By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
EVERETT — Had World War II not ended when it did, Nazi Germany likely would have sent more V-2 rockets hurtling toward potential victims.
One of those missiles is now in Everett.
The restored rocket was brought to the Flying Heritage Collection museum at Paine Field in three sections on Monday, and crews worked all day to have the rocket reassembled and ready for display today.
The rocket stands 46 feet high, its nose nearly scraping the hangar’s 50-foot ceiling.
Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen added the rocket to his collection of World War II-era aircraft and weapons in 2003, and its restoration was recently completed, military aviation curator Cory Graff said.
The rocket is one of only 16 left in the world, according to the website V2rocket.com.
Of those remaining, five others are in the United States, but none is in the Northwest, according to V2rocket.com. A replica is on display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore., according to the website.
The V-2 was the first long-range ballistic missile to be used in combat. The rockets killed more than 8,000 people in the last year of the war, mostly in England and Belgium, according to some estimates.
“It’s definitely an iconic piece of machinery. It fits very well into our technology theme,” Graff said. “It’s great to have that as an example of a milestone of World War II aviation and technology.”
Development of the rockets began in the 1930s under the direction of famous German scientist Wernher von Braun and others. Many of them were made in Nordhausen in what would become East Germany.
The plant was located underground in a former gypsum mine, Graff said. It was part of the Mittelwerk-Mittelbau-Camp Dora complex of factories, storage depots and prison camps, according to V2rocket.com. The rockets were made using slave labor from the camps.
The V-2s weren’t deployed until the last year of the war. Estimates vary, but the Nazis are believed to have fired as many as 5,000 at England, with about 1,100 estimated to have reached their targets.
“They weren’t super accurate,” Graff said.
In England, the rockets killed more than 2,700 people and wounded more than 6,000, according to a report, “The V-2 at War,” by Gregory P. Kennedy.
Most of the other rockets were directed at Belgium and the Netherlands, where approximately 5,400 people were killed, 22,000 wounded and 90,000 homes destroyed, according to Kennedy’s report.
The rocket flew at supersonic speed, Graff said. “You couldn’t hear it coming.”
The Nazis abandoned the Nordhausen plant at the end of the war. American, English and Russian troops confiscated many, but not all, of the weapons and materials inside.
At some point, the Soviet Union sealed off the underground plant. In the late 1980s, workers at a neighboring gypsum mine inadvertently dug into one of the Mittelwerk tunnels, where some rockets and components remained, Graff said.
The V-2 bought by Allen was intact on the inside but its shell had deteriorated, Graff said. The rocket was taken to American Aero Services in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. to get a new “skin.”
The rocket has three distinct parts. The base, or tail, contains the firing and propulsion mechanisms. The fuselage holds two fuel tanks. The rockets ran on a mixture of liquid oxygen and ethyl alcohol, Graff said.
The nose cone, only about 4 feet high, could hold a ton of TNT, he said.
To display the V-2 at the Flying Heritage Collection, crews cut a shallow pit into the floor at the rear of the museum’s main hangar. It wasn’t easy, Graff said, because the floor was originally part of the taxiways at the south end of Paine Field, with concrete about 13 inches thick, he said.
A circular area about 12 feet across and 1½ feet deep was created specifically for the rocket. A thin strip of the outer shell, from top to bottom, was left off to display some of the insides of the rocket.
The V-2 was driven across the country from Florida in two trucks, arriving Monday morning.
In 2008, when Allen’s museum moved from its previous location at the Arlington Airport to Paine Field, one of the artifacts — a German V-1 rocket that resembles a small plane — was disassembled and trucked down I-5, uncovered, with its parts out there for all to see. The V-2 was covered on its trip across the country, Graff said.
On Monday, crews first had to move several planes out of the hangar to make room for trucks carrying the rocket. They then used remotely controlled chain hoists attached to the ceiling to lift the tail and lower it into the pit. Four large screws were implanted into the floor of the pit, to which the tail’s wings would be attached.
The plan was then to lift the fuselage up and place it on top of the tail, capped by the nose cone. Crews were still working early Monday evening.
On Tuesday, the rocket is scheduled to take its place as one of 30 items on display in two hangars at 3407 109th St. SW — a former Alaska Airlines repair hangar and a brand new building next to it that opened in April.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.