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Preserving and Displaying the “Bat-Wing Ship”

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Early in June, staff of the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility slowly and carefully moved the center section of the Horten H IX V3 all-wing jet fighter from storage into the restoration and preservation shop.  This is a significant event because many people have clamored for decades to see the H IX.  In a few months, after conservators and treatment specialists from the National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) have prepared the fragile center section, Collections Processing Unit staff will move it to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hanger at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center for eventual public display.

Horten H IX V3

The center sections of the Horten H IX V3 being moved from deep storage to the preservation and restoration shop of the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility.

Horten H IX V3

Horten H IX V3 in the preservation and restoration shop

Horten H IX V3

Center section of the Horten H IX V3

The Museum’s Horten H IX V3 is the only extant example of the world’s first all-wing jet aircraft.  Artisans finished the first prototype as a glider.  Two Junkers 004 jet engines powered the second prototype and German test pilot Erwin Ziller completed two test flights at the controls of this aircraft, called the H IX V2 (“9-vee-two”), but he died during the third flight when one engine failed and the jet crashed.  At a workshop in west central Germany in mid-April 1945, Allied ground forces recovered the center section of the H IX V3, or “Bat-Wing Ship” as one intelligence officer described it.  This prototype was under construction at the time and missing its outer wing panels.

U. S. Army Air Forces Technical Intelligence specialists shipped the wing to Freeman Field, Indiana, with intermediate stops in Farnborough, England, New York, and Newark, New Jersey.  The Allies had managed to recover a set of H IX outer wing panels and technicians attached the panels to the H IX V3 center section before the wing was transferred to the Smithsonian during the late 1940s.


Front to back, the right and left outer wing panels that we hope to attach to the center section of the H IX V3


When attached to the center section, the outer wing panels covered the open framework on both sides

The Museum’s Chief of Conservation Malcolm Collum and artifact treatment specialist Bob McLean, along with Melvin Wachowiak (Senior Conservator), Donald Williams (Senior Furniture Conservator), and Jennifer Giaccai (Conservation Scientist) from the MCI, will spend the next few months carefully examining and analyzing the many different materials and techniques used to construct the jet more than 65 years ago.  The team’s goal is to stabilize the artifact so that the Museum’s Collections Processing Unit staff can move the fragile center section to the Udvar-Hazy Center where the outer wing panels have been stored since January.  If the team concludes that the wings and center section are strong enough, then specialists will attempt to join the three major components.

The team plans first to analyze the paint colors found on the jet, and identify the wood filler putty and the interior wood sealant.  Conservators will compare plywood samples from the center section and the wing panels to determine their origins and whether the wing panels were skinned with plywood during the war by the Germans or after by U. S. Army Air Forces personnel.  They want to determine the type of wood, ply thickness, adhesive type, adhesive additives, and how the German artisans glued the plys together.

The Museum’s long-term goal is to prepare the aircraft for permanent display but the immediate objective is to stabilize the fragile center section.  Museum and MCI staff will search the literature for similar projects, and then experiment with various materials to build a protective structure around the center section.

Reimar Horten designed the Horten IX and in the early 1980s near the end of his career, he claimed to have used techniques and materials to render it difficult to detect with radar.  Smithsonian conservators will search for evidence of special radar absorbing compounds in the plywood skin that cover the leading edges of the center section and the outer wings.  They will document each stage of the project using multiple media formats and blog about any new discoveries so please check back.

Russ Lee is a curator in the Aeronautics Division of the National Air and Space Museum.



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26 thoughts on “Preserving and Displaying the “Bat-Wing Ship”

  1. Consider it took us more than 60-years to come up with this design…imagine what this guy could have done had he survived the years after the war in the USA. I think, but haven’t “Googled” him that he died in the war.

  2. Pingback: IG-Horten-Blog » Blog Archive » Horten IX auf dem Weg in die Ausstellung

  3. Interesting, I can remember walking up to it at Silver Hill back during the 70’s on a tour. Wouldn’t be high on my list of priorities for restoration though, the aircraft has a lot more “recently imagined history” than the design even held real operational promise.

  4. For a long time I have felt that the policies relating to the preservation of the Horten and various other UNIQUE aircraft have been shameful, and somewhat void of any accountability. I truly feel that some of these objects would be better represented and better preserved for future generations in private stewardship. I only hope that this project leads to a more sincere direction for the preservation and representation of these objects in which this administration has been charged.

  5. This story sounds like the beginning of a continuing blog series to me. It’d be really interesting to read cumulative accounts (with pictures) of what’s being discovered week by week. (Especially results of chemical analyses, issues around wood deterioration, etc.)

    Thanks for the look!! More please!

  6. PS: Any plans for live webcams in the new Engen Restoration Hangar like there were in the old Garber facility? Those were fascinating!!

  7. The wings the Army recovered did not go to the V-3 and you can see how much they had to sand down on the leading edge of the fuselage/wing joint in order to fit them for the 1945 expo here in the states.

    v/r Gordon Permann
    San Diego Air & Space Museum

  8. I heartily agree with Doug on both counts, and have always been fascinated with the Ho IX. As soon as you know a date that it will be at the Engen, please let us know and I will schedule another trip out to this amazing musuem!!

  9. If I understand this correctly there will be no “true” restoration, but a preservation of the current status and probably a stabilizing frame to enable the V3 to be displayed with the wings attached (for the first time since more than 60 years !). So are there any plans for a complete restoration in the future ?

    If not, many Horten fans will probably be dissapointed, but honestly I now think that doing a conservation only is probably the most respectful treatment that can be given. So the aircraft will stay in a “genuine” state and no modifications will lead future researches to more of those ridiculous mysteries surrounding this unique aircraft.

  10. Reimar Horten died 14 August 1993 at his home near Córdoba, Argentina. His brother Walter, who contributed to designing the H IX and provided logistical support to build it, died 9 December 1998 in Baden Baden, Germany. Reimar had immigrated to Argentina in 1948 when he could not find meaningful work in Germany or England. During the ongoing assessment, we will consider whether or not to restore the artifact but because it was never completed, it will be difficult to proceed much beyond the state it was in when the Allies recovered it in 1945. It might be more accurate and honest to join the outer wing panels to the center section and preserve it as is, rather than guess at what components, configuration, paint colors, etc. would have been added had the Gotha firm finished building the aircraft during the war. We intend to continue updating the H IX V3 blog as new information and photographs become available.

  11. Some bias here it seems, so i’ll counter.
    The Northrop replication proved out some of those ‘imagined’ traits. Main point, ever seen wood show up on radar anyway ?! The engines needed stealth work, there were faults compared to much later craft, but this was war time and the Horten’s historically built radical gliders. Who, anywhere on the planet at that time had much experience of jet engines ?
    As a R/C modeller i’ve built many Horten’s, IX’s included and can ask – ever built one ? ever flown one ? why do you think they are popular with those that actually have ?
    Understanding the Horten principles, from Bell shaped lift to wind handling, leads one to experiment with fresh thinking for future designs.

    I would be delighted if the restoration is full and this classic can be shown to the world in full glory. It was never an Allie’s thorn or futile last gasp weird design, it was an expression of engineering art and flight traits reflect that. Consider the aircraft along with Phi, Fibonacci and natures balance.
    As a volunteer i’d work 24/7 on this and i’m sure many other folks would too :)

  12. I will be interested to follow the process. I enjoyed a special “soiree” at Silver Hill in the mid eighties but have not been back since. I am also overdue for visits to the mall and Udvar Hazy facilities !

  13. Actually, the Hortens borrowed the idea from Northrop. He was flying his wing in 1929. Northrop went on to build the XB-35 and XB-49 flying wings during the 1940s and 50s. He was shown a small model of the B-2 just before he passed away, a happy man.

  14. If you google search, you will find that Lockheed built a full scale mockup of this plane for various radar signature tests. Maybe they can be approached to loan theirs to the Smithsonian for display until the original is ready to be displayed? This is an amazing ship! I read a technical analysis once that claimed it did not need a fighter escort, it would merely fly above the service ceiling of all allied fighters. There was also speculation that this design could have made the round-trip to the US from continental Europe rather than having to take off from the Azores as was the plan with the Me 264 Amerika bomber.

  15. I do believe I have seen plans of most all of the Horton bros. project prior to WWII and beyond. The rebuild and repair of said flying wing design should be a walk in the park. If the N9M (Northrop) can be done in Chino, I cannot see why the US Garber facility or similiar will not be able to do the same and even make it stealth on wooden wing panels as earlier done or in process. The German engineering was way ahead of the US in the 1930’s and beyond and we should have exploited this after the war. Why this war prize sat in storage for so long is a mystery to me.

  16. Preservation, restoration or replication? I’d guess that a restoration would be 90% replacement anyway? The existing fuse and wings preserved would seem to have the most historical value, and authenticity. Replicas range from totally faithful for display, to similar but with modern engines for flight, to flight-worthy composite lookalikes.

    When one of Erwin Ziller’s two Jumo jet engines quit, it’s amazing that his H IX V3 didn’t turn into an instantaneous Frisbee. It must have tried. But Wikipedia indicates that he was in control for a while, doing dives to try to restart the burning engine. In an engine out with no vertical stab, any normal pilot would need a pdq fly-by-wire thrust diverter or dragerons to keep it steered half straight.

    Why two engines? Maybe because they were so unreliable?

  17. It’s very exciting to see this incredible aircraft getting the attention it deserves. Having personally sent out some emails in the past years inquiring about it I’m thrilled to see that work is getting done on it.

    Take good care of her. She’s the last one of it’s kind.


  18. I’ve been dying to see this restored for 20 years now, ever since I stumbled across pictures of it disassembled in a warehouse. A jet powered nazi flying wing from the 1940s?! It’s the only example of this design left on the entire planet, and what a design; sleek, sexy and modern looking even today, 70 years later. It’s a treasure that should really be on display at the Air and Space Museum.

  19. I’m glad to see this very interesting prototype on its way to display. It is the stuff of dreams, though I get annoyed at the hype over how it could have changed the war.

    Note: You cannot mass produce a wooden aircraft that can fly 600mph. That requires a lot of hand craftsmanship to fit the pieces together, slowly and carefully. Someone noted all the sanding and filling needed to fit these wings, which were not built for this specific aircraft. Hello. With wooden construction you’ll have to do that for EVERY wing, even it if IS specifically constructed for this aircraft.

    Also, note that by the time this was under development, Germany didn’t have enough fuel to fly them en masse, even if they could have mass produced them. So much for flying it across the ocean to the US.

    All this aside, this was a very fascinating aircraft. That even one of them ever flew is worth both historical attention and scientific study for what it can offer modern aircraft engineering.

    It obviously had problems. It crashed, killing a very skilled pilot. Also, placing jet exhaust that close to a plywood skin might not be the wisest engineering choice. The reference above is to the failed “burning” engine. Look how close the cockpit is to the engines. If one of them was on fire, that pilot was likely experiencing more stress than I can imagine, with more issues on his mind than yaw.

  20. Also, since the first prototype was a glider, I would expect that if yaw were the only problem that crashed this aircraft, the pilot could have killed the other engine and dead-sticked his way back to a landing. I doubt he wasn’t good enough to think of that.

    This was a prototype. There’s a very good chance that more went wrong than a flamed-out engine. An engine on fire right next to the cockpit on a wooden aircraft might affect the mounts on controls within the wing, and there’s the issue of air quality in the cockpit. For all we know, the pilot could have asphyxiated or ignited before the aircraft hit the ground.

    I’m assuming that this aircraft was another prototype, and not the crashed, repaired one. The article is a little confusing on this point, since it said there were two prototypes built, only one surviving prototype… but it also said that the first prototype was built as a glider. So, I’m not sure how many were actually built.

  21. Reimar Horten and his team completed only two prototypes of the Horten H IX, the H IX V1 glider and the H IX V2 which crashed with test pilot Ziller at the controls. The NASM H IX V3 is the third prototype begun by the Horten team but handed over to the Gotha firm to be finished and subjected to additional tests in preparation for mass production, according to plans issued late in the war by the German Air Ministry.

    Ziller’s crash in the H IX V2 is mysterious for the reasons you cited, Will. The engine controls may have jammed, or something may have incapacitated Ziller to prevent him from simply shutting down the furnctional engine and gliding to a crash landing, no one knows for sure.

  22. Before we can second guess the crash cause or critique the Horten brothers abilities as engineers it should be noted that the first jet powered proto was already built awaiting its jet engines to be delivered- when said engines finally arrived, they were not the latest 60 cm diameter BMW engines promised but 80cm Juno engines..! There was no time to redesign the Ho IX to substantially increase the wingspan, rendering the airplane unable to achieve the speeds adamantly required by Göering. The Horten brothers therefore resorted to “make do” ingenuity to ready it for test flight before the end of 1944.

  23. I think it’s very obvious as to the fate of this aircraft. Let’s be realistic, this plane sat out in the rain and weather for over 5 years before it was stored. To “restore” would mean pretty much replacing or rebuilding 95% of the entire aircraft. So why bother? They should attach the wings and display it as it, which will most likely be the end result.

  24. Iam hoping to visit DC and the museum next year to photo H IX V2 will I be able and the Kikka of course many thanks michael

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