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Lock, Stock, and History

Bringing Down the V-1 Flying Bomb the Gutsy Way —- England, World War II.

One of Hitler’s terror weapons, the V-1 flying bomb was history’s first guided cruise missile.  Released from either the air or the ground, the V-1 could cruise hundreds of miles before running out of fuel and dropping on a preset target.  Throughout the war over 9,000 sorties of the missile occurred, most of them fired at targets in Britain.

Unmanned, cheap, and expendable, the most frustrating aspect of the V-1 was that it flew at a very low altitude (3,000 ft) at a very high speed (350mph).  Even the fastest fighter interceptors were foiled by the V-1 because while they had incredible performance at high altitudes, they could not maintain that performance at lower altitudes.  

The only aircraft capable of intercepting the V-1 at low altitude was the Hawker Tempest.  The problem was that only 30 Hawker Tempests were available, and a fleet of 30 fighters could not successfully repel an attack by 9,000 flying bombs.  The British Royal Air Force increased the the Hawker Tempest fleet to 100 aircraft, and even re-tuned the engines of a number of Spitfires and P-51 Mustangs for low altitude speed.  However, flying bomb interceptors were still overtaxed and overworked. There simply was not enough ammunition and aircraft to stop them all.  Furthermore the bomb has to be destroyed in midair, it could not be shot down where it could explode on the ground, perhaps causing collateral damage and death.

It was then that some RAF pilots used ingenuity and raw guts to bring down the V-1 when their ammo had been shot dry.  The V-1 guidance system used a series of gyroscopes and timers to maintain stable flight, guide its way to its target, and explode when it hit its target.  It did not take much to send the V-1’s gyroscopic system topsy turvey.  

In mid 1944 RAF pilots began to use a special maneuver called the coup de wing, in which the pilot would fly wingtip to wingtip underneath the V-1.  He would then slowly pull up, using his own wingtip to gently nudge the wing of the V-1 upward.  This slight nudge would flip the V-1 over, overwhelming it’s gyroscopic stabilization systems, sending it plummeting to the ground where it would land harmlessly back on earth with a thud, undetonated.  Once grounded the helpless V-1 was disarmed by ordnance crews.

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