Bachem Ba 349
|Ba 349 Natter|
|A replica of the Bachem Ba349 at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany|
|Manufacturer||Bachem Werke GmbH|
|First flight||1 March 1945|
The Bachem Ba 349 Natter (English: Colubrid, grass-snake) was a World War II German point-defence rocket powered interceptor, which was to be used in a very similar way to a manned surface-to-air missile. After a vertical take-off, which eliminated the need for airfields, the majority of the flight to the Allied bombers was to be controlled by an autopilot. The primary mission of the relatively untrained pilot, was to aim the aircraft at its target bomber and fire its armament of rockets. The pilot and the fuselage containing the rocket motor would then land under separate parachutes, while the nose section was disposable. The only manned vertical take-off flight on 1 March 1945 ended in the death of the test pilot, Lothar Sieber.
In 1943 with Luftwaffe air superiority being challenged by the Allies over the Reich, radical innovations were required to overcome the crisis. Surface-to-air missiles appeared to be a promising approach to counter the Allied strategic bombing offensive; a variety of projects were started, but invariably problems with the guidance and homing systems prevented any of these from attaining operational status. Providing the missile with a pilot, who could operate a weapon during the brief terminal approach phase, offered a solution. Submissions for a simple target defence interceptor were requested by the Luftwaffe in early 1944 under the umbrella of the "Emergency Fighter Program". A number of simple designs were proposed, including the Heinkel P.1077 Julia, in which the pilot lay prone (on his stomach), to reduce the frontal area. The Julia was the front-runner for the contract. The initial plan was to launch the aircraft vertically, but this concept was later changed to a conventional horizontal take-off from a tricycle-wheeled trolley, similar to that used by the first eight prototypes of the Arado Ar 234 jet reconnaissance bomber.
Erich Bachem's BP-20 ("Natter") was a development from a design he had worked on at Fieseler, the Fi 166 concept, but considerably more radical than the other submissions. It was built using glued and nailed wooden parts with an armour-plated bulkhead and bulletproof glass windshield at the front of the cockpit. The initial plan was to power the machine with a Walter HWK 109-509 A2 rocket motor; however, only the 109-509 A1 unit was available as used in the Me 163 rocket aircraft. It had a sea level thrust of 1,700 kg. thrust with its quartet of Schmidding SG34 solid fuel rocket boosters used in its vertical launch to provide an additional thrust of 1,200 × 4 = 4,800 kg for 10 seconds before they burned out and were jettisoned. The experimental prototypes slid up a 20 m high vertical steel launch tower for a maximum sliding length of 17 m in three guideways, one for each wing tip and one for the lower tip of the ventral tail fin. By the time the aircraft left the tower it was hoped that it would have achieved sufficient speed to allow its aerodynamic surfaces to provide stable flight.
Under operational conditions once the Natter had left the launcher, it would be guided to the proximity of the Allied bombers by an autopilot with the possibility of an added beam guidance similar to that used in some V-2 rocket launches. Only then would the pilot take control, aim and fire the armament, which was originally proposed to be a salvo of 19 R4M rockets. Later, 28 R4Ms were suggested, with another source stating that the similar Henschel Hs 297 Föhn unguided rocket was meant to be used in the nose-mounted launch tubes. The Natter was intended to fly up and over the bombers, by which time its Walter motor would probably be out of propellant. Following its one-time attack with its rockets, the pilot would dive his Natter, now effectively a glider, to an altitude of around 3,000 m, flatten out, release the nose of the Natter and a small braking parachute from the rear fuselage. The fuselage would decelerate and the pilot would be ejected forwards by his own inertia and land by means of a personal parachute.
In an early proposal in August 1944, the Natter design had a concrete nose; it was suggested that the machine might ram a bomber, but this proposal was subsequently withdrawn in later Project Natter outlines. Bachem stated clearly in the initial proposal that the Natter was not a suicide weapon and much effort went into designing safety features for the pilot. However, owing to the potential dangers for the pilot inherent in the operation of this precarious aircraft, the Natter is sometimes listed as a suicide craft. The design had one decisive advantage over its competitors – it eliminated the necessity to land an unpowered gliding machine at an airbase, which, as the history of the Me 163 rocket aircraft had clearly demonstrated, made an aircraft extremely vulnerable to attack by Allied fighters.
Bachem's design caught the eye of Heinrich Himmler. The Reichsführer-SS granted Bachem an interview and fully supported the project. In the middle of September 1944 the Technical Office of the Waffen-SS made an order for Bachem to develop and manufacture the Natter at his Waldsee factory. In December 1944 the project came largely under the control of the SS and Hans Kammler. This decision is said to have been the only time the SS significantly interfered with aircraft design and air fighting strategy. Early-on in the project, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) undertook an engineering assessment of the Natter, which it reported on 28 October 1944. Various stringent economies were imposed on an already frugal design.
The Natter had no landing gear, which saved weight, expense and construction time. Consequently one of the most unusual features of the machine was the escape of the pilot and recovery of the machine. The proposed sequence of these events was as follows: After the attack, the Natter might dive to a lower altitude and flatten out into level flight. The pilot would then proceed with a well-practised escape sequence. He would open the cockpit canopy latch; the canopy flicking backwards on its hinge in the airstream; he would undo his seat belt and remove his feet from the rudder pedal stirrups. By squeezing a lever mounted on the control column, he would release a lock at the base of the column, which would allow him to tilt the column forwards where it could engage in and undo a safety latch for the nose release mechanism. He would then lean a little further forward and pull a lever hinged near the floor at the front of the cockpit. This action frees the nose section, which flies off as a result of the reduced aerodynamic pressure at the front of the fuselage. As the nose section separates, it was intended to briefly pull on two cables that release a small ribbon parachute stored on the starboard side of the rear fuselage. The parachute subsequently opens and decelerates the Natter. The pilot would be ejected from the cockpit by his own inertia and as soon as he is clear of the fuselage, he would open his personal parachute and descend to the ground.
Although it was originally planned to recover the Walter liquid propulsion unit, which was probably the most expensive single component of the machine, using two salvage parachutes, associated problems were still not fully resolved prior to the war's end.
Professor Wilhelm Fuchs reportedly calculated the Natter's aerodynamics at the Technische Hochschule, Aachen using a large analog computer. Wind tunnel testing on a wooden model, scaled to 40% of full size, was performed at the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL), the Institute for Aerodynamics at Berlin-Adlershof in September 1944 at speeds up to 504 km/h. Results from these tests were reported in January 1945 to the Bachem-Werk. Further model tests were carried out at Luftfahrtforschungsanstalt Hermann Göring (LFA), Braunschweig at speeds close to Mach 1. In March the Bachem-Werk simply received a statement that satisfactory flying qualities should be expected with speeds up to 1,100 km/h.
Construction of the first experimental prototype Natter, Versuchsmuster 1, was completed on 4 October 1944. V1 was subsequently referred to as Baumuster1 (BM1) and later still the "B" was dropped and the machine became known as the M1. Most subsequent prototypes were known by 'M' codes, as the later prototypes of the Heinkel He 162 were. Manned glider flights began on 3 November 1944. The first glider M1 was towed to around 3,000 m by a Heinkel He 111 bomber with a cable (Tragschlepp mode) at Neuburg an der Donau. The pilot was Erich Klöckner, who made all four documented Tragschlepp flights. After carrying out the test programme of the M1, he bailed out and the machine crashed into the ground. Unfortunately it was found that the towing cable, and in the case of the M3, the undercarriage interfered with the flight characteristics of the gliders and consequently the results were difficult to interpret. To clear any lingering doubts about the Natter in the glider mode, Hans Zübert made a daring free flight in the M8 on the 14 February, and showed that the Natter was indeed a very good flying machine.
The vertical take-off (VTO) trials were conducted on high ground called the Ochsenkopf at the Truppenübungsplatz (military training area) Heuberg near Stetten am kalten Markt, Würtemberg. The first successful unmanned vertical take-off from the experimental launch tower occurred on 22 December 1944. The distance between the Bachem factory at Waldsee and the Heuberg test site was approximately 60 km. The test machine, the M16, was powered by four solid boosters only, without the Walter motor, as were all the early VTO trials. Up to and including 1 March 1945, 16 prototypes had been used, eight in glider trials and eight in VTO trials.
Manned VTO test flight
By January 1945 Bachem was under pressure from the authorities in Berlin to carry out a manned VTO flight by the end of February. On 25 February a M22 was in the experimental launch tower. It was as complete an operational machine as possible with the Walter HWK 109-509 A1 motor installed for the first time. A dummy pilot was in the cockpit. Lift-off from the tower was perfect. The engineers and ground crew watched spellbound as the M22 ascended under the combined power of the four Schmidding boosters and the Walter motor, an estimated total thrust of 6,500 kg (64 kN or 14,330 lbs). The nose separated as programmed and the dummy pilot descended "safely" under its personal parachute. The remainder of the fuselage came down under its two large salvage parachutes, but when it hit the ground the residual propellant exploded and the machine was destroyed. Despite Bachem's concerns that the test programme had been significantly cut short, a young volunteer Luftwaffe test pilot, Lothar Sieber, climbed into the cockpit of the fully fuelled M23 on 1 March. The aircraft was equipped with an FM transmitter for the purpose of transmitting flight data from various monitoring sensors in the machine.
A hard wire intercom appears to have been provided between Sieber and the engineers in the launch bunker using a system similar to that used in the manned glider flights. Around 1100 am, the M23 was ready for take-off. Low stratus clouds lay over the Ocksenkopf. The Walter motor built up to full thrust and Sieber pushed the button to ignite the four solid boosters. With a roar, the M23 rose out of a cloud of steam and rocket smoke straight up, displaying its camouflage paintwork. At an altitude of about 100 to 150 m (330 to 490 ft), the Natter suddenly pitched backwards into an inverted curved flight. Initially it climbed at about 30° to the vertical. At about 500 m (1,600 ft) the cockpit canopy was seen to fly off. The Natter continued to climb at high speed at an angle of 15° from the horizontal and disappeared into the clouds. The Walter motor stalled at this time, about 15 seconds after take-off. It is estimated that the Natter reached 1,500 m (4,900 ft), at which point it nose-dived and hit the ground with great force about 32 seconds later, some kilometres from the launch site. Unknown at the time, one of the Schmidding boosters failed to jettison and its remains were dug up at the crash site in 1998.
Bachem surmised that Sieber had involuntarily pulled back on the control column under the effect of the 3 G acceleration. Examination of the canopy, which fell near the launch site, showed that the tip of the latch was bent, suggesting that it may not have been in the fully closed position at launch. The pilot's headrest had been attached to the underside of the canopy and as the canopy flew off the pilot's head would have snapped back suddenly about 25 cm (9.8 in), hitting the solid wooden rear upper cockpit bulkhead, and either knocking Sieber unconscious or breaking his neck.
This tragedy reinforced Bachem's long held belief that the take-off and flight in the vicinity of the target bombers should be fully automated. The canopy latch was strengthened and the headrest was attached to the backboard of the cockpit. Before the introduction of the autopilot in the test programme, the control column would have a temporary locking device on it, which would allow the machine to ascend vertically to at least 1,000 m and then be removed by the pilot. The Walter motor probably ceased operation because the Natter was virtually upside-down and air may have entered the intake pipes in the propellant tanks starving the motor. Sieber had become the first man to take off vertically from the ground under pure rocket power, years before the flights of Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard; if one discounts the ancient legend of the equally ill-fated flight of Wan Hu.
Much debate has surrounded the number of Natters built at the Bachem-Werk and their disposition. According to Bachem 36, Natters were produced at the Bachem-Werk in Waldsee by the end of the war. Up to April 1945, 17 aircraft had been used in unmanned trials comprising five gliders, all slung under an He 111 in the Mistelschlepp configuration prior to launch, and 12 VTO examples. Five aircraft were prepared for manned trials, four gliders and one VTO version. The M3 was flown twice, and then rebuilt at which time it was given the new code BM3a but was never flown. The total number of launches to early April 1945 was 22, as was the total number of Natters constructed up to that time. Bachem reported further that there were 14 more finished or almost finished aircraft in April 1945. Four of these were prototype A1 operational Natters built for test launching from a wooden pole launcher, which had been designed for field deployment. This new launcher was also constructed on the Heuberg, not far from the experimental steel tower. There is documentary evidence for two pole launches in April but not three as claimed by Bachem in his post-war presentation. The documentation for this third flight may have been destroyed by the SS at war's end. Ten A1 operational Natters, called K-Maschinen, were constructed for the Krokus-Einsatz ("Operation Crocus").
The fate of these 14 A1 Natters was as follows: Three were fired from the pole launcher according to Bachem, four were burnt at Waldsee, two were burnt at Lager Schlatt, Oetztal, Austria, four were captured by US troops at Sankt Leonhard im Pitztal, Austria and one, which had been sent as a sample model to a new factory in Thuringia, was captured by the Red Army. Consequently, the total of 36 test and operational aircraft constructed at the Bachem-Werk can be accounted for. However, Natter carcasses were used for a variety of ground based purposes; for example, as a static booster rocket, armament and strength testing and pilot seat position tests. Some fuselages were reused after flight testing; for example, the M5, 6 and 7.
Of the four Natters captured at Sankt Leonhard im Pitztal, two went to the United States. Only one original Natter built in Germany in the Second World War survives in storage at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland, under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. The fate of the other Natter brought to the US is unknown. There is no documentary evidence that a Natter was ever flown from Muroc Field. The tail section of one of the Natters at Sankt Leonhard im Pitztal was broken off while it still rested on its trailer. The remaining machine was possibly destroyed when the CIOS Field Team left the area. Despite being promised one of these Natters, there is no evidence that a machine ever reached UK shores.
In early February 1945 the positions of the centre of gravity for the A1 operational machine during its flight profile were giving the RLM and the SS cause for concern. They wanted these figures to be decided upon for the upcoming construction of the A1 aircraft for Krokus-Einsatz (Operation Crocus), the field deployment of the Natter. The position of the centre of gravity is expressed as a percentage of the chord (distance between the leading and trailing edges) of the main wing. Thus 0% is the leading edge and 100% is the trailing edge. In the manned glider trials the centre of gravity had been varied between 20 and 34%. At a meeting of engineers held on 8 February, the variations in the centre of gravity expected in the A1 Krokus machine were discussed. At take-off with the weight of the four solid boosters, the centre of gravity would be brought back to 65%, but after releasing these rockets it would move forwards to 22%. The free flight by Zübert on 14 February had showed unequivocally that the little Natter had excellent flying characteristics as a glider. The centre of gravity problem was solved initially by the addition of one metre square auxiliary tailfins that were released simultaneously with the jettisoning of the boosters. The Krokus aircraft had vanes that would direct the Walter rocket exhaust gases so as to assist vehicle stabilisation at low speed similar to those used in the V-2 rocket.
French forces had captured Waldsee by 25 April 1945 and presumably took control of the Bachem-Werk. Shortly before the French troops arrived, a group of Bachem-Werk personnel set out for Austria with five A1 Natters on trailers. At Bad Wörishofen, the group waited for another squad retreating from Nabern unter Teck with one completed Natter. Both groups then set out for the Austrian Alps. One group with two Natters ended up at the junction of the river Inn and one of its tributaries, the Ötztaler Ache, at Camp Schlatt. The other group went to St. Leonhard im Pitztal with four aircraft. US troops captured the first group at Camp Schlatt around 4 May and the second group on the following day.
At some time during the project, the Bachem-Werk was ordered to give complete details of the BP-20 Natter to the Japanese, but there was doubt over whether they had received them. They were, however, known to have a general knowledge of the Natter and showed considerable interest in the project.
Operation Krokus launch pads at Hasenholz wood
An operational launch site for the first Ba 349A-1 operational Natters under the code name Operation Krokus was being established in a small wooded area called Hasenholz, south of the Stuttgart to Munich autobahn and to the east of Nabern unter Teck. Around the end of February and the beginning of March the Todt Organisation was in action, constructing each set of the trios of concrete foundations (or "footings") for the launch towers. These three launch pads and their towers were arranged at the corners of an equilateral triangle, 120 m per side. The specific locations are said to be , and . In the centre of each of the three concrete footings is a square hole approximately 50 centimeters deep, which once served as the foundation for the launch tower. Beside each hole is a pipe, cut off at ground level, which was probably once a cable pit. These three concrete pads were noticed by a surveyor in the autumn of 1945, but not rediscovered until 1999. In March 1945 eight pilots, who were experienced, mostly highly decorated and volunteers for the first operational flights, started training at the Heuberg. This training continued until the first half of April at which time they moved to the Hasenholz operational area. The first three manned and fully armed A1 Krokus examples were scheduled to be launched from 20 April, which was Hitler's birthday. But on that day the US 10th Armored Division drove its tanks into Kirchheim unter Teck to the northwest of Hasenholz wood. The next day it crossed the autobahn and headed straight for the Natter operational area. The Natter group subsequently retreated to Waldsee.
Survivor and reproductions
Only one original A1 Natter survives; it is stored in the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland, USA. The evidence supports the proposition that this machine was captured at St. Leonhard im Pitztal, Austria in May 1945 by US troops. It is in a poor state of repair and is no longer accessible to the general public. The Natter displayed at the Deutsches Museum is said to have been reconstructed partly from sub-assemblies that survived the end of the war. This machine is of the experimental type as launched from the steel tower and is painted to look like an M17. There are several static reproductions of Natters around the world, for example at the Planes of Fame Air Museum, Chino, California and Fantasy of Flight, Polk City, Florida, USA.
Specifications (Ba 349B-1)
Data from 
- Crew: 1
- Length: 6 m (19 ft 8 in)
- Wingspan: 4 m (13 ft 1 in)
- Height: 2.25 m (7 ft 5 in) height without fins
- Wing area: 4.7 m2 (51 sq ft)
- Empty weight: 880 kg (1,940 lb) fuel expended
- Gross weight: 2,232 kg (4,921 lb)
- Gross weight boosters jettisoned: 1,769 kg (3,900 lb)
- Fuel capacity: 650 kg
- Powerplant: 1 × Walter HWK 109-509C-1 bi-fuel rocket motor, 11.2 kN (2,500 lbf) thrust main chamber
- 2.9 kN (652 lbf) Marschofen auxiliary chamber
- Powerplant: 4 × Schmidding SG 34 solid fuel booster rockets, 4.9 kN (1,100 lbf) thrust each
- or 2 x 9.8 kN (2,203 lbf) solid fuel booster rockets
- Maximum speed: 1,000 km/h (621 mph; 540 kn) at 5,000 m (16,404 ft)
- Cruising speed: 800 km/h (497 mph; 432 kn)
- Range: 60 km (37 mi; 32 nmi) after climb at 3,000 m (9,843 ft)
- 55 km (34 mi)after climb at 6,000 m (19,685 ft)
- 42 km (26 mi)after climb at 9,000 m (29,528 ft)
- 40 km (25 mi)after climb at 10,000 m (32,808 ft)
- Endurance: 4.36 minutes at 6,000 m (19,685 ft)
- 3.15 minutes at 9,000 m (29,528 ft)
- Service ceiling: 12,000 m (39,370 ft)
- Rate of climb: 190 m/s (37,000 ft/min)
- Time to altitude: 62 seconds to 12 km (7.5 mi)
- 24 x 73 mm (2.874 in) Henschel Hs 297 Föhn rocket shells
- or 33 x 55 mm (2.165 in) R4M rocket shells
- or 2 x 30 mm (1.181 in) MK 108 cannon with 30 rpg (proposed)
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Related lists
- Usually mis-translated as "Viper" or "Adder". However, these terms always refer to venomous snakes, while Natter traditionally denotes a non-venomous snake, especially the common grass-snake of Europe (Natrix natrix). Technically, the literal English translation of Natter would be "colubrid"; there is no corresponding vernacular English term, while the German word for a viper or adder is Otter. The similarity of the words "Natter" and "adder" and the fact that the only widespread snake species in Britain is a viper/adder may have caused the frequent confusion.
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- German Suicidal Aircraft
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- Wilde. "Besrechung am 20-2-45 in Stetten a. k. M. über Meßwertübertragung aus der Natter." Hochfrequenzabteilung der Forschungsanstalt Graf Zeppelin, February 1945.
- Zübert, Hans. Freiflug M8 14-2-45, Flugbericht der Piloten Zübert (in German). Neuburg: DVL, Berlin-Aldershof, February 1945.
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- Abfangjagdflugzeug Bachem Ba 349 "Natter" (in German)
- U.S. Intelligence Report Photos
- The Adder Affair - Bachem Natter feature from a 1950's issue of RAF Flying review