Skip navigation


(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)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: