for National Geographic News
Top stealth-plane experts have re-created a radical, nearly forgotten Nazi aircraft: the Horten 2-29, a retro-futuristic fighter that arrived too late in World War II to make it into mass production. (See Hitler's stealth fighter in pictures.)
The engineers' goal was to determine whether the so-called stealth fighter was truly radar resistant. In the process, they've uncovered new clues to just how close Nazi engineers were to unleashing a jet that some say could have changed the course of the war.
To replicate the Ho 2-29 late last year for a documentary premiering Sunday, a team from the Northrop Grumman defense-contracting corporation used original Nazi blueprints (see re-created blueprints of Hitler's stealth fighter) and the only surviving Ho 2-29, which has been stored in a U.S. government facility for more than 50 years.
The all-wing Ho 2-29 looked more like today's U.S. B-2 bomber (B-2 bomber picture)—or something from a Star Wars prequel—than like any other World War II aircraft. Made primarily of wood and powered by jet engines, the plane was designed for speeds of up to 600 miles an hour (970 kilometers an hour).
Armed with four 30mm cannons and two 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) bombs, the planned production model was also meant to pack a punch.
A Ho 2-29 prototype made a successful test flight just before Christmas 1944. But by then time was running out for the Nazis, and they were never able to perfect the design or produce more than a handful of prototype planes.
Determining the Horten's stealth capabilities could help reveal what might have happened if the Ho 2-29 had been unleashed in force.
Video: Examining the Last Surviving Ho 2-29
Last Minute "Miracle Weapon"?
As Hitler's Thousand-Year Reich crumbled, the führer clung to dreams of secret Wunderwaffen—miracle weapons (more Nazi secret weapons).
Enter the unconventional Horten brothers, who were at work on one such weapon.
Lead designer Reimar Horten was a glider designer "obsessed with the all-wing [design] because of the possibilities it created for low drag and exceptional performance," said Florida-based aviation historian David Myhra, who interviewed the Horten pair numerous times from the early 1980s until their deaths in the late 1990s.
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