guide the course of their careers.

The Horten brothers’ fascination with aviation was further fueled by the works of Ludwig Prandtl, a renowned aerodynamics theorist, and Alexander Lippisch, a pioneer of tailless aircraft. Inspired by these theories, the Hortens began to experiment with their designs in the 1930s.

Their experiments led them to embrace the concept of the flying wing—an aircraft design that merges the wing and body into a single unit, thus eliminating the conventional fuselage and tail.

The Horten brothers’ first practical application of this theory resulted in the creation of the Horten H.I in 1933, a revolutionary yet basic glider with a wooden frame covered in cloth.

Despite its primitive construction, the H.I showcased the potential of the flying wing design, paving the way for further innovations.

The Horten H.II, a refinement of the previous model, followed in 1935. With a more aerodynamic shape and improvements in control mechanisms, the H.II marked a significant step forward in the Horten brothers’ quest for the perfect flying wing.

A render of the H.II. Photo credit - FOX 52 CC BY-SA 4.0.
A render of the H.II. Photo credit – FOX 52 CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Horten H.III, their third design, was the culmination of the brothers’ early efforts to create a viable flying wing aircraft.

Built in 1937, the Horten H.III brought together lessons learned from the H.I and H.II. The aircraft featured a longer wingspan than its predecessors, which helped improve stability and control.

A critical design change was the addition of an undercarriage, which transformed the H.III from a simple glider towed into the air into an aircraft that could take off and land on its own.

Despite these enhancements, the H.III maintained the trademark flying wing silhouette that characterized the Horten designs.

The Horten brothers’ passion for aviation, combined with their unyielding dedication to innovation, led to the creation of the Horten H.III. This aircraft, although less famous than some of their later designs, represents a pivotal step in their journey to revolutionize aircraft design.

Revolutionary Design and Innovations

The most distinguishable feature of the Horten H.III was undoubtedly its flying wing design.

A radical departure from the standard aircraft silhouette, the H.III eliminated the need for a distinct fuselage and tail, integrating them into one with the wings.

This design choice significantly reduced the drag that conventional structures would create, thus enhancing the lift-to-drag ratio and the overall efficiency of the aircraft. The H.III, in essence, was a masterclass in the minimalism of form and function.

The Horten H.III introduced a moderately swept wing design, a technique that would become more common in later high-speed aircraft.

This design delayed the onset of drag increase at high speeds, thereby improving performance.

The H.III. Photo credit – Benutzer Erzwo CC BY-SA 3.0.

For an aircraft born in the 1930s, the inclusion of swept wings was a testament to the Horten brothers’ advanced understanding of aerodynamics.

With a larger wingspan than its predecessor models, the Horten H.III took a leap in enhancing lift and stability. This increase in wingspan allowed for improved handling and control, translating into a more responsive and manoeuvrable aircraft.

In a move that underlined the Horten brothers’ innovative thinking, the H.III was equipped with a skid undercarriage.

This enhancement allowed the aircraft to operate from various terrains, significantly improving its versatility compared to contemporary gliders.

The addition of an undercarriage also afforded pilots greater control during takeoff and landing.

The remains of the H.III's fuselage. Photo credit - Cliff CC BY 2.0.
The remains of the H.III’s fuselage. Photo credit – Cliff CC BY 2.0.

The Horten H.III, constructed predominantly from wood, stood as proof that cutting-edge design didn’t always require cutting-edge materials.

The meticulous construction techniques of the Horten brothers brought out remarkable aerodynamic efficiency in this wooden aircraft, showing that innovation often lies in application, not just materials.

In a further nod to their innovative streak, the Horten brothers equipped the H.III with elevons—a control surface that combined the functions of ailerons and elevators.

For a flying wing design, which inherently lacked a separate tail, elevons offered both pitch and roll control, a key requirement for maintaining stability and control.

The Horten H.III was much more than an experimental aircraft—it was a beacon of innovative design and progressive thinking in aviation technology.

Even though its place in history might be relatively obscure, the design breakthroughs and pioneering spirit embodied by the Horten H.III continue to resonate in the field of aviation.

There were several variants, however not much is known about them.
There were several variants, however not much is known about them.

Horten H.III’s Legacy

Though the Horten H.III might not be as famous as some other aircraft from the World War II era, it nevertheless left an important legacy in aviation history.

The Horten brothers’ dedication to the flying wing design was a pioneering effort that continues to influence the field of aeronautical engineering to this day.

The Horten H.III marked a significant advancement in the development of the flying wing concept. It served as a critical stepping stone to more advanced and complex Horten aircraft, such as the Horten Ho 229, often considered the world’s first stealth bomber.

The Ho 229 integrated many of the design principles first tested and refined by the Horten H.III and its predecessors.

The flying wing design concept, as exemplified by the Horten H.III, has had far-reaching influence beyond just the work of the Horten brothers.

The B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, developed by Northrop Grumman in the late 20th century, is a prime example of a modern aircraft that utilises the flying wing design.

The B-2 is a perfect example of a modern flying wing design.
The B-2 is a perfect example of a modern flying wing design.

The design principles embodied in the Horten H.III are clearly seen in this modern stealth bomber, demonstrating the enduring relevance of the Hortens’ early work.

The H.III, like other Horten designs, placed a strong emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency.

The flying wing design aimed to reduce drag and increase lift, principles that continue to be fundamental in modern aircraft design. The Horten H.III and other Horten aircraft helped push these concepts to the forefront of aeronautical engineering.

Lastly, the Horten H.III is an important part of the legacy of the Horten brothers themselves.

Their innovative engineering and willingness to push the boundaries of conventional design made a lasting impact on the field of aeronautical engineering. The Horten H.III serves as a testament to their pioneering spirit and their contributions to aviation technology.


Despite the relative obscurity of the Horten H.III in mainstream aviation history, the revolutionary engineering it encapsulates makes it an important piece of the aeronautical puzzle.

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The Horten brothers’ innovation with the H.III showcases their talent for envisioning the future of flight, a vision that persists and influences modern aviation design to this day.

In this light, the Horten H.III is not just a remarkable aircraft—it’s a testament to the power of innovation and the boundless potential of human ingenuity.

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  • Crew: 1
  • Wingspan: 20.5 m (67 ft 3 in)
  • Empty weight: 220 kg (485 lb) (H.IIIa) H.IIIb: 250 kg (551 lb)H.IIId: 300 kg (661 lb)H.IIIe: 340 kg (750 lb)H.IIIf: 280 kg (617 lb)H.IIIg: 300 kg (661 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 300 kg (661 lb) (H.IIIa) H.IIIb: 330 kg (728 lb)H.IIId: 420 kg (926 lb)H.IIIe: 450 kg (992 lb)H.IIIf: 360 kg (794 lb)H.IIIg: 460 kg (1,014 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × H.IIId Walter Mikron inverted 4-cyl air-cooled in-line piston engine, 33 kW (44 hp) (later 1 x 48 kW (64 hp) Walter Mikron) H.IIIe: 1 x 22 kW (30 hp) Volkswagen engine
  • Propellers: 2-bladed folding propellers (H.IIId & H.IIId only)
  • Maximum speed: 160 km/h (99 mph, 86 kn) H.IIId (powered level flight) H.IIIe: 140 km/h (87 mph) (powered level flight)