Technical study of the Bat Wing Ship (the Horten Ho 229 V3)

Lauren Horelick, Malcolm Collum, Peter McElhinney, Anna Weiss, Russell Lee, and Odile Madden


This article describes a technical study of the Horten Ho 229 V3, a unique World War II, German plywood jet affectionately called the Bat Wing Ship. The aircraft has been in the collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum since 1952 and has never been exhibited due to its badly deteriorated plywood skin. The jet has been popular with enthusiasts who believe it to be the first stealth fighter because the jet’s designer is reputed to have once said he added radar-absorbing charcoal to the plywood, though no tangible evidence exists to support or refute this claim. Plans to move the fragile jet from storage for display provided an opportunity for a technical study to characterize its original, historic materials, to inform treatment approaches, and to clarify the historical record about the presence of “stealth materials.” This article describes the characterization of the jet’s wooden components, adhesives, paint layers, and inclusions within the adhesives by Raman and infrared spectroscopies, X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, polarized light microscopy, and X-ray diffraction. Findings were compared with historical accounts of WWII era experimental aircraft construction materials and techniques.

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2014 | San Francisco | Volume 21