Thursday, 2 August 2007

Der erste bemannte Raketenstart der Welt (Geheimaktion Natter)

Horst Lommel, Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany, 1998, ISBN 3-613-01862-4. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Motorbuch Verlag, 1998.

When it was originally published, this book was an overdue and welcome study on the relatively little-known but nevertheless highly intriguing Bachem Ba 349 Natter rocket-powered manned interceptor program of late-war Germany. Due to the desperate nature of the Ba 349 idea (so representative of many contemporary German programs), the small number of aircraft built, and the failure to achieve actual combat operations with the Ba 349, the information published up to then was scarce at best, and no combined study of all available facts existed: Moreover, much of what was available had been copied and reprinted countless times, regardless of many uncertainties and obvious errors.

This book, then, went a long way towards rectifying this situation. On 204 pages, it contained a wealth of pictures, drawings and facsimile documents, making it worth acquiring even though it was only available in German. The author's research answered many open questions and the Ba 349 is unquestionably a very exciting and visionary aircraft in technical terms, even to people indifferent to late-war German projects. Also, the fact that several dozen Ba 349s were built and actually launched clearly sets this aircraft apart from mere "paper projects". Lommel's book covered this aspect in great detail, along with the world's first vertical manned rocket launch by Lothar Sieber in March 1945. Further chapters portrayed the development of the Ba 349, testing of the aircraft as a glider in various configurations, manufacturing, armament, the vertical launch concept, planned combat operations, surviving aircraft. Included were numerous outstanding pictures of the Natter, particularly the photos of the manned glider prototypes on pages 29 and 39.

Even so, there remained questions. For example, no explanation was given on why the well-known series of pictures of the M52 prototype being readied for launch (p. 63 to 66) shows the aircraft with a significantly enlarged horizontal stabilizer.

In spite of this, Lommel's pioneering work would only be eclipsed in 2006, when Classic Publications released Brett Gooden's landmark work, Projekt Natter - Last Of The Wonder Weapons.

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