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The Military Technology

Hitler's Stealth Fighter 582

DesScorp writes "Aviation Week reports on a television special from the National Geographic Channel on what may have been the world's first true stealth fighter, the Horten Ho 229, a wooden design that was to include a layer of carbon material sandwiched in the leading edge to defeat radar. Northrop Grumman, experts at stealth technology from their Tacit Blue and B-2 programs, have built a full-size replica of the airframe and tested it at their desert facilities where they determined that the design was indeed stealthy, and would have been practically invisible to Britain's Chain Home radar system of WWII."
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Hitler's Stealth Fighter

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  • Man (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:37AM (#28451635)

    What DIDN'T Hitler Do?

    • Re:Man (Score:5, Funny)

      by cool_story_bro ( 1522525 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:43AM (#28451703)

      What DIDN'T Hitler Do?

      make friends as a child?

    • Re:Man (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:54AM (#28451809)
      What DIDN'T Hitler Do?

      Succeed as an artist?
    • Re:Man (Score:5, Funny)

      by bytethese ( 1372715 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:58AM (#28451855)
      Win the war, thankfully.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Get into college?
    • by StCredZero ( 169093 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:19AM (#28452075)

      Hitler wasn't some demonic bad-ass bad-guy. He was a crazed political genius at the right place and right time. His downfall: he wasn't a real geek! He lost because of technical cluelessness! He didn't have the technical knowledge to realize the value of the wonder-weapons until late in the war when the 3rd Reich got desperate, and then it was too late. His right-hand man Goering didn't have a complete grasp of the importance of good intelligence and command and control. (He would have won the Battle of Britain, but he didn't know that he should've continued his campaign against the sector stations.) Even Hitler's understanding of economic warfare was that of an enthusiastic amateur.

      We won not because our geeks were better, though they were darn good. We won because we *listened* to them!

      The Secret History of Silicon Valley. (How geeks won WWII and the Cold War, and how that led to Silicon Valley.) []

      • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <> on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @11:36AM (#28453151) Homepage Journal

        No, he lost because he over extended himself into Russia.
        No weapon at the time wold have stopped the russians once the begain moving toward Germany.

      • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @11:49AM (#28453365)

        As to the value of so-called 'wonder weapons', you should really read Arthur C. Clark's short story 'Superiority'. And before everyone says "it's just a sci-fi story, it has no bearing on real life" you should keep in mind that this story has been required reading at the US military colleges for almost 40 years.

        It's not just the time and effort that goes into R+D; it's building up a manufacturing base, getting the necessary raw materials, training your soldiers on new equipment, adapting strategies to the new technology (often a forgotten step), shipping the new technology out into the field. Then, you've got a new, fragile, and rushed technology being subjected to the worst conditions imaginable and having people's lives rely on it.

        The only obvious exception is the A-bomb, and even that was a fluke. The US was safe from invasion and damage, didn't have to worry nearly as much as Germany about having the whole project ruined in a bombing raid. You only need a few A-bombs to make a huge difference in the war, not true of most Germany's pet projects (except, obviously, their own A-bomb research). Since you only need a few, it's much easier to training, deployment, and maintenance are much simpler than a mass produced weapon.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DarthVain ( 724186 )

        Pretty sure Hitler's problem was that he was a idiot (strategically at least anyway).

        Trying to take over the Soviet Union. Ha! That really worked out well.

        People point to D-Day and this and the other thing as his downfall.

        Cold War BS aside, it was Russia that brought them to their knees, and Hitler's unending pursuit in Russia.

        I am sure all his aides were like "Dude this is such a bad idea!" and "Man this is so not working out!" at least in their heads anyway...

        For the grunt on the ground, hearing he was be

    • NSFW (Score:5, Funny)

      by MancunianMaskMan ( 701642 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:46AM (#28451735)
      what with swastika flags and all. I'll be in trouble if someone has overseen my screen just then, being a german living in Britain.
    • Re:Best Photos (Score:5, Interesting)

      by chrb ( 1083577 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:56AM (#28451837)

      The development of stealth technology is one of those secretive fields that has an instant fascination. I quite enjoyed reading Ben Rich's autobiography []. Also Hitler's plan to atom bomb New York [] and The Real Heroes of Telemark [] were both quite interesting, casting two sides of the same global battle from very different perspectives. German scientists were some of the best in the world (not that they are so bad today..). Sometimes I think that the world got lucky - a few small changes in history, and things could easily have gone the other way.

      • Re:Best Photos (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:23AM (#28452143)

        I think that the world got lucky - a few small changes in history, and things could easily have gone the other way.

        Not hardly, as Jacob McCandles would have said. The Germans biggest problem in the war wasn't their technology, it was their production. The USA built enough tanks that they could afford to give away more than the total German tank production. The Soviets built more tanks than the USA.

        Airplanes, the USA built enough to give away more than the Germans made. The Soviets didn't build more than the USA, but they built nearly as many.

        The USA built more ships than everyone else combined, much less the Germans.

        And on and on like that. Nothing the Germans could have done would have mattered a hill of beans, really - the only way they could have won that war was if they'd started building up their industry to USA/USSR levels in the 20's.

        And even then, their chances would have been slim at best - they didn't have the manpower to operate industry at our level and put 20 million men in the field at the same time.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Hurricane78 ( 562437 )

          But one German tank could shoot down ten Russian ones. So the count alone is not the point.
          Besides, Hitler's advantage was the Blitzkrieg. He was too fast. That was all.
          And in the end, that killed him too, because the army was spread to much, and they could not hold the areas behind the fronts anymore.
          If he had just stopped at one point, where he could still hold it, he might have had a chance.
          Then wait a generation, for people to get used to it. And expand again. Like breathing.

          Of course, being evil to eve

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Besides, Hitler's advantage was the Blitzkrieg. He was too fast

            Umm, no. The Blitzkrieg was dead by 1943. Alas, it couldn't function well without air superiority. Which the Germans didn't have anywhere after 1942.

            Guderian wrote a book on Panzer warfare in the early 30's. It included a really insightful table listing engine production by the major powers, which Guderian considered to be the most obvious metric by which one could assess a nation's ability to fight effectively using AFVs properly.

            He made

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Azarael ( 896715 )

            But one German tank could shoot down ten Russian ones. So the count alone is not the point.

            Don't see the Russians short. Their tanks may not have been as technically advanced as the Germans' were, but they were designed for the terrain where the battles were taking place (snow, cold, mud pits) and they were easier to repair and manufacture. I think that if we looked at what happened in these battles, you wouldn't see the lopsided a result you're claiming.

      • by ijakings ( 982830 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:33AM (#28452247)
        I think albert einstein proved this correct when he travelled back in time and killed hitler.
      • Re:Best Photos (Score:5, Informative)

        by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:43AM (#28452379) Homepage

        Sometimes I think that the world got lucky - a few small changes in history, and things could easily have gone the other way.

        Mostly because you've bought into the hype surrounding WWII German VunderVeapons. In reality, Germany never had an atom bomb (they weren't even close), let alone a plane capable of delivering it over strategic distances (they weren't even close), let alone a plan to use these non existent bombs and aircraft to attack New York. Sure, they had enough bits and pieces that with enough hype and lack of journalistic integrity one could create the illusion of such things for entertainment value... But such entertainment should not be confused with a documentary.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MariusBoo ( 883340 )
        Some parts of the world got unlucky. The Soviets and Americans winning the war was not good for everybody.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by delt0r ( 999393 )

        German scientists were some of the best in the world..

        Yep, and were a little to Jewish or otherwise and left Germany and then ended up in the Manhattan project. Define Irony.

    • Re:Best Photos (Score:4, Interesting)

      by forgetmenot ( 467513 ) <> on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @01:24PM (#28455017) Homepage

      Beautiful photos... I was surprised by the swastika banners in the background of the last one though.

      I'm not offended. I've got absolutely nothing against swatikas per se, whether in the context of the nazis, general history, or otherwise and I loathe the kind of censorship that bans their display.

      Still, I'm not the general public and given the sensitivity of segments of the general public to this symbol I think it's intriguing that someone would go through the trouble of a) creating the banners, b) getting on a ladder and hanging them in a hanger bay, and c) taking a "romanticised" photo of the whole thing. From the perspective of documenting a piece of technology it was unnecessary though it does add to the artistic aesthetic of the photo.

      Is it a brave decision? An insensitive one? Maybe the swastika simply doesn't hold the kind of meaning it did 60 years ago? I just find it somewhat peculiar.

  • by Canazza ( 1428553 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:40AM (#28451671)

    They'd only see the plane leaving, not arriving, which is quite an interesting compromise, as every other stealth programme goes with the notion that it has to be invisible at all times.

    This was designed so that, once it passed Britains coastal radar, they wouldn't be able to scramble fighters fast enough once they did detect them. Rather ingenious.

    • by icebrain ( 944107 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:52AM (#28451795)

      every other stealth programme goes with the notion that it has to be invisible at all times.

      Not exactly. You will never be invisible, and stealth technology/employment is a lot more complicated than "we'll just be invisible". Even today, remaining undetected until past the threat is a fairly well-used technique. Just look at the F-22. And even if your airframe isn't fully-LO, you see a lot of emphasis on reducing frontal RCS. The B-1, Typhoon, Rafale, and Super Hornet all use some degree of RCS reduction, which buys them that much more time to get in close. Modern cruise missiles use the same principle.

      Interestingly enough, raw speed can buy you some of the same advantages. Go fast enough and high enough, and the defenses just won't have enough time to react, even if you're lit up like a billboard.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JWSmythe ( 446288 )

        That sounds like the SR-71 plan. Fly really high and really fast, and nothing will get you. :) I've read reports of missiles being fired at SR-71's. The SR-71 can simply outrun them without trying too hard. Of course, at over Mach 3, your travel time to anywhere is substantially reduced. :) I would imagine something like that even if it showed up on radar would look like an error. "We have a blip here. No, we have a blip there. No, it's gone, it was nothing." :)

  • not so fast (Score:5, Funny)

    by queequeg1 ( 180099 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:43AM (#28451705)

    I believe that the advances in detection technology would always have allowed the allies to hear a Horton Ho.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:47AM (#28451745)
    It's kind of scary all the truly advanced tech Germany was working on at the end of the War. They're rocket scientists were disturbingly advanced compared to anything on the Allied side. It took Korolyov YEARS just too replicate Von Braun's V-2 in Russia, and that was working *with* Von Braun's own assistant, Helmut Gröttrup.
  • Hehe (Score:4, Funny)

    by mewsenews ( 251487 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:55AM (#28451813) Homepage

    From the article (yeah I know, Slashdot, not supposed to, etc)

    If Nazi engineers had had more time, would this jet have ultimately changed the outcome of the war?

    IIRC the United States developed something called Atomic Bombs that would have counteracted any advantage Germany would have gained from stealth jets.

  • by downix ( 84795 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:00AM (#28451875) Homepage

    The Horton was a bomber, not a fighter. It was part of Hitlers 1000,1000,1000 goal. 1000kg of bombs 1000km at 1000km/hr.

  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:08AM (#28451967) Homepage

    This article is utterly bogus. Not that National Geographic has ever been known for quality writing on highly technical topics.

    The Ho 229 was built as it was specifically to meet the "1000-1000-1000" bomber contract. This called for an aircraft that could fly 1000 km at 1000 km/h while carrying a 1000 kg warload. And it had to be built of wood, because all of the aluminum, and metalworkers, were accounted for in current projects.

    The only way to possibly meet the speed requirement was through jet engines. However, jet engines of the era were extremely inefficient, especially German ones where poor alloys limited exhaust temperatures in the turbine. So in order to get the range while keeping the speed, you needed to cut drag to an absolute minimum.

    And that's why the 229 looks like it does. It lacks the profusion of surfaces that conventional designs had, and minimized wetted surface due to the almost non-existent fuselage. This thing is all wing, which means you're losing all the parasitic drag.

    ANYTHING else, including these "stealth" features, were utterly secondary.

    Moreover I have a very serious problem with the claims that this plane is stealthy. Compressor disks in the engines are an extremely effective radar mirror. This is why the F-117 has "blinds" over the inlets, or why the F-22 has a S-shaped intake system. As you can see in the pictures, in the 229 the compressor face is directly exposed to the front.

    Sure, the CH radars were longwave and wouldn't have been good against this aircraft, but that would be true of any small jet of the era. They were extremely good against targets a few meters in size, like a propeller, but anything smaller would be difficult to see.

    Claiming this plane was developed _as a stealth plane_ is like claiming the DC-3 was a swept-wing design. Accidental features do not indicate design intent.


    • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:35AM (#28452283)

      And that's why the 229 looks like it does. It lacks the profusion of surfaces that conventional designs had, and minimized wetted surface due to the almost non-existent fuselage.

      You are going on about the shape, which wasn't even claimed to be for stealthiness. The claimed stealth feature was the layer of carbon material sandwiched into the leading edge of the plane to reduce its radar signature. Thus, it was the first plane to incorporate design features specifically for stealth. Nothing you said even addresses that. Whether stealth was considered of secondary importance, or whether all the components were designed for stealth, is irrelevant.

      • > Whether stealth was considered of secondary importance, or whether all the components were designed for stealth, is irrelevant.

        Except that it's called a "Stealth Fighter", not a "jet bomber with some stealthy features". The implication is clear, and you're take seems widely off the mark.

        > Northorp Grumman says their tests proved the stealth value of the aircraft

        And NG didn't put engines in the thing. So it's basically worthless.


  • It's remarkable that we had in our hands a German aircraft that contained within it a very important lesson that we flat out ignored. Building a stealth plane in 1943 meant the Germans had learned something it would take us another 30 years to figure out. Stealth is essential in aircraft.

    Instead, we had the likes of unstealthy aircraft flying over Vietnam and getting shot down with rather significant losses to surface to air missiles. []

    More than 1700 US aircraft were shot down. That's a catastrophe. It was in response to that that the US Stealth fighter program was initiated in the early 1970s. But, just imagine if we had thought, geez, the Germans had came up with a way to evade radar, we have the plane, newer technology...

    You have to wonder, what if?

    • by icebrain ( 944107 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:37AM (#28452309)

      To be fair, the utterly stupid and ridiculous rules of engagement forced on US forces by the civilian leadership for most of the war prevented them from doing anything against those air defense sites except in reaction to being fired upon. It's kinda like fighting while handcuffed.

      Also, the German technology was mostly serindipitous. Radar cross-section is much more a function of airframe shaping than materials; it just happened that flying wings tended to be better-shaped than traditional aircraft. But all of this was a trial-and-error process. We learned some from this, and incorporated those lessons into the B-70 proposal and the SR-71. However, it wasn't until the F-117 program (and its contemporaries) came along that we had

      A. The theoretical base on which to reliably compute radar reflections (ironically enough, most of that was developed by the Soviets and seemed to be largely ignored by them for a while).

      B. The computational power to work out reflections over even a simple faceted shape.

      C. The control technology to make such shapes flyable.

      And even then, the result was a flat-faceted, ungainly monstrosity. It took a little longer before we could compute reflections of curved surfaces, and develop something like the B-2.

  • by zerofoo ( 262795 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:16AM (#28452045)

    Technical sophistication is one advantage on the battlefield, but manufacturing capacity is also important.

    The Germans choose technical complexity over quantity believing that superior machines could beat the vast numbers of inferior machines the allies built.

    The Germans were wrong.

    As Stalin said "quantity has a quality all its own". A stealth aircraft or two may have been pretty trick, but if you have thousands of targets to bomb, you better have hundreds if not thousands of aircraft (and pilots) to do the job.


    • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @10:38AM (#28452311) Journal

      There was a short story written by Arthur C. Clarke titled "Superiority" that discussed this. Of course, it being science fiction, the weapons were very interesting (matter annihilators, space distortion systems). Also, since it was written (in the 50s?) some of the vocabulary is quaint (I think the term "torpedoes" refer to what we would call missiles).
      Still I didn't know (according to Wikipedia) that it was (once?) required reading at West Point! (For those not from the U.S., that is one of the premiere military academies). []

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Archimonde ( 668883 )

      You actually didn't show that their strategy wasn't bad at all. On the contrary, prima facie their argument can seem reasonable because the germany had limited number of material, pilots, engineers and workers in general, so it is natural to expect to go high tech to combat the mass numbers of allies.

      Moreover, they didn't have much problem with the technology by the end of the war, they had extremely large problem of material and fuel supplies. This is one of the reasons the horten (which was build at the e

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mike2R ( 721965 )
      And by this point in the war, the desperate need was for advanced fighter aircraft to stop the allied bombing offensive. I'm sure there is a bit in Speer []'s book, or maybe one of his interviews, about trying to convince Hitler to switch all jet production to fighter aircraft, but Hitler (who's grip on reality was seriously slipping by this point) wanted bombers to attack Germany's enemies.

      Speer was of course a liar about many things.
  • How is this News? (Score:3, Informative)

    by cenc ( 1310167 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @11:52AM (#28453433) Homepage

    Anyone familiar with WWII and aviation history knows about this. The U.S. also had a stealth flying wing bomber. The idea was patented in 1910, and by early 30's was being kicked around for stealth usage. Basically stealth aircraft designs where around before radar, or at least developed alongside radar. []

  • by cenc ( 1310167 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @12:14PM (#28453795) Homepage

    I can not find it now, but I remember encountering an article several years ago in a local Las Vegas newspaper that described how the stealth fighters could be detected easily. In places like Nevada where there are secret military bases all over the place, there are hobby stealth watchers and they had discovered that there are so many cell phones in use all over the world that stealth fighters get lit up like a x-mas tree from the ground based signals emanating from the cell phones. Even amateur stealth watchers could track them flying around the Western United States. It was not long after that article the military officially started dropping all plans for future production related to designs based primarily on right angles and radar.

    Can anyone find the article or info on this?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 )

      The military couldn't drop what they didn't have... The F-117 was all angles because the computation required to design a smoother shape were essentially impossible to accomplish at that time. The cost of computation dropped greatly between the F-117 and the B-2, and thus the flat/angular stealth scheme vanished into history. Cell phones had fuck-all to do with it since they wouldn't become common until a decade after this happened.

  • by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @12:34PM (#28454161) Journal

    Reminds me of early attempts to cloak planes to the naked eye by putting a row of lights around the edges. It was reasonably effective on a bright overcast day.

  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @12:39PM (#28454243)

    "RCS testing showed that an Ho-229 approaching the English Coast from France flying at 550 mph at 50 to 100 feet above the water would not have been visible to Chain Home radar."

    The flying wing was a hugely unstable design []. The sole Ho IX V2 crashed on 18 February 1945, after only two hours of flight time. On 5 June 1948, Northrop's YB-49 (their second attempt to build a flying wing after the B-35 was cancelled due to insurmountable technical issues) crashed, killing its pilot and co-pilot Daniel Forbes and Glen Edwards, for whom Forbes and Edwards airforce bases are named. It took until the 80s for them to figure it out and make a success of the B2.

    So, so long as a pilot could buzz the waves at an altitude that would make most pilots of conventional fighters of the era nervous, at the high end of speeds for the era (a good 100mph faster than a P-51 Mustang), before flitting up over the cliffs of southern England (the famed white cliffs of Dover reaching up to 106m, a good 70m over the 100 feet the plane was flying across the channel at), then it could have been invisible to British radar of the time.

    One can only imagine, if production had worked out, the teenagers Germany was strapping in to planes at the time (having lost most of its experienced pilots by that point in the war) would have been doing this on a daily basis.

    • What really happened (Score:3, Informative)

      by DesScorp ( 410532 )

      The flying wing was a hugely unstable design []. The sole Ho IX V2 crashed on 18 February 1945, after only two hours of flight time. On 5 June 1948, Northrop's YB-49 (their second attempt to build a flying wing after the B-35 was cancelled due to insurmountable technical issues) crashed, killing its pilot and co-pilot Daniel Forbes and Glen Edwards, for whom Forbes and Edwards airforce bases are named.

      There were indeed technical issues with Northrop's flying wing designs, but they were in no way considered insurmountable. Northrop's wings were killed by the USAF not on technical merits, but from political scheming. The Air Force wanted Northrop to merge with Convair, and Jack Northrop refused. As punishment, his wing designs were canceled and the prototypes ordered destroyed, and in a particularly petty and sadistic twist, Northrop employees were made to watch as USAF officials literally took buzzsaws to

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