Here’s a bit of history that didn’t make it into my novel, but it’s fascinating nonetheless: the Silbervogel, aka The Nazi Space Plane. Designed by Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt, the Silbervogel (translated as The Silver Bird) was to be a liquid-fueled rocket-powered sub-orbital bomber.
One can generally take two approaches when it comes to space flight: a single-use ballistic rocket with a payload on top. Think Germany’s V2 rocket (which terrorized London) or NASA’s Saturn V (which took men to the moon) — both of which were designed by Wernher von Braun (yeah, he was a Nazi.) The other approach is a reusable space vehicle that can achieve space flight and then return safely to earth, its crew or payload intact. Examples of this would be NASA’s space shuttle program and, well, the Silbervogel.
So how was the Silbervogel going to rain the Führer’s fury down on New York City? Well, I’m glad you asked because get this: a rocket-powered sled was going to propel the plane along a two-mile rail system, flinging the vehicle into the air. Then, the plane’s onboard rocket engine would provide the required thrust to achieve suborbital flight. At that point, the Silbervogel would bounce off the upper atmosphere — up and down like a roller coaster — until reaching its target. Then… bombs away.
All of this was a part of Nazi Germany’s Amerikabomber Project, whose explicit purpose was to obtain a long-range strategic bomber capable of striking the United States. (This is a fascinating rabbit hole to jump down, so expect a few follow-up posts on this!) But before you go having nightmares about the Silbervogel, the actual feasibility of this design was highly unlikely to ever — pardon the pun — get off the ground. And modern computer modeling has shown the design to be catastrophically flawed. But perhaps, if there hadn’t been a war sucking up scarce resources and funding, maybe these designs would have spurred further developments.
Thanks for checking out today’s post. As always, if this stuff interests you, you’ll love my book. And since I’ve mentioned Nazis, it’s necessary I post this: