Flying a rocket-propelled plane can be deadly even for an experienced test pilot. Everything happens faster than in a conventional plane and a light touch on the joystick can cause the plane to spiral out of control. In 1942, Messerschmitt AG, an aircraft manufacturer, needed a pilot to test their Me 163a (later renamed Me 163b) rocket plane.
The plane was basically a pilot’s seat and joystick strapped to a rocket. The rocket burned at 1800º centigrade with a back thrust of about 4500 horsepower. At takeoff the plane reached speeds of 220 – 250 m.p.h. Once the undercarriage detached, the plane could accelerate to 500 m.p.h. and climb to 30,000 feet in less than two minutes. Landing was difficult because the plane approached the landing strip at 145 to 150 m.p.h. and had to be landed like a glider