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In 1944, despite looming defeat of the Nazi Germany, rocket scientists at Peneemunde continued efforts to improve the performance of the A-4 long-range ballistic missile. One immediate upgrade, which actually saw the flight before the end of the war, was the addition of swept wings to the standard A-4 rocket. The ability to glide during a descending phase of the flight promised to dramatically increase the range of the weapon. At the same time, a gliding rather than ballistic flight meant much slower approach to the target, thus greatly increasing chances of potential anti-missile defense systems.
Swept wings designed for supersonic-flight and enlarged aerodynamic control surfaces on stabilizers were the only visible feaftures which differentiated A-4b from its predecessor. A manned version of the rocket equipped with a tricycle landing gear was under consideration.
The A-4 was test-fired twice during the winter of 1944-1945. Two unssucceful launch attempts were made on December 27, 1944 and January 13, 1945.
When it finally flew on January 24, 1945, the A-4b apparently pioneered a controlled supersonic flight of a winged rocket. The vehicle reportedly reached the speed of Mach 4. (174) However during the reentry the rocket lost one of its wings and failed to reach its designed range.
A-4b technical specifications: (169)
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Artist redering of the A-4 rocket at launch. Click to enlarge: 232 x 400 pixels / 16K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
A proposed manned version of the A-4b rocket in flight. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 16K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
The A-4b rocket. Click to enlarge: 233 x 400 pixels / 16K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak