The date is sometime in January 1945. The place, the North Sea German rocket installation known as Peenemünde. The rocket, the dreaded V-2, is about to be launched, but something is strange here. This V-2 has large swept-back wings. The countdown starts… Zehn!… Neun!… Acht!… Sieben!… Sechs!… Fünf!… Vier!… Drei!… Zwei!… Eins!… Feuer! The vertical winged A-4b, as this new creation has been christened, thunders to life and roars off the launchpad. Soon it has disappeared from view, but is tracked with long-range instruments. The winged rocket flies effortlessly through the speed of sound, coasts upward to the peak of its trajectory, and arcs over into a high-speed dive. A slight buffet arises as one of the wings begins to work itself loose. Then it suddenly rips off at Mach 4. The first supersonic rocketplane has just been born – and killed.
Ballistic missiles are structurally simpler than any winged vehicle, with the requirement to handle only longitudinal loads rather than transverse...
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