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Monthly Archives: April 2009


(Silbervogel plan and elevation detail – rail assembly with booster)


“Dr. Sanger?”

Ja,” replied Sanger, suddenly distracted from a mountain of material on his too-small desk.

“I am the man you sent for.”

“Ah! VonBraun! Thank you for coming!” Sanger stood up, almost explosively – he’d always been accused of doing everything full-out, and greeting a collegue was never an exception. “Sit! Sit! How was your journey?”

“The SS insisted on the uniform–” – he held both hands out at his sides as if to show off – “and the rank is permanent, believe it or not, as I’m assigned to Himmler’s own project. I traveled via a private train here to Trauen. I didn’t even think they had rail service here.”

“They didn’t. Not until a year ago,” said Sanger. Kaffe?”

Ja, Herr Doktor.” Sanger summoned an aide and requested a coffee-service.

“Now – to the point.” Sanger stood, and walked to the big board where the plans for his Silverbird were on the wall. “You’ll notice that what we’re doing requires a rocket-booster, plus a massive engine inside the craft itself. The booster will drop away once the plane reaches 8 kilometers at 1,800 kilometers per hour. At this point, the main engines will fire, pushing the plane into the upper stratosphere at around 13,000 kilometers per hour.”

VonBraun looked astounded. “How do you propose to keep the fuel from boiling in the wings?”

“We don’t,” replied Sanger. “We will store the fuel in the body of the aircraft. The wings will be for secondary lift only. One of my associates – you’ve met Heisenberg; he’s not even in aeronautics; he’s a physicist, but he came up with this – suggested that we use the fuel as a coolant. Circulated in the top and sides, at the altitude we’ll eventually reach – about 250 kilometers – we’ll cool the fuel and use it to cool the engine.”

“Brilliant. And simple. Go back to that comment ‘secondary lift’. Do you mean to tell me that the wings don’t lift the plane?”

“Exactly. Note the design of the body itself. The plane’s body will create its own lift. It can’t fly to the altitude we’ll need under it’s own power; hence the booster. As to the wings, they’re used in the descent phase, to provide additional lift at slower speed. I’d originally designed the craft experimenting with swept-wings and straight-wings, but neither will stand up to the speeds we’ll need. I’ve developed a collapsing wing–” he pointed to the drawing – “the wing is a simple delta-wing, which will collapse in upon itself. This will be the launch position. On descent, the wings will be extended, helping slow the plane and allow for a gradual descent.”

Sanger continued, “It’s the same for the tail section. Here, it’s retracted for launch, providing minimal control. On descent, it can be telescopically extended, enabling full rudder control for landing.”

“Under power?”, said VonBraun. His interest was clearly piqued.

“No, there’ll be no need. We might need to fire the engines once or twice during the descent, but there’ll be plenty of fuel if my calculations are correct. No, the Silverbird will land, quiet as a ghost.”

“What about distance?”, said VonBraun.

“This plane will fly around the earth.”, replied Sanger, matter-of-factly. “Using the principle of ‘compression-lift’ – that is to say, surfing our own shock-wave at speed, and using the body of the aircraft to create it – we can literally ‘skip’ the upper atmosphere, deliver a 3,600 kilogram payload anywhere on earth, and gradually descend back to the launch point.”

“Incredible!”, said VonBraun. “You know, my whole life I’ve dreamed of helping create something like this.”

“That’s why I sent for you. Here, you’ll have a friendly sponsor – Herr Goering loves aircraft.”

“Right now,” said VonBraun, “I’m struggling for funding. Herr Hitler believes, but Herr Himmler does not. What about funding?”

“You are to the point!”, laughed Sanger. “We have all the funding we need. I had a personal audience with both Herr Hitler and Herr Goering; they’ve pledged me whatever I need to complete this project. Did you notice the construction crews out there?”

Ja, Herr Doktor, I did”, said VonBraun. He’d ignored, or failed to mention, the men in the striped-suits; prison labor from the camps which people discussed in hushed voices. “What is that you’re building?”

“This,” said Sanger, pushing the mounted drawing on its track to reveal the elevation-drawing of the rail-system. “This is how we’re going to launch the Silverbird We finished the retrieval airstrip first.”

VonBraun took a deep breath. “Brilliant, again, Herr Doktor. But how will you hide all this?”

We won’t.”, said Sanger. “If I’m right, we won’t ever have to.”



Fall had given way to winter – while construction was dormant, Sanger and the team had worked insane hours to perfect the design of the Silverbird. The math was sound; final wind tunnel tests had been completed, and full-scale construction of the booster and main engines had proceeded.

Winter gave way to spring, and the construction crews resumed digging, mixing, and pouring concrete. The construction of the large pylons and supports were daunting tasks – custom made cranes on large coffers were constructed, used, disassembled, and moved. Day by day, the project inched along – with the goal of late-summer always in mind.

“And how are our Eagles, Goering?” Hitler had taken to referring to Sanger’s team as ‘the Eagles’, and the name had stuck; it was the codename that the SS, the Gestapo, and the upper levels of government all used for the project in Trauen.

“The Eagles are on task and on schedule, Mein Fuhrer.”, said Goering. “They will finish the ramp by fall; the engines are being built now. They’ve requested a custom alloy for the frame and body of the craft which will be expensive to make, but we have the electricity to do so, and the raw materials. Sanger’s request for VonBraun and several of his team was a masterstroke, Mein Fuhrer – the engines are well ahead of schedule.”

“Good. Very good.”, replied Hitler. “That is an excellent team they’ve assembled. When will we be able to witness a test?”

“They are testing the engines early next year.”

“That long?”, Hitler replied, suddenly frosty. “It’s already 1939. The expansion of Greater Germany will not wait!” – his voice suddenly rising. “Raeder was in here yesterday! He was asking for more of those Japanese torpedoes, and more money for a project by some fellow named Walter. Goering, is all of this really necessary?”

Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering’s face grew red. “I am convinced that if we do not possess overwhelming force, with weapons that are well-ahead of those of the western democracies, we will ultimately fail. Besides –” – he paused for effect – “Walter’s people licensed the design to the Japanese two years ago. They’ve tested it, found the flaws, and improved on things as we knew they would. We can begin production of an entire new class of U-Boat in less than six months.”

There was a long and dread silence in the room. Hitler had been convinced of all this back in ’36, which was why he’d agreed not to press either the Czech or Polish question, and to leave the question of Aryanizing Europe off the table – his generals wouldn’t permit it, and he could see their point. It was frustrating in the extreme—

“Yes.”, said Hitler, tersely. “I’ve heard it before. Meantime, National Socialism advances slowly.”

“Yes.”, replied Goering. “But inexorably, and without defeat.”



Cordell Hull looked exhausted. The fall of 1939 had revealed that the Japanese were not only in Manchuria to stay, but their I-class submarines had been disappearing from ports, being replaced by two license-built designs from Germany. In Japanese, they were called “Sen Taka” – or fast-attack submarines. In English, they’d not been named – but they were causing havoc amongst America’s allies.

“I’m told, Mr. President, that our own destroyers can’t find these boats.”

“And how in hell do you know that, Cordell?” Lindbergh was equally tired of late, but his exhaustion was based on a fragile economy which was a full ten years in recovery from the worst economic catastrophe since 1879.

Hull, his Secretary of State, continued. “Because the British can’t find them, and their detection-gear is better than ours.”

More fond of aviation – his opponent in the ’36 election, Roosevelt, was more comfortable on water – he still supported the construction of aircraft carriers over submarines. “Hull, I really don’t care. Submarines won’t decide any war – if we have one – carriers will.”

“We have six, Mr. President, and they’re expensive to build and maintain.”

“Yes – I know–”, Lindbergh said, trailing off the last word and settling back in his chair.

Charles Lindbergh, the Republican nominee for President, had the looks, charm, and voice to convince the American people that Roosevelt had seen his day. Two terms were enough, he’d said – “It’s time to take America to new heights!” Invoking his legendary aviator past wasn’t hard – -the country still loved Lucky Lindy.

His victory, albeit by a hairline majority, had stunned nearly everyone. In fact, he hadn’t pulled even in the polls until October, and it was a stroke of genius – a self-promoted, self-piloted whistle-stop campaign to every major American city in thirty days in his Lockheed Electra, “America”, which had convinced enough of the American public to vote Republican in the ’36 election.

That was three years and a lifetime ago. He was under some pressure, to be sure, from ‘hawks’ in the Congress and Senate to rearm – but the funding simply wasn’t there. He couldn’t economically disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Americans by putting the nation in debt to buy aircraft carriers.

Besides, he believed Herr Hitler.

His last meeting with the National Socialist leader in Berlin had convinced him that Hitler was not only the soul of charm and grace, but vision. Hitler had shown him the plans he’d made for the new capitol, Germania – a celebration, Hitler had told him, of their common Aryan heritage. Hitler’s Germany was thriving. In fact, Lindbergh came away nothing if not a little jealous.

Time Magazine had named Hitler “Man of the Year” in 1938. He’d built the world’s most modern highway; had electrified every region of Germany, no matter how remote, with electricity which was too cheap to meter – so it was given away on a Party subsidy.

Unemployment in Germany was an enviable 3%. The currency was stable. They had a social-welfare system which was better than that of the United States.

It almost made Lindbergh wish there wasn’t a Constitution.

Hull broke his reverie. “Mr. President – Knox has suggested that we purchase the new British detection gear and refit our destroyers.”

“Knox would say that.”, said Lindbergh. “Any other requests? I’ll just go outside and plant money trees in the rose garden.”

Hull laughed. “No, Mr. President – but half of our fighters are still biplanes. There’s word from the British that both the Japanese and Germans are working on new aircraft-propulsion systems.”

“Where do they get this stuff?”, said Lindbergh, growing impatient. “I’m not interested in Herr Hitler’s military. He’s assured me, and I believe him, that he means us no harm.”

“Mr. President, I have no idea about Herr Hitler. I can only speak for my meetings with his Foreign Minister, Herr Ribbentrop – and he’s a snake in the grass.” Hull continued, “And I’ve got it on good authority from the Swedes that Hitler’s police are sweeping up every dissenter in Germany and sending them to labor camps.”

“Enough!”, said Lindbergh. “I’m not concerned about a few malcontents several thousand miles away. I’m concerned about this nation’s economy, and our ability to continue the recovery. We’re safe behind our borders. That’s good enough for me.”

Lindbergh stood. As with his counterpart an ocean away, this was a signal – a clear one – that the meeting was over.

(Next — Flight of the Eagle)

sanger-bomber1(Artist’s rendering – Eugen Sanger’s “Silbervogel”)

It is a time of peace.

Germany, under Chancellor Hitler, set two ambitious goals beginning in 1934 – the rebuilding of the national economy and the creation of a new military.

In order to create a new economy, cheap energy was needed on a scale unprecedented in history. While the Ruhr valley dams could and did provide electricity, the needed power for the new National Socialist dream would far exceed any projected supply.

Werner Heisenberg and Otto Hahn, two physicists at the Kaiser Wilhelm institute, had concluded in 1932 that nuclear fission was possible. This led to the research necessary for the construction of the world’s first powerplant near Trauen in 1938. Funded directly by Party money, the Trauen complex was the first of ten powerplants which were rapidly constructed by the National Socialists….


Dr. Werner Heisenberg left the main administration building and stepped into the crisp fall air. Early October in Germany was beautiful. The leaves were starting to turn, but the temperatures still reached into the 70’s in the afternoon. It wouldn’t be long before snow fell, but today was beautiful.

“Dr. Sanger! I was just coming to see you!”, said Heisenberg.

“Really, now? Regarding?” Dr. Eugen Sanger, an aeronautical engineer and Heisenberg’s boss, was in a hurry, as usual.

“I had a thought about the cooling-problem you were experiencing with your new aircraft,” Heisenberg began. “I was wondering if you couldn’t use the fuel itself as a coolant.”

“Oh?”, said Sanger, his interest piqued. “Walk with me. I have a meeting with the Todt Organisation people in a few minutes.”

“Well, I was thinking – – running lines through the main body near the top and sides, where the friction is much less, would enable the fuel to cool rapidly at the altitudes at which you’re suggesting the aircraft fly. You could easily route them as a cooling-jacket for the engine. No need to carry coolant – the fuel would do that.”

Sanger’s eyes widened. “It would be like flying a bomb.”

“You’re flying one anyway,” replied Heisenberg. “As long as the pressure remains constant, fuel won’t stay in one place long enough to overheat. You’ll solve two problems with one system – how much weight would that save?”

“Enough to get us airborne, and complete the mission,” said Sanger. “But we have another problem; one that’s not so easy to solve. The body-lift theory is sound – but in denser air, I need a completely different wing-structure in order to be maneuverable. Conventional straight or swept-wing designs are simply causing too much instability and vibration. That’s why I’m going to the Todt people and asking for an audience with Herr Goering.”

Heisenberg blanched. In medaeval Europe, it wasn’t a good idea to get too close to the King – and Goering was Reichsmarschall; second in many ways to Hitler himself. Mercurial and difficult, both Sanger and Heisenberg had found it was a good thing to speak to some of Goering’s underlings regarding his mood before approaching him. Results were better that way.

They entered one of the other administrative buildings on the campus. This was the nominal headquarters of the Todt Organisation – the National Socialist party’s official engineering and construction arm. Obtaining funding through the Party was far easier – but the Todt people actually controlled the labor supply, and anything Sanger wanted had to be approved.


“So far, the rest of the world believes we’re building powerplants,” said Sanger. “Goebbels and his people have done a good job of that. But the second phase of what we’re doing is going to require much more secrecy, as well as a lot of labor – skilled labor – and we need it quickly to meet the Fuhrer’s schedule.”

“What do you need to build?”, said the Todt representative, a good-natured fellow named Hans, who Heisenberg speculated was a contractor of some sort before being drafted into the Todt Organization.

“This,” said Sanger, rolling out his plans.

Both Heisenberg and ‘Hans’ drew a collective breath.

Sanger’s plans showed a 1:1000 scale – anything larger would not have fit on the two-meter conference table. The plans were for a ramp – starting at ground level, and rising slowly, with the final 1/3 taking a steeper incline until it was nearly vertical. The overall height was a little over 300 meters high.

Supported by huge outside angled pylons which looked like flying-buttresses and straight columns from the center, the ramp looked like nothing short of a huge railroad bridge – only there was one rail in the center.

‘What on earth is this FOR?”, said Hans.

“It’s for an aircraft. That’s all you need to know,” said Sanger, impatiently.

“But – this is over three kilometers long!”, said Hans.

“Yes. It is.”

“How many people will you need?”

“That is your department,” said Sanger. “All I know is that I’ve been ordered to have this in place by the end of next summer.”

“We only have about a month of real construction weather this year. Perhaps enough for soil engineering and footings. The bulk of the work will have to be done next year.”

“As long as it’s in place by the end of summer. We need to test by then while we still have decent weather left,” Sanger replied. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have other work to do.” Sanger began rolling up his elevation plan; Heisenberg helped with his other papers.


Walking back to the research complex, Heisenberg wondered if he should ask his boss about the aviation project. He decided that was probably not a good idea. His function was physics; he left engineering powerplants – or aircraft – to those who knew how.

“Lost in thought again, Heisenberg?”

“Ah! Sorry, Dr. Sanger. I was thinking, yes.”

“You’re good at it, if a bit forgetful and unfocused at times. But your ideas might have made my own project viable,” said Sanger, getting back to his aircraft again.

“Dr. Sanger?”

“Yes?” Sanger was showing some of his legendary impatience.

“May I ask what this aircraft is for?”

“No, Heisenberg, you may not. And you won’t ask again. Although I might ask you for some assistance from time to time.”

“I see. Why not just involve the Blohm and Voss people, or the Messerschmitt folk? Certainly they can help.”

“No, and no, Heisenberg. They cannot. And you won’t mention it, either.”

Ja, Herr Doktor,” replied Heisenberg. Back to physics. And to keep his mouth shut….


“I am concerned about the safety of the thing.”

Mein Fuhrer, the first plant at Trauen was constructed as safely as we know how. The others were built quickly. They are all producing the explosive-metal we need as a byproduct of cheap electricity–”

Hitler cut off the Reichsmarschall. “I’m not talking about the plants! I’m talking about this – plane!”

Goering’s face grew red. “My apologies, Mein Fuhrer. So much of this reports directly to me now. I am sometimes overwhelmed.”

“We will get you more help, Goering,” replied Hitler, icily. “Now, tell me why I should ask a pilot to risk his life in this thing?”

Sanger spoke. “Herr Chancellor, the Silbervogel” – here, he used the codename “Silverbird” with which Goering was so pleased — “will have a pressurized cockpit and a form-fitting seat – this is for support during the intense pressures of takeoff, but will also provide safety and a degree of comfort for the pilot. All safety precautions are being taken regarding the device, when it is ready.” Sanger didn’t say what the men in the room already knew – the real reason for Heisenberg’s research; the breakneck pace at which they’d constructed uranium-fission powerplants; the experiments with graphite-rods and heavy water.

National Socialist Germany was close to producing an atomic weapon.


“So, what is the advantage to us if we pour more millions of Reichsmarks into this project, Herr Doktor?” Hitler was impatient; even more so than Sanger, which unnerved him.

“If the research is fully funded, through the test phase and construction of prototype, I’m reasonably certain we can provide the Reich with an airplane that can fly to the edge of space and land safely,” said Sanger. He waited on tenterhooks for the Fuhrer’s reply.

Hitler paused. Then, he spoke. “And, apart from the glory of Greater Germany, what will we gain?”

Now, Sanger paused. A moment later, he said, “Herr Chancellor, apart from the pilot, the aircraft can carry a payload. If Heisenberg and Hahn remain on task and produce a weapon by the end of 1940, we can carry and deliver it to any point on the planet. Further, due to the altitude at which the Silbervogel will fly, no aircraft in current production can reach it. The destructive capacity of the weapon, combined with an unstoppable and unreachable aircraft, will guarantee us the ability to destroy any nation which dares to resist us.”

Hitler received this news with a stone face. Abruptly, he burst out laughing and slapped his leg, almost in caricature. Herr Doktor, you have not created a ‘bird’ – das ist der Teufels adler!”

Sanger visibly relaxed; smiling. “You will have the funding you need, Herr Doktor.” Hitler stood. The meeting was officially over.

Sanger had the funding for both his project and Heisenberg’s. Now, the only thing to do was work – and work hard; there was much to do….
(Next — A Gathering of Eagles)


It’s over two miles long, and 1,000 feet high.

Black and rust-colored streaks cover the fading camouflage paint which once hid its uprights and pylons; once bright, the steel tracks which rose gracefully along its length are now pitted and covered in rust.

Where once guards stood at every road-entrance to the site of its construction, the slowly-decomposing guard shacks are a mute testimony to the secrecy of the time.

Children – blonde-haired and blue-eyed, for those are the only children left in this part of the world – now play at the pylon bases. Hide and seek; capture the flag – games as old as childhood itself.

Only this isn’t an ordinary monument.

It’s a testament to the creativity of man; the audacity of his endeavor, and to the equation E=MC2.

It’s a monument to a failed artist; a drug-addicted former pilot; a failed playwright, and a host of other characters – some flawed, some decent, but all with one goal: The desire to build a new nation, no matter the cost – with the first casualty being the truth, followed by morals, ethics, and their own humanity.

The year is 2045, and the world is a very different place.

I’m beginning a series on a dark future where the bad guys win; the good guys lose, and where civilization itself as we know it ceases to exist.

Tomorrow – and for a few days after that – I’ll tell you how and why it almost became reality.

Strap in. Pack light. All you’ll need is your imagination.


Welcome to Tabula Rasa, my place on the ‘net for discussing What Might Be, or What Might Have Been.

I’ll be posting alternate-history and short-stories here.

Come along! All you’ll need is imagination!