A boost-glide concept that can be considered an intercontinental spaceplane – this was one of Germany’s many attempts to strike America during WWII.
Germany’s Silbervogel, also known as the “Silver Bird,” was a concept for a suborbital bomber intended to be launched vertically using a rocket-powered sled, which would propel the aircraft to a high altitude before gliding to its target.
Eugen Sänger, the Austrian engineer who co-theorized the concept, believed that a suborbital bomber would be an effective weapon against America since it was beyond the range of Germany’s conventional bombers.
Designed to carry an 8,800-lb bomb load, the bomber was expected to drop its bombs during its glide phase. The aircraft would also be powered by rocket engines, providing the initial thrust needed to launch it into the atmosphere. The Silbervogel was also designed to be highly maneuverable and would have had a delta-wing configuration that would allow it to fly at high altitudes and speeds.
It was intended to be capable of reaching speeds of up to 13,500 mph, which would have made it almost impossible for enemy fighters to intercept.
Challenging To Produce
However, the aircraft was never built due to several technical and logistical challenges. One of the main problems was the difficulty of building a rocket-powered sled capable of launching the aircraft vertically. In addition, the design of the Silbervogel was highly complex and required a significant amount of research and development, which Germany did not have the resources to undertake during the war.
In fact, Sanger actually tried to initially submit a 900-page proposal for this concept, but it was rejected due to its size and complexity. He would later rework his proposal in 1944, proposing a crewed and uncrewed version. Both were identical in design but differed in their payload – yet none were ever produced.
After The War
Joseph Stalin was intrigued by Sanger’s Silbervogel concept when the war ended. Soon enough, Stalin would try to get the Silbervogel engineers kidnapped, but his plan eventually failed. The Soviets instead hired a Soviet mathematician to research Sanger’s idea and improve it.
A new version would then be developed, now powered by ramjets instead of rocket engines, but would also not be produced. However, their designs later influenced several cruise missile designs in the early 1960s.
Inspired Other Technologies
Despite not entering production, the concept of the Silbervogel had a significant impact on the development of rocket technology and space exploration. The United States later adapted the design of the Silbervogel for the development of the X-15 rocket plane, which set numerous altitude and speed records during the 1960s.
Today, the Silbervogel remains a fascinating piece of historical curiosity, representing a unique intersection of military and aerospace technology. Although it was never built, the concept of the Silbervogel pushed the boundaries of what was possible with rocket technology and helped to lay the groundwork for the development of the space program in the decades that followed.