The rocket propelled fleas (1 of 3)

Thanks to the following sources:,

Wikipedia and Web researchs.

In the last years of WWII, German engineers conceived under high pressure some of the most important milestones of XXth Century's technology.

Such was the development of rocket engines in aviation use. Some of these were only "quick take off add-ins" for heavy bombers or airlifters, but their best known career was their use in the young rocket industry (V2, and several kind of missiles) and in piloted interceptors (Bachem Ba 349, Messerschmitt Me 163, aso).

Though in advanced scientifical knowledge and technological mastery, these weapons or prototypes arrived too late to change WWII outcome, but opened the way to supersonic planes such as X1, X15, and to the space conquest.

This series of posts in 3 parts will be dedicated more particularly to the use of rockets with german airplanes (though other countries, as USSR with Sergei Korolev, did well in their experiments too) .

I- The Rocket historical origins.

The propulsion effect obtained by gas output reaction was observed as far as by the Greeks and Romans.

Around 400 BC, a Greek named Archytas living at Tarentum mystified and amused the citizens of this Southern Italy city by flying a pigeon made of wood. Escaping steam propelled the bird suspended on wires. The pigeon used the action-reaction principle, which was not stated as a scientific law until the 17th century.

About three hundred years after the pigeon, another Greek, Hero of Alexandria, invented a similar rocket-like device called an aeolipile. It, too, used steam as a propulsive gas. »

« Hero mounted a sphere on top of a water kettle. A fire below the kettle turned the water into steam, and the gas traveled through pipes to the sphere. Two L-shaped tubes on opposite sides of » « the sphere allowed the gas to escape, and in doing so gave a thrust to the sphere that caused it to rotate »

« In the first century A.D., the Chinese reportedly had a simple form of gunpowder made from saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal dust. To create explosions during religous festivals, they filled bamboo tubes with a mixture and tossed them into fires. Perhaps some of those tubes failed to explode and instead skittered out of the fires, propelled by the gases and sparks produced by the burning gunpowder.

The Chinese began experimenting with the gunpowder-filled tubes. At some point, they attached bamboo tubes to arrows and launched them with bows. Soon they discovered that these gunpowder tubes could launch themselves just by the power produced from the escaping gas. The true rocket was born.

The date reporting the first use of true rockets was in 1232. At this time, the Chinese and the Mongols were at war with each other. During the battle of Kai-Keng, the Chinese repelled the Mongol invaders by a barrage of "arrows of flying fire."

These fire-arrows were a simple form of a solid-propellant rocket. A tube, capped at one end, contained gunpowder. The other end was left open and the tube was attached to a long stick. When the powder was ignited, the rapid burning of the powder produced fire, smoke, and gas that escaped out the open end and produced a thrust.

The stick acted as a simple guidance system that kept the rocket headed in one general direction as it flew through the air. It is not clear how effective these arrows of flying fire were as weapons of destruction, but their psychological effects on the Mongols must have been formidable. »  

* During the end of the 18th century and early into the 19th, rockets experienced a brief revival as a weapon of war. The success of Indian rocket barrages against the British in 1792 and again in 1799 caught the interest of an artillery expert, Colonel William Congreve. Congreve set out to design rockets for use by the British military.

The Congreve rockets were highly successful in battle. Used by British ships to pound Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, they inspired Francis Scott Key to write "the rockets' red glare," words in his poem that later became The Star- Spangled Banner.”

II- The « modern » era.

Some names are the pillars of rocket fundamental laws and trials:

* XVIIth century: Isaac Newton established his 3 laws of physical motion. The laws explain how rockets work and why they are able to work in the vacuum of outer space.

* About 1720, a Dutch professor, Willem Gravesande, built model cars propelled by jets of steam, while in the same time German and Russian searchers developped their own ways,

* “In 1898, a Russian schoolteacher, Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), proposed the idea of space exploration by rocket. In a report he published in 1903, Tsiolkovsky suggested the use of liquid propellants for rockets in order to achieve greater range. Tsiolkovsky stated that the speed and range of a rocket were limited only by the exhaust velocity of escaping gases. For his ideas, careful research, and great vision, Tsiolkovsky has been called the father of modern astronautics.”


* “Early in the 20th century, an American, Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945), conducted practical experiments in rocketry. He had become interested in a way of achieving higher altitudes than were possible for lighter-than-air balloons. He published a pamphlet in 1919 entitled “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes”. It was a mathematical analysis of what is today called the meteorological sounding rocket.”

* “A third great space pioneer, Hermann Oberth (1894-1989) born on June 25, 1894 in Hermannstadt (Transylvania), and died on December 28, 1989 in Nuremberg, Germany, published a book in 1923 about rocket travel into outer space.

His writings were important. Because of them, many small rocket societies sprang up around the world. In Germany, the formation of one such society, the Verein fur Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Travel), led to the development of the V-2 rocket, which was used against London during World War II.

The excitement for this new branch did not always give good fruits !!!

In 1937, German engineers and scientists, including Oberth, assembled in Peenemunde on the shores of the Baltic Sea. There the most advanced rocket of its time would be built and flown under the directorship of Wernher von Braun.”


von Braun

* Fritz von Opel: German automotive industrialist and grandson of Adam Opel, founder of the Opel car company, who took part, with Max Valier (of the newly formed Verein für Raumschiffahrt. Valier was later to die in his rocket car explosion) and Friedrich Wilhelm Sander, in experiments with rocket propulsion for automobiles and aircraft, earning himself the nickname "Rocket Fritz."

Fritz von Opel

Max Valier

On Mar. 15, 1928, Kurt Volkhart tested the world's first rocket-propelled car, the Opel-RAK 1 and achieved a top speed of 75 km/h (47 mph) in it, proving the concept. On May 23 of that year, he reached a speed of 230 km/h (143 mph) in an improved version, the RAK 2, driven by 24 solid-rockets.

Later that same year, Opel purchased a sailplane named the Ente from Alexander Lippisch and attached rocket motors to it, creating the world's first rocket plane on Jun. 11.

Alexander Lippisch

The so called "Ente" rocket glider

The aircraft exploded on its second test-flight, before Opel had a chance to pilot it himself, so he commissioned a new aircraft, also called the RAK 1 from Julius Hatry, and flew it at Frankfurt-am-Main on Sep. 30, 1929.

Hatry/OPEL's RAK glider taking off

On Sep. 30, 1929, Opel piloted the second rocket airplane to fly, another Hatry glider fitted with 16 solid-fuel rockets:

- to be followed -


sources: NASA -,

Wikipedia and Web researchs.

Other relative linked posts - parts 2 and 3:

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A very interesting article Jeff. Waiting for the next one. I watched a documentary discussing the same topic one month ago. Please find its video below:

A very interesting series!! I'm downloading it!! Thanks, Ahmed!! But my post will speak of rocket vehicles. The rocket origins is well described in your video link !!

Ah yes these series are so interesting I downloaded all of the episodes and watched them. But I got the impression that R. Lee Ermey was very biased in some of his weapon comparisons. Also, he only demonstrated weapons he had access to. This made him miss out a lot of weapons that could have enriched the series and provide more interesting information.

Completed the 1st part with some more names and 1st piloted rocket glider flight.

Very good work. I think I will be contributing photos to the 2nd part since I was able to guess the type of vehicles that will be included. I won't spoil the surprise :)

I know you know, Pal !!! Hoping not to write only for you, my friend !!! LOL! Perhaps will I be able to find something you don't know yet ??? But your addins will be welcome !!


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