Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Tale of Two Komets

Aviation War Historians have long written much about the famed Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet rocket plane and its role in the defense of the German Reich during the final months of WWII. But what few people know is that same piece of German technology that took down fourteen American heavy bombers made its way to Japan and almost saw combat in the Pacific. 

Enter the Mitsubishi J8M Shūsui. Licensed by Messerschmitt, the J8M was ordered in anticipation of the American B-29’s that would soon fill the skies over Japan. The agreement between the two Tripartite nations called for a working prototype, rocket engines, and blue prints to be sent by U-Boats to Kobe Japan. But as the U-Boats were sunk en route, the Japanese were forced to make unforeseen adjustments that cost them critical time in the J8M’s production.  

Using a surviving operational manual recovered from the Japanese submarine I-29 that was docked at Singapore, engineers tried to reverse engineer a working prototype.  This was to be a secret joint project between the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army. While the Japanese variant Ro.2 rocket engine did not have the operational thrust of the ME 163, they still used the same volatile propellants of T-Stoff oxidizer and C-Stoff fuel (hydrogen peroxide/methanol-hydrazine), known in Japan as Ko and Otsu which killed many pilots on the ground in Germany.

The first flight of the J8M was on July 7th 1945. But at an altitude of 1300 feet, the engine stalled and was forced to be glided back to the ground clipping a small building that resulted in the death of the pilot the very next day. As a result, all J8M test flights were suspended until the technicians could find the cause of the accident but as history recalls, time had about run out for Japan. 

Today there are only two of these J8M’s in existence, one at the Mitsubishi Komaki Plant Museum and the other at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino California. We were lucky to see these rare planes, now you can too. Please enjoy!

To see both the ME 163 and the J8M in one place:

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