Späte's red Komet - 310050/V41/PK+QL

The most famous Komet must surely be the red Komet in which EK16 commander Wolfgang Späte flew the first operational mission with a Komet. Without his knowledge, the ground crew painted his aircraft bright red, similar to Von Richthofen's red aircraft in WW1. Apparently confidence in the Komet's invulnerability was high! According to his own accounts, Späte was not amused, and ordered the paint to be removed after the flight.

Unfortunately, no photographs seem to exist of this aircraft. Yet it is this aircraft that many modelers wish to portray. This page tries to show all available information, including indirect information, that could help to recreate this aircraft.

Späte's books

Wolfgang Späte wrote two books about his Komet experiences: the 1971 Profile 225 booklet, and 'Der Streng Geheime Vogel Me 163' which was later translated as 'Top Secret Bird - The Luftwaffe's Me-163 Comet'. The following 5 view drawing was published in the Profile booklet. Späte wrote it together with Bateson, so there's no guarantee that Späte agreed with the artwork. In 'Top secret bird', page 214, he writes that the aircraft was painted 'tomato red' which is a good description of RLM 23. He also mentions it added about 40 pounds to the aircraft.

Most likely markings

It would be my guess that (before being painted red) V41/PK+QL looked very similar to PK+QP as shown on the 'White 05' page. The fuselage markings can be seen clearly in the photographs, but the wing markings do present a problem. Two photos on that page show something of the upper wing Balkenkreuze. They appear to be aligned with the sweep angle of the wing, possibly with the leading edge. The wing's lower sides can be seen in this photo, but no Balkenkreuze or Stammkennzeichen can be seen. The observed placement of the upper wing markings does not agree with standard Luftwaffe instructions (as for example shown in Michael Ullmann's book).

Aircraft details

Späte writes that V41 still had MG 151/20 armament. This means the gun barrels project from the wing's leading edge, but also the ammunition hatch on the spine is different compared to the later MK 108 armed Komets. See 'White 54' for a Komet with this type of hatch. This aspect is often overlooked by both kit manufacturers and modellers. Another aspect of early Komets are the smaller span trim surfaces (the inboard surfaces). This is shown clearly on this Komet. It's a small modification, but again it is often overlooked. It was overlooked by the artist of the above drawings. The cooling air inlet on the extreme rear fuselage exists in many variations, but my guess would be that it was the same type as seen on PK+QP ('White 05') and 'White 54'. For the tail wheel, I would expect a faired tail wheel.

How was the painting done?

It is usually assumed that RLM 23 was used to paint the aircraft. Personally I wonder whether sufficient volume of this color would be available for such a large job, since it was not a common color except for unit markings. On the other hand I don't think there were other 'Flieglacke' available in red. Therefore RLM 23 remains the most likely color.

It's a bit of a guess how this Komet was painted red. The two basic options are spray painting and brushes. I think hand brushing a complete aircraft would be a lot of work, and the quality less than perfect. Therefore spray painting seems more logical. Next question is what was done with the markings? Were the original markings covered with tape, or were they reapplied after the red paint? It appears that masking with tape was not uncommon in the Luftwaffe (compare for example temporary winter camouflage). An intriguing question is also whether the stenciling survived the repainting. It is possible that this was covered with a piece of masking tape, which would then leave a strip of the original color (RLM 76? 65?).

Models and decals

Here are some links to various built-up models, box art and decals that have something to do with V41/PK+QL:




Mano Ziegler about the red Komet

Interestingly, Mano Ziegler also reports a red Komet in his book 'Raketenjäger Me163'. He reports that one of the first Komet was delivered by train, and turned out to be painted red. He does not mention a specially painted red Komet for Späte's first operational flight. The cover painting on most issues of his book shows a very strange red Komet, with SG500 Jägerfaust armament in the wing structure instead of the gun bay, and a '21' code on the tail. Ignore this drawing please!

Gerhard Hopf about the red Komet

In the Fall 1983 issue of Fine Scale Modeler, Wayne Moyer's article 'Modeling Adolph Galland's bare-metal Bf 109F in 1/72 scale' was published. In his description of the background of his model, he writes an intriguing tidbit about PK+QL:

"Gerhard Hopf started World War Two flying Bf 109s and finished it flying Me 163s. [..] He was a fascinating and entertaining speaker, full of anecdotes: the origins of the all-red Me 163, and its consequences, for example"

I first read the article in 2019, and unfortunately Wayne Moyer passed away in 2018, so chances are slim that we will find out what Gerhard Hopf knew of the red Komet.

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