P. Edronkin

The Hortens, Their Flying Wing And The Law

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History is the ultimate judge, even if you break the law or design weapons and military aircraft, as the Horten brothers did.

After WWII in Germany there was no possibility to learn how to fly an airplane with engines; the draconian Versailles treaty rather stupidly prohibited that and all German youths who wanted to have a taste of that had to use sailplanes. Among those were the three Horten brothers, who began around 1930 to design their own sailplanes; soon they realised that a flying object that was purely a wing, with no fuselage at all had much better flying characteristics than conventional airplanes. So they went on to design the first flying wings, much before the B2 bomber, and they succeeded, winning several sailplane competition prizes in a row.

When WWII started one of them was killed, but the other two went on working for the German Luftwaffe as combat pilots and then in a very different quality: One of them secured a post for himself within the Berlin bureaucracy as an aircraft inspector. In his capacity he was able to see all top-secret projects that the Germans developed during the war, as well as apply some degree of influence.

Meanwhile, his brother, wanting to continue with there research and development work found the way to get for such purposes some installations and staff, to work in powered versions of their own all-wing designs. Their goal was to produce a jet-powered combat flying wing.

The problem was, of course, that they had to get clearance and budget from nazi Germany bureaucrats, but they found a way to circumvent that by creating a fictitious Sonderkommando, their own special, ultra secret unit with budget, personnel and all such stuff, and all without any official sanctioning. Nevertheless, the innate dumbness of the bureaucracy let things go by for a couple of years, and as anybody, any official began making questions, they just found the way to change and arrange things in such a way as to dispel any suspicions.

In the end, the Luftwaffe grew so desperate for fighter and interceptor planes that they were able to sell openly their ideas to Hermann Goering, who even authorised a rather succulent research budget to finish the twin-engine, 9-ton, jet-powered all-wing interceptor that they were working with: those. By the end of 1944 the Horten flying wing began its test flights and soon proved far superior to anything conceived at the time. Unfortunately for the Hortens, the sole prototype crashed in an accident during early 1945 and no time was left before the end of the war to construct another one.

However, the unlikely machine did fly and the Hortens lived on to continue their successful careers as aircraft designers in Argentina and the United States, building yet more prize-winning flying wings and their careers. Those who are presented with real pictures of the Horten V9 interceptor, taken during 1944 and 1945 often believe that it is a trick, a far more recent aircraft painted with the Balkenkreutz on top of it, but despite its 1990 or 2000 look, it was indeed a 1944 model.

Getting some sort of R&D budget is hard even in the most enlightened and democratic society, let alone a dictatorship; they risked a court martial and execution as traitors for doing what they did, so their perseverance should serve as an example of what being determined and brave accomplishes. Today, some of the most important advances in high-performance aerodynamics and the design of future, yet-to-be aircraft have been touched by the spark of knowledge of the Hortens.

The surviving Hortens went after WWII to live to the U.S. and Argentina; my grandfather, who was in the same business and took part in the development of the BMW-003 turbojet, went there too.

Bureaucrats are not public servants, but executioners of ideas; you go to see a bureaucrat with an idea and in all likelihood you will be taxed, queued, notified and disallowed, no matter what the idea is. A bureaucrat exists to kill your enthusiasm and your intellect because the system that underlies bureaucracy in any society has been created to run things in ways proper of ordinary, mediocre minds; so if you go present them with anything different that might bring into their little minds any notion or remembrance of their frustration with life, they will surely want to share it with you.

The careers of these rather undeservedly anonymous engineers should serve as an inspiration and a lesson: Great ideas know no politics, and in the realm of aviation or any other, those who have great minds always find the way around those who are just petty bureaucrats. Geniuses do have the right to break the law if it suits them best, for laws are written for the little men who have no possible grasp of what goes around and beyond their little universe of stamps and forms.

It makes me leave this article with a smile to know that in de end and after all is being said and done, bureaucrats fall into obscurity while great ideas live on.

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