Before writing Genesis in the Projekt Saucer series, while researching a novel on World War II, I obtained through the Imperial War Museum, London, two short articles which attracted my attention. One was a routine war report by Marshall Yarrow, then the Reuters special correspondent to Supreme Headquarters in liberated Paris. The particular cutting I had was from the South Wales Argus of 13 December 1944 and it stated:
The Germans have produced a "secret" weapon in keeping with the Christmas season. The new device, which is apparently an air defence weapon, resembles the glass balls which adorn Christmas trees. They have been seen hanging in the air over German territory, sometimes singly, sometimes in clusters. They are coloured silver and are apparently transparent.
The second article, an Associated Press release published in the New York Herald Tribune of January 1945, illuminated the subject even more. It said:
Now, it seems, the Nazis have thrown something new into the night skies over Germany. It is the weird, mysterious 'Foo Fighter' balls which race alongside the wings of Beaufighters flying intruder missions over Germany. Pilots have been encountering this eerie weapon for more than a month in their night flights. No-one apparently knows what this sky weapon is. The `balls of fire' appear suddenly and accompany the planes for miles. They seem to be radio controlled from the ground, so official intelligence reports reveal . .
Either because of the famous line from the popular Smokey Stover comic strip, `Where there's foo, there's fire', or simply because the French word for `fire' is feu, these 'eerie' weapons soon became widely known as `foo fighters'.
Official `foo fighter' reports were submitted by pilots Henry Giblin and Walter Cleary, who stated that on the night of 27 September 1944, they had been harassed in the vicinity of Speyer by `an enormous burning light' that was flying above their aircraft at about 250 miles per hour; another report came from Lieutenant Edward Schluter, a fighter-pilot of the US 415th Night-Fighter Squadron based at Dijon, Prance, who, on the night of 23 November 1944, was harassed over the Rhine by `ten small reddish balls of fire' flying in formation at immense speed. Further sightings were made by members of the same squadron on 27 November, 22 December and 24 December.
In a report published in the New York Times of 2 January 1945, US Air Force Lieutenant Donald Meiers claimed that there were three kinds of foo fighters: red balls of fire that appeared off the aircraft's wingtips, other balls of fire that flew in front of them, and `lights which appear off in the distance like a Christmas tree in the air and flicker on and off. Meiers also confirmed that the foo fighters climbed, descended or turned when the aircraft did so. The foo fighters were witnessed both at night and by day, yet even when pacing the Allied aircraft they did not show up on the radar screens.
A classified project had actually been established in England in 1943 under the direction of Lieutenant General Massey, to examine a spate of reports of UFO submitted by British, French and US pilots flying bombing missions over occupied France and Nazi Germany. While no official designation of the foo fighters was offered, most reports indicated that they were 'balls of fire' which flew in parallel formation with the Allied aircraft, often pacing them for great distances, at speeds exceeding 300 miles per hour, and frequently causing their engines to malfunction and cut in and out. While a few reports of crashing Allied aircraft suggest that foo fighters caused the crashes by making the aircraft's engines cut out completely, most reports indicate that this was unlikely, and that the foo fighters merely tailed the planes and caused the pilots psychological harm, rather than physical damage. They also flew away when fired upon.
On 21 June 1947, Harold Dahl reported seeing saucer-shaped objects flying toward the Canadian border. Three days later, Kenneth Arnold made his more famous sightings of saucer-shaped objects over the Cascades, also heading for the Canadian border.
These and subsequent sightings led to speculation that both the Soviets and the Americans, utilizing men and material captured in the secret research plants of Nazi Germany, including those at Peenemünde and Nordhausen, were developing advanced saucer-shaped aircraft. In the words of Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, then head of the UFO investigations at the US Air Force's Project Blue Book: `When World War II ended, the Germans had several radical types of new aircraft and guided missiles under development. The majority of these projects were in the most preliminary stages, but they were the only known craft that could even approach the performance of the objects reported by UFO observers.' It would seem that such speculations were based on facts.
The late 1800s and early 1900s produced some of the greatest advances in the history of aviation. The first successful flights of S.P. Langley's flying machines were made in 1896 the first year of the Great Airship Scare and by 1900 numerous patents for airships had been registered. In 1900 Count von Zeppelin's dirigible balloon, powered by an internal combustion engine and propellers, became the first real directed flight by man; and by 1901, in Paris, France, Santos-Dumont had flown an airship from St Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back in under thirty minutes to win the French Aero Club prize; two years later, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright brothers made the first successful heavier-than-air manned flight; on the last day of December 1908, Wilbur Smith flew seventy-seven miles in two hours and thirty minutes; seven months later the French aviator Louis Bléériot flew across the English Channel from Calais to Dover, and throughout the Great War of 1914-18 the Germans successfully used advanced Zeppelin airships to bomb London and Paris. However, while these great aeronautical achievements were enthralling the world, even more radical theories and experiments were quietly taking place elsewhere.
In 1895, a year before the Great Airship Scare, the great Russian physicist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was theorizing about the possibilities of space flight in his essays. By 1898 he understood and had written about the necessity for liquid-fuelled rocket engines. His later reputation as the `father' of space flight rests on a series of articles he wrote on the theory of rocketry, and by the 1920s he was suggesting some of the devices which the US rocket genius, Robert H. Goddard, was to develop so brilliantly.
In 1930, with further help from the Smithsonian Institution, the philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim and famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, he set up an experimental station in a desolate area near Roswell, New Mexico, where he built larger rockets and introduced many of the ideas that are now standard in rocketry, including appropriate combustion chambers, the burning of gasoline with oxygen in such a way that the rapid combustion could be used to cool the chamber walls, various revolutionary rocket steering systems, including rudder-like deflectors and gyroscopes, and the basics for the first multistage rocket. From 1930-35, in the seclusion of his testing grounds near Roswell, New Mexico, Goddard launched rockets that attained speeds of up to 350 miles per hour and heights of a mile and a half. Even more remarkable than Goddard's achievements was the fact that they were, at least until the advent of World War II ignored by the United States government though certainly they were not ignored in Germany. The German amateur rocket society, the Verein für Raumschiffahrt, or VfR, also known as the Spaceship Travel Club, had come into being in 1927 when a group of brilliant space travel enthusiasts took over an abandoned 300 acre arsenal, which they called their Raketenflugplatz, or Rocket Flight Place, in the Berlin suburb of Reindickerdorf. From there they actually shot some crude, liquid-fuelled rockets skywards. By 1930 the VfR included most of the rocket experts of the day, including Rudolf Nebel, Hermann Oberth, Willy Ley, Max Valier, Klaus Riedel and the eighteen-year-old Wernher von Braun, who would end up in the US, heading the Moon programme for NASA.
In April 1930 the Ordnance Branch of the German Army's Ballistics and Weapons Office, headed by General Becker, appointed Captain Walter Dornberger to work on rocket development at the army's Kummersdorf firing range, approximately fifteen miles south of Berlin. Two years later, after many experiments to find the most promising method of propulsion and the most stable means of flight, the VfR demonstrated one of their liquid-fuelled rockets to Dornberger and other officers at Kummersdorf. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, the VfR was taken over by the Nazis and became part of the Kummersdorf programme. Many of the German engineers, including the up-and-coming Wernher von Braun, revered Goddard and were known to have based their work on his ideas. While in the United States Goddard's theories were still being received with indifference and even contempt, Hitler's Germany was spending fortunes on rocket research that was, by and large, based on Goddard's work. As early as December 1934 two highly advanced A2 rockets, constructed at Kummersdorf, gyroscopically controlled, and powered by oxygen and alcohol fuelled motors, were launched from the island of Borkum in the North Sea and reached an altitude of one-and-a-half miles. Those stabilized, liquid-fuelled rockets were, at the time, the only known serious challengers to the rockets of Robert H. Goddard. Nor did it end there.
Shortly after Hitler's infamous advance across the Hohenzollern bridge on 7 March 1936, Captain Walter Dornberger, the head of he Rocket Research Institute, his assistant, Wernher von Braun, and their team of 150 technicians, demonstrated some more motors at Kummersdorf, including one with an unprecedented 3500 lb of thrust. Those demonstrations so impressed the German Commander-in-Chief, General Fritsch, that permission was given for Dornberger and von Braun to build an independent rocket establishment in a suitably remote part of Germany, where research and test firings could be carried out in the strictest secrecy. The chosen site was near the village of Peenemünde, on the island of Usedom, off the Baltic Coast. The rest is now history. After numerous experiments in the Zeppelin subsonic wind tunnel at Friedrichshafen and the University of Aachen's supersonic wind tunnel, and with the completion of a remarkably reliable gyroscopic control system by the renowned electrical specialists Siemens, radio-controlled A5 rockets were soon being dropped from heights of up to 20,000 feet and obtaining speeds exceeding Mach 1, or the speed of sound.
By late 1944 numerous V1 and V2 rockets were falling on London. What is not so well known is that when the V2 rockets were inspected by Allied scientists in the captured Nordhausen Central Works at the close of the war, it was discovered that the most notable features of the propulsion unit were the shutter-type valves in the fixed grill, the fuel injection orifices incorporated in the same grill, the combustion chamber, spark plugs and nozzle all of which were to be found in a Robert H. Goddard patent, issued 13 November 1934, and reproduced in full in the German aviation magazine, Flugsport, in January 1939. There were other striking similarities between the V2 and Goddard's original rocket. Both rockets had the same motor-cooling system, the same pump drive, the same layout front to rear, the same stabilizer and the same guidance and fuel injection systems. Indeed, the only notable difference between the two was that Goddard's rocket motors used gasoline and oxygen, whereas the V2 used hydrogen and peroxide; Goddard's rocket fuel was liquid oxygen and gasoline, whereas the V2 used liquid oxygen and alcohol; and, finally, Goddard's original rocket was a lot smaller than the V2. The V2 rockets had a thrust of 55,000 pounds, attained a velocity of 6400 feet per second, and could soar to an altitude of sixty-eight miles. What this meant, in effect, is that the Germans had taken designs shamefully neglected by the US government and used them as the basis for a radical, highly advanced, supersonic technology. They had also learned through Goddard of the necessity for gyroscopic control and thus potential control of the boundary layer. What is the boundary layer?
While being 4000 or 5000 times less viscous than oil, air is still viscous. Because of this, the air sweeping in on the solid body of an aircraft forms imperceptible stratifications of resistance and consequently decreases the speed of the body in flight. These layers of air are therefore known as the boundary layer and the boundary layer increases its resistance in direct proportion to the increasing speed of the flying object, thus imposing severe limitations on its speed and manoeuvrability. Though the boundary layer affects all forms of flight, the major problem regarding ultra-high-speed flight is to somehow move this negative air as far to the rear of the aircraft as possible, thus minimizing the expenditure of energy required to propel the aircraft through the sky. Moreover, it is possible that a revolutionary type of aircraft could by not only completely removing the boundary layer, but by somehow rerouting it and utilizing it as an added propulsive force fly through the skies using little other than the expelled air itself. Should this be accomplished, we would have an aircraft capable of remarkable speeds while using only the bare minimum of conventional fuel. The Germans were working on all aspects of the boundary layer even before the beginning of the Great War of 1914 - 1918.
Physicist Dr Eduard Ludwig worked with the famous aircraft designer Hugo Junkers at his factory in Dessau where, in 1910, they produced one of the earliest `flying wing' designs. According to Ludwig, the first physicist to consider `this new branch of aerodynamics' was Professor Jukowski of Moscow. Before World War I, Jukowski worked with Dr Kutta of the Technical High School of Stuttgart, Germany, on the development of the theory of aeroplane wing beam and succeeded in establishing the differential equation of the boundary layer, which for the first time threw light on why `a plane wing can bear a load while moving forward through the air'. Since then, according to Ludwig, the Kutta/Jukowski Theory of Aeroplane Wing Beam has been the foundation of all aerodynamics. However, even earlier than that, in 1904, at the Aerodynamic Experimental Institute of the Göttingen University, the physicist Professor Ludwig Prandtl discovered the boundary layer, which in turn led to the understanding of the way in which streamlining would reduce the drag of aeroplane wings and other moving bodies. Prandtl's work soon became the basic material of aerodynamics, and he went on to make pioneering discoveries in subsonic airflow, advance wind tunnel design, and other aerodynamic equipment design. He also devised a `soap film analogy' for the analysis of torsion forces of structures, and produced invaluable studies on the `theory of plasticity'.
By 1915, another member of the Technical High School of Stuttgart, Professor H.C. Bauman, utilizing the theories of Prandtl, received a patent for a Splitwing `through which the artificial interruption of the course of the current, the tearing of the boundary layer, and the consequent braking and diminishing of the landing speed would be attained'. Meanwhile, Anton Flettner, the German director of an aeronautical and hydrodynamic research institute in Amsterdam, had invented the rotorship, a vessel propelled by revolving cylinders mounted vertically on the deck. In 1926 he established an aircraft factory in Berlin, where he used what became known as the Flettner-Rotor for the production of Flettner FI 282 and other helicopters. Soon, at the behest of Professor Junkers, the Flettner Rotor (`a cylinder turning at great speed') was being utilized by professors Prandtl, Ludwig, and others, as a means of investigating `to what extent the uplift of a wing could be increased'.
The experiments were fraught with difficulty and cost the lives of at least four test pilots. This was due to `inexplicable vibrations and axle breakages', leading the scientists to the conclusion that `only a gas turbine could produce the required uplift of the cylinder'. This led in turn to the building of a wind tunnel in which many invaluable experiments on the relationship between supersonic speeds and the boundary layer were conducted, culminating in the first successful flight of a jet aircraft in 1939, as well as the launching of the VI and V2 rockets during the closing stages of World War II.
The German scientists and engineers believed that the perfect flying machine would be one that required no runway, since it would take off vertically, would be able to hover in midair, and would not be limited in manoeuvrability or speed by the boundary layer. As the build-up of the boundary layer is dramatically increased by the many surface protuberances of a normal aircraft wings, tails, rudders, rotors, cockpits it was felt that by getting rid of them completely, by somehow wrapping them together as part and parcel of the one, circular, smooth-surfaced flying wing, the first step in the conquest of the boundary layer would be achieved. Germany was the country with most interest in such developments and certainly the most advanced at that time. A disc-or-saucer-shaped aircraft, without any surface protuberances, powered by ultra-high-speed engines, is what they were after and many designs of the time were based on that conception.
It is therefore no accident that as early as 1935 a German, Hans von Ohain, had applied for a patent for a jet engine. Nor was it an accident that the first flight of a jet-powered aircraft was made by a Heinkel He 178 at Rostock, Germany, on 27 August 1939. Regarding vertical-rising aircraft, the Focke-Achgelis Company had already announced in 1939 that it had almost completed its FW 61 helicopter, which would be the first fully operational helicopter in existence. That the Germans produced the first successful helicopter but were not known to have used such craft during World War II may be due to the fact that already they were more concerned with tailless aircraft or `flying wings', devoid of vertical stabilizing or control surfaces, which would lead them to the search for a jet-propelled, disc-shaped aircraft, or flying saucer.
By 1932 the Horten brothers of Bonn had produced some successful prototypes for the German Air Ministry at their factory in Bonn. The Horten I was an `all wing' (Nurflügler) aircraft, which in prototype form was a wooden-framed glider. It had a span of 40.7 feet, a wing area of 226 square feet, and a wing loading of two pounds per square foot. It had a flying weight of 440 pounds, a gliding angle of twenty-one degrees, and a flying life of approximately seven hours. As the Horten brothers were convinced that the most important form of aircraft would be the all-wing type, there were no vertical stabilizing or control surfaces on the Horten I. It was virtually flat and crescent-shaped, like a boomerang, with the pilot placed in a prone position, to reduce cockpit size. This so called `flying wing' certainly flew for seven hours, but it could never have been the basis of a flying saucer for one very good reason: it was still faced with the problem that had repeatedly foiled other German aeronautical engineers the limitations imposed by the boundary layer.
A more advanced model, the Horten II, D11167, was built in 1934 and test-flown at Rangsdorf, Germany, on 17 November 1938. According to the report of Hanna Reitsch (the popular female pilot who also demonstrated the Focke-Achgelis helicopter the same year), this test flight turned out to be highly unsatisfactory. The so-called tailless aircraft possessed great static-longitudinal stability and complete safety in relation to the spin, but its control surfaces were so heavy that measurements of manoeuvring stability could not be carried out.
The unsatisfactory arrangement of its undercarriage necessitated too long a takeoff; the relation between its longitudinal, lateral and directional controls was unsatisfactory; its turning flight and manoeuvrability were fraught with difficulty, and side-slipping could not be carried out. Nevertheless, the Horten designs were the first. on the road to a disc-shaped aircraft and would cause great concern amongst Allied scientists and intelligence officers involved in post-war investigations into the possibility of German, or German-based Russian flying saucers.
While experiments with `flying wings' and spherical aircraft were being conducted by the likes of the Horten brothers, many other German scientists, including Professor Betz, Flettner, and Junkers, were experimenting with specially equipped air wings in attempts to reduce the boundary layer. Most of these experiments were based on the `suction' method, in which the negative air is sucked into the wing itself, through tiny holes or slots, then expelled by means of a pump located in the fuselage. While this was a step in the right direction, the resulting aircraft still required heavy, obstructive engines (also the main problem with the Horten brothers' envisaged flying wing jet fighter). The belief persisted that in order to get rid of the boundary layer completely and in order to make use of the `dead' air not only for acceleration, but for manoeuvring as well the requirement was for an aircraft devoid of all obstructing protuberances, such as wings, rudders and even normal air-intakes, and not requiring a large, heavy engine. In other words, this revolutionary new aircraft should be the perfect flying wing that offers the least possible resistance, sucks in the `dead' air of the boundary layer, and then uses that same air, expelling it at great force, to increase its own momentum. It would therefore have to be a circular `wing' that is, in a sense, wrapped around its suction pump, with the pump being part and parcel of the engine: a machine shaped like a saucer.