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Flying circus of physics

V1 flying bombs tipped by Spitfire airplanes

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

V1 flying bombs tipped by Spitfire airplanes
Jearl Walker
April 2015  Starting in June 1944 during World War II, the German forces in western Europe began launching thousands of flying bombs into England. The bombs, known as V1, doddle bugs, and buzz-bombs, had a length of about 8 meters, a wing span of about 3 meters, and carried 2000 kilograms of explosives.

Once launched from a ramp (or sometimes from an airplane) that was aimed at London or some other part of southeast England, the V1 was stabilized by a gyroscope so that it maintained its aim.

To defend against the V1, England mounted artillery along its southeast coastline and lofted large helium balloons (blimps) with long metal tethers to snare the flying bombs or otherwise disrupt their flight. Aircraft were launched to shoot down the bombs but that procedure proved very dangerous because a pilot had to be so close to a V1 to make the shot that the bomb’s explosion could damage or even destroy his aircraft.

Another defensive procedure was soon put to use. Some of the English aircraft, such as the Spitfire, could match the V1 speed of about 600 kilometers per hour if they would first fly well above a V1 and then dive down to it. After pulling alongside the V1, a pilot would gradually move closer until he could rotate one of his wings down onto the nearby wing of the V1. The subsequent jolt to the V1 would disrupt its gyroscopic stability and the bomb would then spiral down into the ground (or English Channel). Here is a rare photograph of such tipping.

And here is an animation that depicts the procedure.

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