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The Fieseler Fi 103 developed and tested at Peenemunde research center for the German Air Force during the World War II became the first long-range guided missile and the first operational vehicle in a new class of weapons later known as cruise missiles.


The concept of a pilotless winged missile was a response to heavy losses suffered by the German Air Force, Luftwaffe, during the Battle of Britain in 1940. It was also a cheaper alternative to the development of the A-4 ballistic missile conducted in parallel in Peenemunde at the time.

The Fieseler Fi 103 would be also the first operational vehicle equipped with the "air-breathing" pulsating jet engine, yet another variation of jet propulsion tried at the dawn of the aviation age. The pulsating jet consisted of the combustion chamber with the front air intake duct. The entrance into the intake is covered with an array of shutters, which open under pressure from the incoming air after the initial acceleration of the engine. The fuel is then injected into the propulsion chamber and ignited inside generating yet hire pressure and forcing intake shutters to close. The whole cycle would repeat 45 times a second. (216)

The missile was designed to take off from specially designed ground ramps. After the takeoff, the flight control system would bring the rocket to a predetermined altitude and keep it on a preprogrammed route. After a calculated distance was reached the engine would cutoff and the missile would free fall to the ground. (217) The inaccuracy of its flight control system would limit the use of the missile to large targets like London or other populated areas, making it essentially a terror weapon.

The Fi 103 was air-launched into the first unpowered flight on August 30, 1942 and tests continued for 18 months.


After numerous technical problems and allied bombing campaigns against its launch sites, Fi 103s went into action on June 13, 1944. They were announced as V-1 (vengeance weapon 1) by Hitler's propaganda. Before World War II ended, 8,892 V-1 missiles were launched from the ground and 1,600 air-launched by bombers. (169)

Most of the missiles were launched against London, where the campaign became known as "robot blitz." Relatively, law speed of the missiles allowed the British Air Force pilots and antiaircraft gunners to develop techniques in intercepting a considerable number of these missiles. Yet, 6,000 deaths, 40,000 injuries and 75,000 destroyed homes were attributed to the use of "buzz bombs," as they became known in England for their sputtering sound.

Post War development

Both the United States and the Soviet Union "exported" Fi 103 missiles for duplication and further development. The US Navy developed a version called JB-2 Loon, which was designed to be launched from submarine. (216) In the USSR, Vladimir Chelomei, who experimented with pulsating engines himself, later developed a Soviet version of the Fi 103 missile, known as 10 KhN.


Technical specifications for Fi 103 missile: (169)

8.32 meters
5.37 meters
Launch weight
2,152 kilograms
Flight range
238 kilometers
Warhead weight
830 kilograms
80 octane petrol


The Fi 103 rocket in its operational camouflage colors. Click to enlarge: 400 x 268 pixels / 28K. Copyright © 2004 Anatoly Zak

The Fi 103 rocket from the American "trophy" stockpile in the Park Ridge Depot of the US Air Force. Click to enlarge: 400 x 337 pixels / 56K Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak


Casings for flight control gyroscopes for Fi-103 (V-1) ammassed inside the Dora underground plant, where rockets were assembled during World War II. Click to enlarge Copyright © 2007 Anatoly Zak