The Smithsonian’s Horton Ho-229
Horton Ho-229 History
The Smithsonian’s Horton Ho-229 is the third prototype aircraft, V3. British forces captured this uncompleted aircraft. The British put it on display at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, England in 1945. It was shipped to the United States and given the Air Force designation FE-490. The U.S. eventually assembled the aircraft, but never flew the aircraft. After the Air Force was finished with the aircraft they gave it to the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian has kept it in storage at the Paul E. Garber Facility in Silver Hill, Maryland. It is now in the restoration section of the Udvar-Hazy Center.
The aircraft is sometimes referred to as the Gotha Go-229. The aircraft was developed by the Horton brothers, Reimar and Walter. The Ho-229 was the culmination of over 14 years of development of the flying wing concept.[i] The first prototype made a series of unpowered tests. The aircraft crashed due to pilot error. The second prototype crashed after two hours of flying time. A turbojet flame out during the landing approach caused the plane to undershoot the runway. The aircraft crashed and burned.
On paper the Horton Ho-229 seemed to have everything for a mid-1940’s aircraft. It had what the Germans called the 1000x1000x1000 capability. It could fly at 1,000 km/hour, fly for 1,000 kilometers, and carry 1,000 kilograms of bombs. In its flight test it had a take-off run of about 1,500 feet. Its jet engines were on the central axis, hence eliminating the problem of asymmetric thrust should an engine fail. This also decreased the aircraft’s wing loading and so increased its maneuverability. The aircraft was stressed for 7g’s. The Ho-229’s flying wing shape gave it a very small radar signature. This aircraft could carry out fighter, fighter-bomber, and reconnaissance missions with virtual impunity.
The small radar signature was not the purpose of the flying wing design. The flying wing concept preceded the invention of radar. The Germans did not develop the Ho-229 for its stealth. The speed gave it a considerable advantage over 1945 jet powered aircraft. Would the Ho-229 have still had this advantage when the Ho-229s reached operational units? Postwar flying wing development history is marked by development problems and most of the flying wing advantages being overtaken by conventional airframes. A XB-49, the experimental U.S. flying wing bomber broke apart in mid-air on June 5, 1948. All five crew members died in the crash. On March 15, 1950 an XB-49 had a nose wheel collapse during a high speed taxi run. This crash and ensuing fire destroyed this aircraft.[i] It wasn’t until the B-2 Spirit, which made its first flight in 1989, did a military deploy a flying wing.
The manufacturer’s estimated top speeds of 590 miles per hour at sea level and 607 miles per hour at 39,370 feet[ii] are impressive for 1945 but it is questionable if a combat capable Ho-229 would have achieved these speeds. The operational jet aircraft of 1945 had plenty of development life in them. It seems probable jet aircraft with conventional airframes would have matched or overtaken the performance of the Ho-229 by the time it became operational.
[ii] The Warplanes of the Third Reich, by William Green © 1970, Page 251.
Me-262 (With Ramjets)
590mph (Sea Level) - 640mph (21,320')
620mph (Sea level)