Kit No. 625
Decals: Four versions, each for German Luftwaffe in 1944-45 period
Comments: Re-box of Hawk kit; engraved panel lines, raised rivet detail, tail wheel molded as integral part of two fuselage halves; basic cockpit includes pilot figure, seat, and decal for instrument panel, separately mounted leading edge wing slats and dive brakes
The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, which preceeded the twin-engined Me 262 jet fighter into service by roughly two months, was the original point-defense interceptor, representing an inventive approach to the problem of how to bring down heavily armed Allied bombers which flew in defensive “box” formations designed to put machine gun fire from multiple directions onto any attacking aircraft. The Me 163’s designation is somewhat misleading, since Messerschmitt AG had little to do with its development, which was the work of Dr. Alexander LIppisch, the creator of the revolutionary rocket plane who also was responsible for ushering it into Luftwaffe service.
In the Spring of 1941, the prototype of the aircraft began trials as a glider; towed to an altitude of 26,250 feet, it was soon achieving speeds of up to 530 mph while retaining a high degree of controllability. In the Summer of 1941 it was sent to the rocket development establishment at Peenemunde-West on the Baltic coast, to be fitted with a rocket motor. This was an improved version of the Walter R1 incorporating a degree of thrust control but using two highly volatile liquids, T-stoff (a mixture of mostly concentrated hydrogen peroxide, oxine, and water) and Z-stoff (calcium permanganate and sodium permanganate) as its fuel. There were several accidents during the development program at Peenemunde, some fatal, since on multiple occasions the volative fuels spontaneously exploded, in one instance demolishing an entire building.
Despite the danger, the Me 163 V1 repeatedly broke the world speed record, until pilot Heini Dittmar finally exceeded 620 mph (Mach 0.80), almost killing himself as the compression shockwaves radically altered the airflow over the wings, inducing negative lift and massive vibration. But Dittmar managed to regain control and land safely. Impressed, the RLM ordered prototypes of an operational aircraft, the Me 163B, armed with a pair of MG 151 20mm cannon and fitted with an even more powerful engine, the 509-A2 rocket motor using the somewhat less unstable combination of T-stoff and C-stoff (a mixture of 57% methanol, 30% hydrazine hydrate, and 13% water) as fuel, producing 3,300 pounds of thrust. Two tons of this propellant, or nearly half the weight of the aircraft, was enough to propel it to an operational ceiling of 39,000 feet in 3.35 minutes, at which point the pilot had a further 4.5 minutes of powered flight available. When the fuel gave out, the Me 163 became a glider, returning to Earth.
Early in 1943, two Me 163 B-1 aircraft were delivered to a special Luftwaffe unit for pilot familiarization, but it was July before any training began. The Komet’s high landing speed of 140 mph, combined with the fact that the pilot would always be committed to the landing from the outset, regardless of topography or other factors, having no fuel to go round for a second attempt, led to many accidents, many of them fatal. The first operational unit to deploy the Me 163 B-1, armed now with two 30mm cannon in the wing roots and incorporating armor protection for the pilot, began forming at WIttmundhaven in May 1944, and first went into action at 1/JG400 on August 16th. The unit scored its first success some days later, when Leutnant Hartmut Ryll downed a B-17 near Leipzig. In all, some 300 Me 163’s in various versions were built before the war’s end, with a handful being sold to Japan, but the Komet was a limited success, due partly to its dangerous fuel but mostly to its limited endurance.
According to Allied records, the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet is believed to have accounted for 12 American B-17 bombers shot down by May 1945. An improved version, known originally as the Junkers Ju 248, was produced by Junkers and then taken over by Messerschmitt as the Me 263. It was larger, with a wheeled undercarriage rather than skids, and was powered by a Walter 509C rocket motor. It would likely have been more effective with similar armament and improved endurance, but was produced in prototype form only.
As a point defense interceptor the Me 163 was a technological marvel that terrifed Allied aircrews for a few months, as it was heavily armed and moved at such speed that it was all but impossible to shoot down. But like the Me 262, it came too late to alter the course of the air war; it was deployed in relatively small numbers and had limited endurance, since the effective operational phase of each flight lasted less than five minutes. Finally, it was dangerous. Not only was it powered by highly volatile fuels that could easily ignite and vaporize both pilot and plane before they even got airborne, but once the mission was over, there was no guarantee of walking away from what would have to be an unpowered landing in glider mode at well over 100 mph.
Testors’ kit of the Messerschmitt Me 163, first released under that label in 1982 in the distinctive yellow box, is actually a re-issue of the old Hawk kit, and was initially released in 1960. The fact that the kit bears engraved panel lines reveals that this modeling technology has been around for a long time, but did not see wide use until the 1990’s, perhaps due to associated production costs. This is a simple kit, consisting of only 25 parts. The cockpit is barely worthy of the name, having no floor, no sidewall detail, a spartan seat, a decal for the main instrument panel, and the control yoke is molded into the pilot figure’s hand. If no effort is made to add aftermarket details, the main challenge and allure of this kit will be selecting and applying the paint scheme, and doing any weathering. As this is an older kit, the fit may provide a challenge also, proving a diversion into puttying and sanding.
Looking at the simple and well-illustrated instructions, assembling the kit should be a breeze. For those willing to put in more effort and part with additional cash, aftermarket resin to add cockpit and rocket engine detail is available for this kit, although it may be pricey. This kit has a one-piece canopy, as did the actual aircraft, but without cockpit detail it may not be worthwhile to leave it open.
The brand of the decals is not specified, but the markings provided are very high quality, fully in register with realistic colors and a nice semi-gloss sheen. Markings are provided for any one of four aircraft:
(1) “PK + QL:” An Me 163B-0 (V41) in an overall flat red paint scheme from May 1944, attached to Eprobungskommando 16, operating from Bad Zwischenahn, Germany — this aircraft was flown on the first operational Komet mission;
(2) “White 13:” An Me 163B-1 painted in a splinter camouflage scheme of RLM 82 Dark Green “Dunkelgrun” / RLM 81 Brown-Violet
“Braunviolet” on the upper surfaces, with RLM 76 Light Grey under surfaces, attached to 2/JG 400, operating from Brandis, Germany, January 1945;
(3) “Yellow 15:” An Me 163B-1 painted in a similar splinter camouflage scheme as #2 above, except that the vertical tail features a base color of RLM 76, intermittently covered with a mottled pattern using RLM 81 and RLM 82. This machine was attached to 7/JG 400 operating from Schleswig-Holstein, May 1945;
(4) “White 54:”An Me 163 B-1 featuring a splinter camouflage pattern of RLM 81 and RLM 82 on the upper surfaces of the wings only, and a base color of RLM 76 on the entire fuselage, heavily mottled with RLM 81 and RLM 82, extending to the rear third of the under surface of the plane. The remaining under surfaces are painted RLM 76. This machine was attached to 1/JG 400, a training staffel based at Merseberg, May 1945.
This is a fascinating kit that, over 50 years after its initial release, still has a lot of appeal despite its age, owing largely to its engraved panel lines and the fact that is a subject rich with detailing potential. The Testors 1982 re-boxing is probably the most attractive rendition of this kit ever, helping its marketing potential even today. Highly recommended.
- Germany’s Secret Weapons in World War II by Roger Ford; Copyright 2000 by MBI Publishing Company, Osceola, Wisconsin