The Komet was designed by Alexander Lippisch based upon his swept wing glider designs for the DFS, German Glider Institute. It showed it's glider Heritage with a skid landing gear, and 2 wheeled dolly for take off. The intended power plant for the Komet was to be produced by Walter, using two highly volatile liquids.
Initially the Komet was to be built by DFS and Heinkel, but problems with DFS, resulted in Alexander Lippisch losing confidence that they could complete construction, and at his request work was moved to Messerschmitt in 1939. Alongside this Walter were having reliability problems with the rocket motor, the delays allowed them to catch up. In early 1940 the DFS194 prototype was moved to Peenemunde West where it received it's engine. Although still unreliable, the prototype reached a speed of 550 K/h (342 Mph) in one test.
Production proceeded on 13 Me 163A prototypes including 8 pre-production models in early 1941. The designation was chosen in an effort to confuse the Allies as it was previously used for a Messerschmitt design for a two seat trainer, that lost out to the Fieseler Storch. After receiving the HWK RII-203 rocket engine. After testing, the Prototype Me163A V4 designation KE+SW achieved a speed of 1,004.5 km/h (624.2 mph) In order to conserve fuel for this flight the Komet was towed to altitude then released and it's engine started.
The famous German test pilot Hanna Reitsch flew the Komet, but in a test flight she released the undercarriage dolly too late. It bounced up striking the underside of the aircraft getting hung up on the landing skid. In spite of this accident, production was scheduled for the aircraft as the Me 163B. The plan was for rings of airfields around German cities of about 40 Km diameter where the plane was to be deployed.
The design was simplified for production with the addition of a windmill generator in the nose and initially armed with two MG151 20mm cannons mounted in the wing roots. These were later changed to Rheinmetall-Borsig Mk 108 30mm cannons. The rocket motor installed was The newly developed HWK 109-509A producing a thrust of 1700 Kg of thrust. The motor had about 9 minutes endurance lifting the plane to to it's combat altitude of 10,000 Meters in approximately 3 minutes. In level flight, the plane would accelerate to 550+ Kph far faster than any contemporary Allied fighter. One Me 163B Komet achieved an unofficial world speed record of 1,130 km/h (702 mph) from a standing start. Although the Bell X1 flew faster this was an air drop from a mothership. The First aircraft to exceed the performance of the Komet from a normal take off was the Hawker Hunter F MkIII flown by Neville Duke on 31 August 1953, at a speed of 1,171 km/h (728 mph).
(The Me163B with commentary by Test Pilot Rudi Opitz.)
The plane was described by Eric 'Winkle' Brown as "Riding a runaway train" during take off and climb, with excellent maneuverability and stability. In combat, Allied pilots soon learned to wait until the Komet's fuel was exhausted before attacking, although this was a difficult proposition due to it's small size and agility. Attacking the airfields was also to be avoided as they were ringed with dense thickets of anti-aircraft artillery.
As a weapon system the Komet proved ineffective, accounting for 16 bombers and losing 9 planes, although only 3 as a result of Allied fighters. Entering service too late, coupled with fuel shortages, particularly of C-Stoff, which was also the fuel for the V1 flying bomb. With insufficient numbers to effectively counter the bombers overflying Germany at will the Komet is regarded as a failure and a desperate gamble by a defeated Germany. It is interesting to speculate though as to what might have happened if this 'Point Defence Interceptor' had entered service in significant numbers a year earlier. Entering combat alongside the Me262 in 1943 they would have made a formidable partnership unmatched by anything in the Allies arsenal.