Thursday, 13 September 2007

Horten Ho 229 - Spirit Of Thuringia
(The Horten All-Wing Jet Fighter)

Andrei Shepelev and Huib Ottens, Classic Publications/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., Hersham, Surrey, England, 2006, ISBN 1-903223-66-0. Illustrated, hardcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Classic Publications/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., 2006.

Although frequently and ignorantly derided as merely "yet another Luft '46 pipe dream", the Horten Ho 229 was neither only a paper project nor was it simply another aircraft among the uncounted types operated by the German Luftwaffe in World War II. It was a technically, aerodynamically, and aesthetically highly intriguing design which was ahead of its time in many respects. This is even more remarkable if one considers that he Ho 229 did not originate with one of the behemoths of the German aircraft industry such as, for example, Heinkel, Junkers, or Messerschmitt. The Horten brothers thus had to make do without the assignment of a high priority to their design, and they had to cope with inferior financial, industrial, and engineering resources. Add to this the gradually deteriorating situation within Germany as the end of the war approached and the difficulties associated with German jet engine mass production which had an impact on the gestation cycle of any German jet powered design of the period. It is remarkable, then, that the Horten brothers prevailed, managed to bring the design to hardware status, and were able to commence construction of a number of prototypes, three of which were completed and two of which flew.

A serious and competent study of this aircraft was long overdue. We are fortunate that two experts on the topic, Andrei Shepelev and Huib Ottens, have conspired to fill this gap in the documentation of German aviation history. Before the appearance of the book by Shepelev and Ottens, there existed only a handful of publications on the Ho 229, most of them much more limited in format and scope. Among them were David Myhra's typically chaotic and fanciful concoctions, which, due to the absence of an authoritative alternative, unfortunately probably found more readers than they should have.

Horten Ho 229 - Spirit of Thuringia by Classic Publications has since its release become famous for featuring the only known and previously unpublished photo of the assembled Ho 229 V3 prototype. This is indeed a sensational find, and a significant piece in the puzzle that constitues this aircraft's history. But equally astonishing for students of the aircraft are the book's perhaps slightly less spectacular but equally significant further treasures, e.g. the small photo on page 79 showing catapult seat trials specific to the Ho 229, the exhaustive coverage of earlier Horten aircraft designs, or the convincing identification of the Ho 229 V4 and V5 prototypes under construction.

The book is a labor of love. It is extremely detailed, not only with regard to the main facts of the story but down to the lesser known aspects of the history of the Horten brothers and the aircraft's development. Where possible, the authors put faces to names, and there is plenty of background information. In addition, the book provides a plethora of photos as well as superb line and technical drawings, both from original wartime sources as well as by the exceptional Arthur Bentley. There are a small number of color shots where existent or applicable, and Shepelev also contributes his own computer artwork.

The only aspect I found disappointing and highly annoying was the frequent spelling mistake of "Horton" instead of "Horten". Although of course a minor criticism, this should not occur in an exhaustively researched expert publication on the Horten brothers which, after so many years, finally does proper justice to their work. The erroneous spelling of "Horton" can frequently be seen in shoddily compiled English-language texts about the Ho 299, but it has no place in a book such as this one.

At the end of the day, however, this book renders irrelevant all previous publications on the Ho 229. It is a testament to the vision and attention to detail exhibited by the now sadly defunct Classic Publications (now reorganized in slightly different form as Chevron Publishing Limited), and it will stand as the ultimate reference on the topic for many years to come.

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