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By Doug Millard on

The Show Must Go On

I had decided to write a few lines on a Museum object called Silverbird. On a whim I asked Wikipedia to show me what it could find and I was delighted to learn also of a similarly named passerine bird native to Eastern Africa, a former software label of BT from the mid 1980s and even Leo Sayer’s debut album.

Science Museum’s scale model of Silbervogel
Science Museum’s scale model of Silbervogel. (Science Museum)

Despite such tempting distractions I decided to stick with my Silverbird, or the more accurately named Silbervogel, the Museum’s scale model of a 1930s winged and rocket-propelled, sub-orbital bomber that was designed to climb into space, glide back through the atmosphere and drop its deadly payload on the enemy.

Silbervogel had been the brainchild of Eugen Sanger while a research student in Vienna. He went on to work for the Luftwaffe and in post-war years for the French Air Ministry before returning to Germany to continue his pioneering aerospace research. Just the other day his son popped into the Museum to be filmed alongside the model.

American test pilots by the HL-10 Lifting Body aircraft. (NASA/Science Museum)
American test pilots by the HL-10 Lifting Body aircraft. (NASA/Science Museum)

Silbervogel never flew, but it did influence aviation and space projects during the 1950s and 1960s, including the X-15 rocket plane, the Lifting Body aircraft configuration and the early research on what became the US Space Shuttle. That’s why the Museum’s workshops constructed our model: to provide some historical context to the old Exploration of Space gallery’s Shuttle display case.

First launch of the Shuttle, 1981 (NASA/Science Museum)
First launch of the Shuttle, 1981 (NASA/Science Museum)

Of course, the Shuttle programme itself is now nearing the end of its life and with President Obama cancelling NASA’s plans to go back to the moon it is far from clear where the US will aim for next in space. Leo Sayer’s next song on his Silverbird album is The Show Must Go On. But it’s by no means clear that it will.