YouTube – V-1 Flying Bomb
none on board
27 ft. 5 in.
17 ft. 8 in.
Although most commonly known as the V-1 Flying Bomb, the official name of the vehicle was Fieseler Fi 103. The V-1 Flying Bomb was also known as the buzz bomb and the doodlebug, due to the sound its engine made.
The V-1 Flying Bomb was the world’s first successful cruise missile. Rather than being powered by a rocket motor, it used a pulse jet for propulsion. This gave it greater ranger for its size than rocket motors were capable of at the time. The V-1 Flying Bomb had a fuselage which contained a 1,870 lb. warhead, guidance system, fuel tank, an engine mounted to the top rear, attached to relatively short wings made from wood.
The concept of a guided missile originated in the early 1900’s when British movies fictitiously portrayed such vehicles used against German aircraft attacking their country.
In Germany, during 1915, gliders were flown by radio control. In the United States it was 1916 when an unmanned biplane carrying explosives was guided towards its target by an autopilot. Great Britain experimented with an early anti-shipping cruise missile in the 1920’s. The Soviet Union was also experimenting with internally guided gliders, with rocket motors powering them, in the mid 1930’s. By the late 1930’s, Germany had flown a remote control reconnaissance airplane and began work developing cruise missiles. By 1939 the German government proposed a cruise missile that could fly some 300 miles with a 2,000 lb. warhead. Fiesler answered the proposal with what was to become the Fi 103, V-1 Flying Bomb. Its first flight was by launch from an aircraft on Dec. 10, 1942. Although it could only fly approximately half the distance proposed, and with a smaller warhead, the German Air Ministry allowed the missile to go into production.
The Argus pulse jet powering the V-1 Flying Bomb was of relatively simple construction. To start it, high pressure air was forced through the engine intake along with acetylene gas. This was ignited by a glow plug that in turn ignited the gasoline fuel of the engine. Once the fuel ignited and operating temperature was reached, the glow plug was turned off and the high pressure air and acetylene gas no longer used.
The V-1 Flying Bomb was launched from catapults and from aircraft by Germany against Allied targets. It had a very high stall speed, due to its heavy wing loading. With relatively low engine thrust it was unable to take off from a runway. Due to the lack of accuracy of its primitive guidance system, it was used as a weapon against large populations, rather than as a battlefield weapon for tactical purposes.
The V-1 Flying Bomb had an autopilot with a compass which controlled its speed and altitude, with a gyroscopic system providing stability. Compressed air, rather than batteries, operated the aircraft’s systems and flight controls. A wind driven odometer was used to control flight distance to target. The V-1 Flying Bomb did not have ailerons, using its rudder alone for turning. When the odometer ran out, explosive bolts were used to put the V-1 Flying Bomb into dive towards its target.
The V-1 Flying Bomb was especially difficult to bring down. It generally flew at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 feet at about 400 mph. This was a speed at relatively low altitudes matched by few aircraft of the time.
Even when intercepted by an aircraft, the V-1 Flying Bomb had few vulnerable areas where hits would bring it down. There was no pilot, the engine housing and fuel tank were well armored, and the engine itself could take a great deal of punishment before being disabled. A number of the missiles were brought down by “wing tipping” An aircraft would catch up with the V-1 Flying Bomb, flying parallel to it, slowly putting its wing under the wing of the missile. It would then raise that wing, tipping the V-1 Flying Bomb until its gyroscope could no longer control its attitude, bringing down the missile.
The V-1 Flying Bomb flew under the altitude where most large anti aircraft guns were effective, and just high enough so that it was at the maximum range of most smaller weapons. About 2,400 were said to have fallen on London, England.
Only about one in four V-1 Flying Bomb missiles completed their flights. The majority were lost due to guidance system and mechanical failures, as well as anti aircraft defenses.
Great Britain used aircraft, anti aircraft guns, and barrage balloons to counter the V-1 Flying Bomb threat. About 1,000 of the missiles were downed by aircraft.
Approximately 30,000 V-1 Flying Bomb missiles were produced.
Today’s cruise missiles can trace their origins back to the German V-1 Flying Bomb. Modern avionics including computers now accurately guide cruise missiles to their targets.