A stillborn Viper

by Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing historian

As American daylight bombers ranged over Germany in 1945 with little major opposition from the outnumbered Luftwaffe, the Germans grew more desperate to find a “silver bullet” solution that could counter these attacks.

There were experiments that were to bear fruit post-war – air to air and surface to air missiles, to mention just two – but the need was for immediate relief.
In August 1944, the German design team at Bachem-Werke GmbH offered a design, the Ba-349, for a semi-expendable, single-seat, rocket-armed and rocket powered point defense interceptor. The aircraft would be launched vertically toward an incoming bomber stream. The pilot would then guide the fighter to the intercept, fire 24 short-range, unguided, 73 millimeter rockets and then bail out to fight again.

The wooden aircraft was designed to be as simple as possible to facilitate mass production – short, stubby wings with a stepped cockpit and vertical tail surfaces above and below the fuselage that controlled the aircraft. There were no ailerons.
The Ba-349 – named the Natter (Viper) – was powered by a liquid fueled sustainer rocket motor with a maximum power of 3,750 pounds of thrust for 70 seconds, but the engine had thrust regulation for longer flights.

Power for the vertical launch was provided by four solid fuel rockets, two on each side of the fuselage, which provided about 2,500 pounds of thrust each for 10 seconds. They were jettisoned after launch, and for a short period after launch the aircraft was on a primitive autopilot because the pilot was expected to black out from the G forces.

Once airborne, the Ba-349 jettisoned its booster rockets and headed for the bomber stream under rocket power. It would then roar through the bomber formation at high speed and fire its rockets while the engine was still running. When the engine stopped, the pilot would bail out. The bailout process was not simple.

The pilot had to undo his harness, release the control column and then release the catches that held the nose to the aircraft.

The airstream would then blow the nose away and deploy a drag chute in the fuselage, and when this chute deployed it would pop the pilot forward and out where he would open his own chute. The fuselage would descend to be used again.
In October 1944, an engineless Ba-349 airframe was towed aloft and dropped as a glider, and – surprisingly – the test pilot found it flew extremely well and compared favorably to standard Luftwaffe fighters.

Beginning in December 1945, 11 unmanned launch tests with only booster rockets were carried out relatively successfully.
In February 1945, a fully powered pilotless launch was executed successfully, and on Feb. 26, the first piloted launch was made.
Unfortunately, the Ba-349 came apart about 500 feet in the air; it appears the jettisonable nose section separated accidentally. The Natter crashed, and the pilot was killed.

Despite the accident, 200 Natters were rushed into production, mainly at the Wolf Hirth-Flugzeugbau plant near Kirchheim, and 10 were actually deployed to Kirchheim and were ready to be used. But American troops appeared before American bombers, and the Natters were destroyed – probably to the relief of their potential pilots.

For questions or comments, contact Dr. Michel at marshall.michel@ramstein.af.mil.