It is May 1945, Nazi Germany has been defeated and the former Allies are now trying to get their hand on as much of the Nazi developed technology as they can. It is well known that Wernher von Braun and his V2 missile was the foundation of the American Space program but that was not the only rocket that the Nazis were developing.
Starting in 1942, after the United States have joined the war against the Nazi’s and Japan the Germans believed it was time to develop weapons that could strike back and hit the Americans back home. The “America bomber” project was started which focused on a long range, piston engine bomber that could cross the Atlantic ocean and hit the East coast cities. This project ultimately delivered two working prototypes, the Messerschmitt Me 264 and Junkers Ju 390, which actually took to the air but never tried to cross the Atlantic.
Artists impression of the Silver Bird at launch. Source: deutscheluftwaffe.de
A far more ambitious plan was launched by Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt, they envisaged a piloted rocket bomber that could take off from a V-1 like ramp and then almost go into orbit before being able to bomb any city on earth. A very long glide would take it back to it’s landing site after which it could be used again.
According to Popular Science the key to his design’s success was its shape. Small wings, a pointed front, thin leading edges, and a flat bottom made for a vehicle that could skip off the lower layers of the atmosphere like a stone skipping across a still pond. The flight would only be partially powered; rocket propulsion would launch it on an arcing trajectory, and thanks to its flat bottom, it would skip and glide unpowered to its destination with a pilot at the helm.
The Silver Bird in flight. Source: Moddbd.com
The Nazi’s gave this rocket bomber the code name “Slibervogel” or Silver Bird. Had this vision become reality, together with a progress that was made towards developing an atomic bomb, the consequences would have been frighting indeed!
Luckily for the rest of the world, even the Germans thought this plan too ambitious and only a scale model was ever built before this plan went into the drawer for good.
In this excellent video you can see the whole concept at work:
Sänger kept working for the Nazi’s and his prime achievement was the development of the Škoda-Kauba Sk P.14 Ram Jet as part of the Third Reich defense effort against the devastating allied bombing raids. Only parts of the aircraft had been built when the project was terminated because the war ended.
Škoda-Kauba Sk P.14.01 ramjet-powered emergency fighter via Wikipedia
After the war ended Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt worked for the French and helped set up the French Space agency. He was smart enough to see that working for Stalin wasn’t his thing when they tried to kidnap and or convince him to come work for the USSR. He died in 1964 in Berlin, Germany.