By Rob Arndt

Dr. Mario Zippermayr, an eccentric Austrian inventor working at an experimental establishment at Lofer in the Tyrol, designed and built a series of highly unorthodox anti-aircraft weapons that were observed very closely by the Reichsluftfahrtamt (Office of Aeronautics) in Berlin. Due to the overwhelming numerical air superiority of the Allies every effort was made during the last year of the war to find ways of exploiting any known phenomenon that could bring down the heavy bombers of the USAAF and RAF.

Dr. Zippermayr constructed both a huge Wirbelwind Kanone (Whirlwind Cannon) and Turbulenz Kanone (Vortex Cannon). Both had the same goal - to knock down enemy bombers through clever manipulation of air.

Zippermeyer Wirbelwind Kanone

To achieve this, the “Wind Cannon” used a detonation of hydrogen and oxygen to form a highly compressed plug of air that was channeled through a long tube that was bent at an angle and fired like a shell towards enemy aircraft. Impossible as this may seem the Wind Cannon did particularly well on the ground - breaking one inch thick wooden boards from a range of 200 yards! This promising development, however, meant nothing against the Allied bombers that were flying at 20,000 ft! Nevertheless, taken from the Hillersleben Proving Grounds the Wind Cannon was used in defense of a bridge over the Elbe River in 1945. Either there were no aircraft present or the cannon had no effect because it was still intact where it was found.
The Turbulenz Kanone, by comparison, was a large caliber mortar sunk into the ground with fired coal dust and slow burning explosive shells to create an artificial vortex. This also worked well on the ground but again the problem was the same - how to generate a large enough effect to reach the aircraft. Zippermayr did not know if the pressure changes of this device would be sufficient to cause structural damage to an aircraft but the vortex would definitely have an effect on the wing loading as even clear air turbulence had brought down civilian airliners.

Even though Zippermayr could not make either of these weapons any more potent, three outcomes came from his research. The first was the coal dust shell application used with light artillery in the Warsaw Ghetto which involved nothing more than shortening the barrel of the artillery piece and detonating the shells in flight. The improvised weapon was named “Pandora” and was sadly used to deadly effect against the Jewish freedom fighters.

But the second and third outcomes have remained highly-guarded secrets until now.

Lippisch P.13b with coal-fired engine detail

Skoda-Kuaba P.14-01 with coal-fired ramjet

Major Rudolf Lusar, who was involved with German disc development with Schriever’s Flugkreisel Projekt had seen the test footage of both the Wind Cannon and Vortex Cannon in action. He was especially interested in the vortex effect and destructive power of coal dust. Many late-war German fighter projects were to be powered by coal-fired ramjets including Dr. Alexander Lippisch’s Lp-13b and Skoda-Kauba P.14-01.

Major Lusar investigated the coal dust produced vortex as a means of exotic propulsion and considered if it might be applied to one of the Flugscheiben (Flight Discs).
A virtually unknown engineer working on the Flugkreisel Projekt named Gerhard Faulker came up with an idea that could have revolutionized aerial warfare in 1945. He proposed that a giant 100 meter diameter disc be constructed that would not only use Zippermayr coal dust vortex as the main power plant but also to produce a giant fire cloud through the bomber streams by ejecting coal dust explosive propellant through vents in the spinning external ring and then igniting the mixture with ring-tip burners.
Ing. Faulker named his design the Feuersturm (Firestorm). It was proposed in late 1944 but abandoned by the spring of 1945 during the collapse and thus could not be constructed. The design was also nicknamed the “Zyclope” (Cyclops) due to the heavily shielded gyroscopic ball cockpit “eye” that would rotate as the craft literally flew in a widening arc to create the long burning cloud trail that would engulf the enemy bombers.
The Feuersturm is also unique due to its landing gear. The disc would have stood on a central coil stand made up of a series of hydraulically-retractable concentric metal rings with various diameters up to 50 meters. When extended, these formed the huge Turbulenzrohr (vortex pipe) with a huge blast plate/exhaust orifice at the bottom. When the craft went into attack, the entire collapsible hydraulic ring system retracted up into the belly of the disc with the blast plate protecting the bottom of the disc as the vortex effect generated inside the disc now drove the spinning external fire ring. For defense in the VTOL role the Feuersturm would carry four internal launch tubes that would vertically fire coal dust explosive shells. They were to be pre-loaded before launch.

The Feuersturm would have been a point-defense interceptor disc designed to quickly climb vertically to the altitude of the approaching bomber stream and then arc sideways creating an immense burning fire cloud into the path of the bombers.
One disadvantage to this proposal was the desired result. If the Feuersturm worked and all 1,000 bombers plus 500 escorts plunged to the ground on fire the devastating effect on the locals could have been actually worse than the bombing run!

The Luftwaffe had already proposed a similar idea in 1943 with the development of the world’s first aerosol bombs (known then as vacuum bombs), but none were actually used during the war, probably due to same reason. The British found several SC bomb casings that contained aerosol dispersion canisters, but none were filled in 1945. Only the lone Kugelblitz downed a small group of B-24 bombers with an aerosol ejector gun in one incident to which the Allies accused Germany of using “firedamp” artillery shells.

Official References to the German Vacuum Bomb

Headquarters United States Strategic Air Forces In Europe Office of the Director of Intelligence:
An Evaluation Of German Capabilities In 1945

CIOS Report
Interrogation of Dr. Hans Friedrich Gold


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The third outcome of Zippermayr’s work was even deadlier. The proposed Flak shells containing coal dust powder were to be developed into a super bomb. The SS took Zippermeyer’s basic idea and enlarged it into a bomb containing 60% liquid oxygen and 40% fine coal dust powder. This alone would create immense destruction but the SS pushed the idea further by adding a waxy reagent to the mix. When detonated the Superbomb would create a huge explosion with a latter unnatural electrical storm effect at ground level, consuming all oxygen and burning everything alive in a 4.5 km radius - a form of plasma weapon. However, the decision to proceed with this bomb was only granted on March 9, 1945 and was to be constructed at the Jonastal S-3 complex as well as the German discs. The complex was never finished in time and worked stopped that same month, even after 25-50 kg test versions of the bomb were detonated in remote locations near the Baltic.

Postwar, Ing. Faulker was not heard of again. He was captured by the Russians in the advance and taken to the USSR. The Russians had considered the development of coal dust explosives too but decided against it and developed their own “thermobaric” weapons which ultimately were tested in Chechnya. No Russian flight disc development seems to have resulted from Faulkner’s capture.

Skoda-Kauba P.14
Art by Gino Marcomini