Reality Check: Did the Nazis Have Stealth Fighters?

Photo Courtesy: Gaijin Entertainment

Henry Neiberlien/Editor-in-Chief

With the recent release Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which takes place in a world where Nazi Germany won the Second World War using advanced futuristic technology, the question of how technologically advanced the Nazis actually were has been brought back into the spotlight. One of the most famous creations to come out of the Luftwaffe in the final days of the Third Reich was designed by the Horten brothers, who, like Northrop, were extremely passionate about flying wings.

The pinnacle of their design work was the Horten Ho 229, also called the Gotha Go 229, due to the fact it was manufactured by Gothaer Waggonfabrik. The 229 was the first jet-powered flying wing and was designed as a fighter/bomber.  It was also a proof of concept for the Amerika Bomber, which would have been a long range bomber capable of dropping conventional and nuclear weapons on the American mainland.

Thankfully the crippled Reich and the lack of resources lead to the abandonment of the Amerika bomber project and only three flying prototypes were ever built before fall of Berlin in the spring of ‘45.

After the war, Reimar Horten claimed that the Ho 229 was built using radar-absorbing materials that would shield the aircraft from British early-warning radar. The flying wing design and jet engines already shrink the radar cross-section due to the fact that there were no large propeller disks and no area where the wings met that would create a sharp radar returning angle

These extraordinary claims of the Ho 229 being a stealth fighter thirty years before the United States flew the first purpose-built stealth aircraft peaked interest of many aviation experts and sparked an investigation into how stealthy the 229 actually was.

Using a real Ho 229 preserved by the Smithsonian and a 1:1 scale recreation, engineers from Northrop Grumman tested the electromagnetic signature and radar return signature of the Nazi flying wing.

The investigation concluded that the Horten 229 did indeed have a stealthy design, however it was extremely insignificant compared to other aircraft of the time and the Ho 229 would have easily been seen by Allied radar. However, while the surviving 229’s don’t seem to be all that stealthy, it is important to remember that these were working prototypes and a snapshot of a frozen development program.

Plans received from Horten reveal that the future versions of the aircraft would include redesigned intakes, and radar-absorbing charcoal mixed into the wood glue. It is important to remember, as well, that the Nazis were starved of the precious raw materials needed to actually build these aircraft, and, due to the worsening war situation, they simply didn’t have the time to perfect the design of the aircraft and the engines that powered them.

In conclusion, the Ho 229 was indeed a stealth fighter, but if that was actually planned or not is still up to debate. The lack of raw materials lead to parts of the plane being made of wood, as it was a cheap and a lightweight alternative to the metals, like aluminum, that they lacked. Wood is actually a good absorber of radar waves, as seen with the wood-built Royal Air Force Mosquito, but again the 229 ideally would not have wood in its final version.

With the proper resources and a continuation of the war, the 229 could have been a technological marvel able to strike allied targets at night while avoiding radar detection. However, this again is speculation as, thankfully, the Nazis never got the chance finish the Ho 229 and all prototypes were shipped to the United States for post-war testing.

Long story short, did the Nazis have stealth fighters? Yes, whether or not it was designed that way or an afterthought is still up for debate. Would stealth fighters help the Nazis win the war?

Absolutely not, the Nazis had much bigger problems than Allied air superiority in late 1945. However the technology the Nazis developed during the war was so advanced it jumped aircraft design two decades and even helped us land a man on the Moon. Many of these technologies remain a mystery and many are yet to be rediscovered.