Parasite on a Budget
Hitchhiker: Messerschmitt Me 328
Mothership: Dornier Do 217E Germany, 1941
It was the midst of World War II, and the Nazi Luftwaffe had a secret: P.1079—code for the Messerschmitt Me 328 parasite guard bombers.
According to Hans Ebert’s book on Willy Messerschmitt, the aviation designer submitted plans for the aircraft to Germany’s ministry of aviation, claiming Adolf Hitler told him, “If we had 200 bombers capable of day-time targeted bombing raids, England would already be finished.” The Messerschmitt corporation received a contract for three variations of the Me 328, and started work on them in September 1941.
However, it probably would have been best for the Germans if the Me 328 had remained a secret. Design flaws and dwindling war resources left the airplane an embarrassing footnote to the Luftwaffe effort.
The single-seat Me 328s were budget aircraft based on glider designs. They were built mainly of wood and rang up at only a quarter of the cost of conventional fighters—about 2,000 Reichmarks, or $800 at the time.
The Me 328 needed help getting off the ground, so the Germans mounted the 22-foot fighter atop the more powerful Dornier Do 217E, resting it squarely above the wing section, with tubular metal structures propping up the smaller airplane’s wings and tail.
One variation of the parasite used two Argus AS 014 pulse-jet engines, which could propel it up to 572 mph. “One of the significant lessons learned with the Me 328: A pulse-jet engine is not optimal for an airplane because of the intense vibrations,” says Hans Holzer, the curator of aeronautics for Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany.
The engine was its ultimate undoing: Two Me 328A’s went down during testing, when their wooden frames could not withstand the noise and vibrations. Engineers tried to solve the problem by mounting the engines underneath the airplane’s wings, but the vibration troubles persisted.
Though original plans called for building 1,000, the airplanes did not make it into production, nor did any see action. The project was suspended in 1944, though planning continued for new variations at Hitler’s request.