V-1 Cruise Missile

Display Status:

This object is on display in the Space Race exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Collection Item Summary:

The V-1 (Vergeltungswaffe Eins, or Vengeance Weapon One), was the world's first operational cruise missile. This name was given to it by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, but the original Air Ministry designation was Fi 103, after its airframe designer, the Fieseler company. Powered by a simple but noisy pulsejet that earned it the Allied nicknames of "buzz bomb" and "doodle bug," more than 20,000 were launched at British and continental targets, mostly London and Antwerp, from June 1944 to March 1945. It carried a one-ton, high-explosive warhead and had a range of about 240 km (150 miles) but was very inaccurate.

The Smithsonian acquired this V-1 on 1 May 1949 from the U.S. Air Force. It was moved to the National Air Museum's storage facility in Suitland, Maryland in January 1955 and was restored in 1975-76 for exhibition in the new National Air and Space Museum building.

Collection Item Long Description:

The V-1 (Vergeltungswaffe Eins, or Vengeance Weapon One), was the world's first operational cruise missile. This name was given to it by Josef Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry, but the original Air Ministry designation was Fi 103, after its airframe designer, the Fieseler company, and the missile also had the cover names of Kirschkern (Cherry Stone) and Flakzielgerät (Flak Target Device) 76 (FZG 76). Powered by a simple but noisy pulsejet, thousands were launched on British and continental European targets from June1944 to March 1945. This V-1 was acquired in 1946 from the U.S. Army Air Forces, and was officially transferred on 1 May 1949 by what was now the U.S. Air Force. It was moved to the National Air Museum's storage facility in Suitland, Maryland in January 1955, and was restored in 1975-76 for exhibition in the new National Air and Space Museum building. The actual history of the Army Air Forces' acquisition of this V-1 may never be known due to the loss of relevant documents.


The V-1 is a mid-wing monoplane constructed primarily of mild steel, although later long-range, lighter models had plywood wings on a tubular metal spar. Mounted on top of the rear of the fuselage is the pulsejet tube with recessed intake circular grill in front and open exhaust exit at the rear. The front of the tube has a larger diameter to accommodate the grill, internal flappers, and combustion chamber with fuel injectors and spark plug, while the rear gradually tapers down to the straight, elongated exhaust. At the front of the missile's aluminum alloy nose fairing is a small propeller for determining range. Inside the missile, behind the wings, are two wire-wound compressed air spheres for the pneumatic control servos. During restoration, the Smithsonian's specimen was found to have these spheres and German inscriptions that confirm that the V-1 in NASM is German, not an American copy known as the JB-2 or Loon. However, the color scheme, borrowed from a V-1 displayed in a British museum, is not authentic, the yellow nose in particular being inaccurate. The operational colors were usually a camouflage pattern of greens and light blue. Moreover, this artifact also lacks the air-log propeller.

The V-1 was not radio-controlled; it had a pre-set guidance system which included a magnetic compass monitoring an automatic pilot, which had at its heart a displacement gyro and two rate gyros. Pneumatic signals from the gyros created pressure differentials that were converted to mechanical forces, opening valves for high-pressure compressed air that moved the pistons in the actuators for the rudder and elevators. Roll control was done through the rudder, as there were no ailerons on the wings. Altitude was controlled by an aneroid pre-set in millibars of atmospheric pressure. Maximum altitude was about 10,000 ft, but most bombs flew at only a few thousand feet. When the propeller made a set number of revolutions, a counter fired a detonator in the tail that locked the elevator in a neutral position, cut off rudder control and deployed two hinged spoilers from the underside of the tailplane, causing the missile to a dive on its target.

Theoretically, pulsejets develop thrust at zero velocity, but in practice the V-1 functioned efficiently only when it was boosted into the air. The V-1 was normally launched from a firing tube mounted on an inclined metal ramp 150 feet long by 16 feet high. Pressurized hydrogen peroxide caused a piston on the ramp to thrust forward, hurling the missile into the air where the pulsejet would be activated once the missile had attained an initial operational speed of 200-mph. During early test flights, before the development of the catapult, solid-fuel rocket boosters were used. The V-1 was also air-launched by modified Heinkel He 111 aircraft. The usual flight time for the V-1, which used low grade aviation gasoline, was about half an hour at altitudes of between two and three thousand feet and speeds of up to 400 mph. The British and Americans called the missile the Buzz Bomb because of the buzzing noise of its air-breathing pulsejet engine, and also the Flying Bomb, Doodle Bug, and Robot Bomb.


The V-1's air-breathing pulsejet concept had several precursors. Among these was the "reactor pulse" concept of the Russian Victor de Karavodine who applied for a French patent on 9 April 1906, which was granted as No. 374,124 on 10 April 1907. His idea was a kind of pulsejet with a low pressure supercharger and sparkplug igniter. The Belgian inventor Georges Marconet applied for a Belgian patent in 1909 for a similar idea meant to be applied to aircraft and was granted French patent No. 412,478. The Frenchmen Barbazat, Lenoir, and René Lorin evolved ideas along these lines. Lorin's concepts, published in the magazine L'Aerophile in 1913 and later in his L'Air et la Vitesse (Air and Speed) (Paris, 1919), were well publicized. Lorin, who claimed his work went back to 1907, advocated the development of long-range missiles for bombarding objectives like Berlin. His designs consisted of both ram and pulsejet type devices.

Independently, in Germany, the engineer Paul Schmidt, who was familiar with Lorin's writings and who had been studying air-breath jet-propulsion since 1928, took out a patent on a type of pulsejet on 25 April 1931 (German Patent No. 523,655). He conducted experiments at the Munich-Wiesenfeld airfield under support from the Research Division of the Ministry of Transportation. Schmidt was primarily interested in pulsejets for aircraft. He constructed a motor with a duct which produced a thrust of 450 kg (1,000 lbs.) but it was destroyed after only 13 minutes of operation. Nonetheless, the inventor continued to receive support from the Transportation Ministry to 1935 and then from this organization's successor, the RLM or Air Ministry, although the work proceeded slowly. From 1935 to 1940, the Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Office) provided additional funds, with which Schmidt established a full-time research group at Munich, with Hans Lembcke as his chief assistant. By 1941, Schmidt produced his SR 500 model; by the following year it generated 1,650 lbs. of thrust, but there were difficulties with its noise level and inefficient fuel spray arrangement.

In 1939, frustrated with Schmidt's slow progress, the RLM initiated a second pulsejet program at Argus Motorenwerke in Berlin under the director of Dr.-Ing. Fritz Gosslau. At first unaware of Schmidt's work, he meanwhile began the design of a similar motor. The Argus motor used a flow valve but the group soon learned of Schmidt's developments and through his cooperation in February 1940, they adopted his superior flap valves, but otherwise the Argus company pursued its own arrangement. There was no further cooperation between Schmidt and Argus, although by 1943 the V-1 pulsejet was called the Argus-Schmidtrohr, or Argus-Schmidt tube. The first successful Argus pulsejet produced a thrust of 300 kg (660 lbs.) and was sufficiently reliable. With modifications, including a fuel regulator, the thrust was increased to 350 kg (770 lbs.). Beginning in April 1941, flight tests were made on cargo gliders and other aircraft with an eye to using the pulsejet as aircraft propulsion, but ultimately the severe vibration it produced made it unusable for that purpose.

In the meantime, Gosslau had been pursuing pilotless aircraft (or what we would now call cruise missiles) since 1939, based on experiments that went back to World War I in Germany and the Allied powers. All earlier missiles had used reciprocating engines, although missiles using various forms of reaction propulsion had been discussed in Germany since at least 1934. In early 1942, Gosslau proposed to designer Dr. Robert Lusser, who had left Heinkel aircraft and was looking for a job, that they work together on a pulsejet flying bomb, and although Lusser ultimately decided to go to Fieseler Flugzeugbau (Fiesler Aircraft Construction Company) of Kassel, this collaboration came to fruition soon thereafter as an Argus-Fieseler project. V-1 development was accelerated by the British bombing of the old medieval Hanseatic city of Lübeck, which incensed Hitler; on 14 April 1942 he ordered retaliatory "terror attacks" against British cities other than London. Two weeks later Argus and Fieseler presented a proposal for a project Erfurt P35, which closely resembled the latter Fi 103 or V-1.

On 19 June 1942, Argus and Fieseler representatives held a meeting in the Air Ministry chaired by Field-Marshal Erhard Milch, who ordered development to go forward with the highest priority; the RLM assigned the aircraft designation Fieseler Fi 103. To insure secrecy, the missile was first designated the Kirschkern and then FZG 76, which signified a target or target-towing craft for anti-aircraft gunners. An additional reason for the high priority on the flying bomb was rivalry with the Army, which just at this time began test launches of its revolutionary, rocket-powered A-4 ballistic missile-the later V-2.

The testing of the weapon was undertaken at the joint Army-Air Force experimental station at Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast, where the A-4 was developed. First flight tests with an unpowered prototype were made in October 1942, when a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 dropped a missile to test glide characteristics. On 10 December the first Fi 103 flight test was made-an air launch from the Fw 200. The first ground-launch test, using a concrete ramp, was made at Peenemünde-West on 24 December in which the missile flew for sixty seconds. In later tests, ranges of 150 miles was achieved with accuracies of a half a mile, but this came only after a long and difficult series of flight tests in which a number of technical problems with the pulsejet and the Askania guidance system manifested themselves.

By late September or early October, 1943, mass production of the FZG 76 was initiated at the Volkswagen factory at Fallersleben, though the bombing of Kassel interrupted operations affecting the FZG 76 at the Fiesler works, with deliveries held up and delayed testing of modifications.

Flakregiment 155 (W) was formed and trained at Zinnowitz, near Peenemünde, to fire the missiles and 96 launch sites were begun in occupied northern France for launching the weapons across the English Channel against London and other British cities. Some of the launch sites were built as bomb-proof concrete bunkers. However, the first type of launch sites, nicknamed "ski sites" by the Allies because of the shape of their ramps, had to be abandoned after repeated Allied attacks, delaying deployment further. A movable and more easily concealed launch ramp was hurriedly developed in its place.

At 4:18 a.m. on 13 June 1944, the first of four of the missiles - now called the V-1 - fell on Swanscombe, Kent, England. On 1 September, the German Flakregiment 155 (W) fired its last round of V-1's from its base on French soil against Antwerp, Belgium. Up to this time, about 9,000 V-1's, including more than 2,000 abortive missiles or misses, were fired against England. The V-1 campaign against Antwerp and other Belgian cities continued from launch sites in Germany and the Netherlands. The first air-launch of a V-1 took place on 9 July 1944, when Heinkel He 111s of III./KG 3 began attacking London. After the V-1 sites in the Pas de Calais were overrun by Allied troops at the end of August 1944, for many months the only way to attack Britain with V-1 was by air. Due to fuel shortages, exhaustion and combat losses from exploding V-1 and Allied fighters, KG 53's campaign finally ended on 14 January 1945.

By 25 February, 1945, the British Air Ministry reported the Germans had a new model of the V-1 with a range of nearly 250 miles could hit London from Western Holland. On 3 March, the new V-1's were launched against London from this position. At about 10 a.m. on 29 March, the final V-1 sent toward England was downed by anti-aircraft guns at Iwade, near Sittingbourne.

The casualties for the V-1 against the United were 6,184 killed in the London area and 17,981 seriously injured. While the effects of the V-1 bombardments was heavy, effective countermeasures were developed by August 1944, anti-aircraft guns, aided by radar, searchlights, and ground spotters from the Royal Observer Corps and other organizations, as well as barrage balloons carrying cables which entangled the missiles, considerably diminished the weapon's impact. Some V-1's were also shot down by Allied planes and a few were known to have been flipped over before reaching their targets by the wingtips by intercepting fighters. Even V-1s that did get through were not very accurate.

In all 8,892 V-1 were ground-launched and about 1,600 were air-launched against Britain. By one estimate, of the 7,488 which crossed the English Channel, 3,957 were destroyed and 2,419 reached the London area. Secondary targets were Southampton, and for air-launched missiles, Manchester and Gloucester. Almost 6,200 were killed in Britain as a result of the V-1. On the European Continent, the V-1 inflicted the most casualties and damage against Antwerp, Belgium, upon which about 8,696 were fired, while 3,141 were fired against the Belgian city of Liège, and 151 against Brussels. The number of casualties inflicted by the V-1 on the Continent was 4,683 military and civilians killed plus 10,075 wounded. Of these, Antwerp sustained the most casulaties.

Under Project Reichenberg, the Germans also built a piloted, suicide version of the V-1 which was tested by diminutive pilots, including the famous Hanna Reitsch, but the Re 4 model was never placed into action due to resistance in the Nazi leadership to an explicit suicide weapon.

Before the war ended, the Americans began modifying and copying the V-1 from salvaged parts furnished to them by the British, and built more than 1,000 U.S. versions called the JB-2, and popularly known as the Thunderbug, which were to be used against both the Germans and Japanese. The Ford Motor Company made the pulsejet engines while Republic Aviation made the airframes and Willys-Overland airframe parts. None of these missiles went into combat, although they did provide missile experience to both the Army Air Forces and the Navy. The Air Forces tested many ground and air-launches of the JB-2, from October 1944 at Eglin Air Field (later AFB), Florida. The air launches were made, one under each wing, from Boeing B-17G Flying Fortresses, with plans to use them from the B-29 Superfortress. The Navy's version, designated the Loon and also KUW-1, were tested at Point Mugu, California, later fired from submarines in the Pacific.

Following the war, due to the V-1, the pulsejet was also in vogue for several years as a low-cost powerplant for a variety of sub-sonic missiles and target drones in the U.S. and other countries. For example, the French Arsenal ARS 5501 was a radio-controlled ground-to-air or air-to-air drone developed by 1949 and strongly resembled the original V-1. When air-launched, the ARS 5501 was mounted and launched from an LeO 45 aircraft. Among the American pulsejet-powered craft of the post-war period are the XKD5G-1 and Katydid drones and Gorgon 2C missiles. These craft, however, were soon outmoded since they were not capable of operating at high altitudes and higher speeds.

Other V-1s on Exhibit

The V-1 on display at the National Air and Space Museum represents one of 27 known examples of this missile. The other extant V-1s are at the following locations:

Australian Army Museum HQ, Holsworthy, New South Wales, Australia

Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Australia (Fi 103 A-1, wing number 443313)

Point Cook RAAF Base, near Melbourne, Australia

Musée Royal de Armée, Brussels, Belgium

Canadian Air Museum, Waverley-Halifax, Nova Scotia International Airport

National Aviation Museum, Ottawa, Canada (Fi 103 A-1) and another example

Tojhusmuseet, Copenhagen, Denmark (Fi 103 A-1)

Aerospace Museum, RAF, Cosford, Staffordshire, UK

Defense Explosive Ordnance Disposal School, Chattenden, UK

Imperial War Museum, London, UK (Fi 103 F-1, wing number 477 663)

Ian Stone's Restaurant, Pickering, Yorkshire, UK

Lashenden Air Warfare Museum, Headcorn Aerodrome, Ashford, Kent, UK (Fi 103 Re 4)

Rocket Propulsion Establishment, Westcott, Buckinghamshire, UK, wing number 418 947

RAF Museum Storage Centre, Caddington, UK

Science Museum, London, UK (Fi 103 A-1, wing number 442 795)

Musée de l'Air et l'Espace, Le Bourget, Paris, France (Fi 103 A-1)

Armeemuseum, Dresden, Germany (Fi 103 A-1)

Deutches Museum, Munich, Germany (Fi 103 F-1, wing number 478374)

Legermuseum en Wapenmuseum "Generaal Hoefer," Delft, Netherlands (Fi 103 Re 4)

Nederlands Nationaal Oorlogs-en Verzets Museum, Netherlands (Fi 103 A-1)

Auckland Institute and War Memorial, Auckland, New Zealand (almost complete Fi 103 A-1)

Forsvarsmuseet, Oslo, Norway

Tekniska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (Fi 103 A-1)

Greencastle, Indiana (on display in town center) (Fi 103 A-1, wing number 113178)

U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School Museum, Aberdeen, Maryland (Fi 103 A-1, wing number 477937)

Several museums, including the National Air and Space Museum, also have American versions of the V-1, variously designated the JB-2, KUW-1 and Loon.


Collier, Basil. The Battle of the V-Weapons 1944-1945 (William Morrow & Co.: New York, 1965).

Cooksley, Peter G. Flying Bomb (Scribner: New York, 1979).

Hölsken, Dieter. V-Missiles of the Third Reich - The V-1 and V-2 (Monogram Aviation Publications, Sturbridge, Mass., 1994)

Kay, Antony L. Monogram Close-Up 4 - Buzz Bomb (Monogram Aviation Publications: Boylston, Mass., 1977).

Longmate, Norman. The Doodlebugs (Arrow Books: London, 1981).

Ordway, III, Frederick I., International Missile and Spacecraft Guide (McGraw-Hill Book Co.: New York, 1960), pp. 69-70.

Reitsch, Hanna. Flying is My Life (Putnam: New York, 1954), pp. 208-219.

Werrell, Kenneth P. The Evolution of the Cruise Missile (Air University Press: Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, 1985).

Young, Richard Anthony. The Flying Bomb. New York: Sky Books Press, 1978.

Originally written by Frank Winter; revised by Michael J. Neufeld, August 2000.