The P-51 may have been the plane that won the skies over Europe, and the Me-262 and Gloster Meteor may have been the first operational jet fighters on the sides of the Axis and Allies.
But those planes weren't the fastest. That honor goes to the Me 163 "Komet."
The Me 163 was short (about 19.5 feet long), with a wingspan of about 30 feet and looks like a miniature version of the B-2 Spirit. It was armed with two Mk 108 30mm cannon intended to rip apart Allied planes and it had a top speed of almost 600 miles per hour.
Me 163 at the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
So, why isn't it more well-known? Well, for starters, the way the plane got its speed — by using a rocket engine — tended to burn up a lot of fuel. That gave it a little over seven minutes of powered flight. The short flight time meant the Me 163 really didn't have much range — about 25 miles.
After the fuel ran out, the Me 163 was an armed, fast glider. When it landed, it had to be towed. That meant it was a sitting duck until help arrived, and Allied pilots would just wait for the plane to start gliding down before putting a burst into it.
A P-47's gun-camera footage shows a Me 163 just prior to being shot down. (USAF photo)
According to MilitaryFactory.com, despite operating for about 10 months, the Me 163 just didn't get a lot of kills – anywhere from nine to 16, depending on the estimate. That's less than one pera month. Furthermore, only one fighter group ever operated the plane, which was also hobbled by a shortage of rocket fuel.
AcePilots.com notes that the Me 163 was also dangerous to fly. The rocket fuel ingredients were very nasty – and when they leaked through the suit, it did bad things to the pilot. It wasn't unheard of for Me 163s to just explode on landing as residual amounts of fuel would mix.
This Me 163 in Australian hands shows what a Komet looked like after landing. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
For all intents and purposes, the Me 163 was a manned, reusable surface-to-air missile that could make two attacks. Eventually, the Nazis decided to just use an expendable rocket instead of a manned plane for these types of missions.