Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Heinkel He 176

Heinkel He 176
RoleExperimental prototype
Crewone, pilot
Length5.20 m17' 1"
Wingspan5.00 m16' 5"
Height1.50 m4' 11"
Wing area5.4 m²58 ft²
Empty900 kg1,980 lb
Loaded1,620 kg 3,564 lb
Maximum take-off
EngineHWK RI-203
Power5.9 kN1,323 lb
Maximum speed
750 km/h466 mph
Maximum speed
345 km/h215 mph
95 km60 miles
50 sec
9,000 m29,500 ft
Rate of Climb60.6 m/s185 ft/sec

The Heinkel He 176 was the world’s first aircraft to be propelled solely by a liquid-fuelled rocket, making its first powered flight on July 20 1939 with Erich Warsitz at the controls. It was a private venture by the Heinkel company in accordance with director Ernst Heinkel's emphasis on developing technology for high-speed flight. The performance of the He 176 was not spectacular, but it did provide "proof of concept" for rocket propulsion.

During the 1920s, German daredevils had experimented with using solid-fuel rockets to propel cars, motorcycles, railway carriages, snow sleds, and, by 1929, aircraft such as Alexander Lippisch’s Ente and Fritz von Opel’s RAK.1. Solid-fuel rockets, however, have major disadvantages when used for aircraft propulsion, as their thrust cannot be regulated, and the engines cannot be shut down once fired.

In the late 1930s, Wernher von Braun's rocketry team working at Peenemünde investigated installing liquid-fuelled rockets in aircraft. Heinkel enthusiastically supported their efforts, supplying a Heinkel He 72 and later two Heinkel He 112s for the experiments. In Spring 1937, one of these latter aircraft was flown with its piston engine shut down during flight, at which time it was propelled by rocket power alone. At the same time, Hellmuth Walter's experiments into Hydrogen peroxide-based rockets were leading towards light and simple rockets that appeared well-suited for aircraft installation.

The He 176 was built to utilise one of the new Walter engines. It was a tiny, simple aircraft, built almost entirely out of wood and lacking even an enclosed canopy. It had a conventional, fixed, tricycle undercarriage, but relied on the weight of the pilot to actually rest on its wheels. Empty, the tail of the plane rested on the ground.

Heinkel demonstrated the aircraft to the RLM, but official disinterest led to the abandonment of the company's rocket propulsion programme. The He 176 was placed in the Deutsches Technikmuseum ("German Technical Museum") in Berlin, where it was destroyed in an air raid during World War II.

Prior to the cancellation of the programme, plans had been drawn up for a more sophisticated rocket-plane, still designated He 176. This was never constructed, but because it bore the same designation as the aircraft that was actually flown, many books and websites mistakenly publish pictures of it to illustrate its earlier namesake.

Germany did eventually fly an operational rocket-propelled fighter, the Me 163, but this was made by the competing Messerschmitt firm, using an engine that was a further development of the one that powered the He 176.