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German V-2 rockets required a lot of fuel to take flight

Let’s harken back to yesteryear this week.

Before WWII, the Germans did a lot of rocket research and their prime mover was Wernher Von Braun, who made a career in rocketry.

The only time I had a close encounter with one of his inventions, the V-2 rocket, I was in Dayton at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, back in the days when I worked for Ashland Oil.

In our pilot plant, we had made some jet fuel from shale oil for testing in a jet engine at Wright- Patterson and I was privileged to visit the base to discuss the jet fuel.

The engineer with whom we were visiting took the occasion to show us the SR-71 Blackbird prototype which they had in a hangar there. This was back in the early days of SR-71 and Ashland Oil did supply fuel for it.

Anyway, I noticed this rocket laying on its side over near their wall of the hangar. Being nosey, I walked over to have a look at it. It evidently had been stored outside and the protective packaging on it had been weathered away. I noticed the business end of it, was looking at the nozzle and I noticed that the guidance vanes in the exhaust-end of the liquid-powered engine were wood.

I questioned the engineer who was with us. He said they made the vanes of maple wood and since the rocket exhaust was a reducing atmosphere, the wood would char to carbon rather than burn and would last long enough to help guide the rocket to its target.

At first, Hitler was not interested in the rocket. He said that it was just like an artillery shell and was much more expensive. Finally, he was impressed with the rocket engineers’ enthusiasm and agreed to fund the project.

In all, a total 5,200 V-2 rockets were made.

They fueled the rocket with alcohol and liquid oxygen. I suppose they could not spare other hydrocarbon fuel which they needed for the air force. A single firing of the V-2 required 30 tons of potatoes to make enough alcohol for it. And this was a time when food was becoming scarce in Germany too.

Their labor costs were cheap since they used concentration camp prisoners. One report I read said 12,000 people were killed in building and testing the rockets while 2,754 were killed in England from the air strikes.

When the British caught on that there were rocket attacks, they published news accounts saying that the rocket was hitting beyond London. The ruse worked and the rockets started falling short of London in the country.

The V-2 could reach 128 miles high. Most did not reach that high, but in descending, they reached supersonic velocities, so you did not hear them coming.

Most of the missiles contained 2,200 pounds of explosives although when they ran short, they filled them with concrete in place of the explosives, since the kinetic energy of over a ton of concrete traveling at supersonic velocity could cause a lot of damage.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at eelnod22@gmail.com