Brunolf Baade is regarded as the father of the aviation industry in the GDR. Until 1945, Baade was a designer at Junkers Works in Dessau. After returning from the Soviet Union, he developed jet planes in Dresden. His chief merit was the construction of the world's first four engine jet plane, the 152. On its second flight, the jet crashed in March 1959. Due to the lack of anticipated commissions from the Soviet Union, aircraft development in Dresden ceased in 1961. The dream of medium-haul aircraft „Made in GDR“ was shattered.
Amelie Hedwig “Melli” Beese was the first female German pilot. Even as a small girl, she dreamt of flying. At the time, people were heavily prejudiced against a woman in the cockpit of a plane. Nevertheless, she completed her pilot’s training and opened her own flying school. Her dream of flying around the world was shattered when the First World War broke out. She was banned from flying and forced to close her flying school. Her husband was French, so she was considered an enemy alien. She committed suicide in 1925 at the age of just 39.
Her passion for flying was sparked in 1928 when she heard a speech by the pioneering pilot Hermann Köhler about the first Atlantic crossing from east to west. As the daughter of a businessman from Hanover, she gained her pilot’s licence at the age of 21 against her parents’ wishes. She bought herself a small plane (a low-wing monoplane) with her savings.
Berson completed several spectacular balloon trips to research the Earth’s atmosphere. Amongst other things, he was the first balloonist to successfully cross the Baltic Sea. Berson saw meteorology as the physics of the atmosphere. He worked at the aeronautical observatory in Berlin-Tegel and the observatory in Lindenberg.
He established the aircraft maintenance facility Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB), which later became part of the aerospace and defence corporation EADS. Bölkow developed the Bölkow Bo 105 helicopter, which is still used as a rescue and police aircraft.
With his spectacular flights around the world, he came to symbolise airship travel. In the 1930s, he introduced regular, scheduled flights to North America with the Hindenburg. Eckener recorded his experiences in his autobiography “My Zeppelins”.
Oskar Erbslöh was a German pilot. His short life centred primarily on his passion for flying. As the son of a businessman, he gathered his first experience of ballooning at the age of 25. He subsequently took part in both national and international balloon races. In 1908, he founded Rheinisch-Westfälische Motorluftschiff-Gesellschaft, a manufacturer of engine-powered airships. The dirigible balloon Erbslöh was built here. The airship crashed during a test flight, killing Oskar Erbslöh and the four other passengers.
She bought her own plane in 1930, which she christened “Kiek in die Welt“. In it, she completed solo and long-distance flights to Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo. She was the first woman to fly solo to Japan, completing the trip in 11 days. She crashed on the flight home and had to spend several months in a Bangkok hospital. When her solo flight to Australia failed in 1933, she committed suicide. She was just 25.
Euler established the first German factory for engine-powered aircraft near Darmstadt. He also opened an airfield in Frankfurt. This served as the starting point for the first official postal flight to Darmstadt, piloted by Euler. After the Second World War, Euler became Director of the newly established German Department of Aviation. As its permanent secretary, he drafted the first air traffic regulations and introduced airline licensing.
A number of airlines successfully used these planes. Focke also gained fame as the father of the helicopter: the first helicopter developed by him took off in the 1930s. Later, the Bremen-born aircraft designer developed a transport helicopter for use as a rescue vehicle and to monitor traffic.
One year later, he completed the feat: after stopping off in Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, Gronau landed on the Hudson River in New York “just” 47 hours after taking off. He thereby proved that aeroplanes were viable for travelling long distances. Another major achievement was his circumnavigation of the globe in the two-engine seaplane Dornier-Wal, starting and ending in Sylt.
Fritz Horn was a pilot and aviation manager. His career took him all over Germany – from the factories of AGO-Flugzeugwerken in Berlin-Johannisthal to the airline Lloyd Ostflug in Königsberg and Junkers in Dessau. As manager of the aircraft maintenance facility in Gdansk, he helped to establish the Gdansk-Warsaw-Lemberg route. In 1927, he accomplished an astonishing achievement for an airliner by flying at an average speed of 140 km/h in a Junkers plane. From 1955 until 1959, he was Director of Flight Operations and Flight Safety at Berlin-Schönefeld Airport.
Another model, the Ju 52, also went into serial production and became the most widely produced airliner in the world at the time. Junkers also established the airline Junkers Luftverkehr, which subsequently merged with Deutsche Aero Lloyd to create Deutsche Luft Hansa. Junkers was dispossessed by the Nazis. The Junkers works were transformed into a major arms company against his will.
His greatest moment came in 1928, when Köhl became the first pilot to cross the Atlantic from east to west in an engine-powered plane, flying the Junker W 33 Bremen. It took him 37 hours to reach the coast of Canada. Köhl was awarded the highest American honour for pilots – the Distinguished Flying Cross – for the transatlantic flight.
Arthur Müller was a building contractor involved in creating Germany’s first airfield for engine-powered planes in Berlin-Johannisthal. As its operator, Müller helped to establish the site as the focal point of German aviation. Müller held the first International Aviation Exhibition (ILA) at Berlin-Johannisthal. In 1910, he commissioned the construction of a Parseval airship hangar. Because Arthur Müller was a Jew, his family was dispossessed and expelled. The Nazis concealed his contribution towards the development of aviation.
Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain was a German-American inventor and physicist. As the son of an officer from Dessau, he developed a new kind of propulsion for the world’s first jet aeroplane in the 1930s. Ohain’s idea revolutionised aviation. His turbo jet engine marked the end of propeller aircraft and the start of the jet era. The world’s first jet – the Heinkel He-178 – took off from Rostock airfield in 1939. Ohain’s successful career as a scientist continued in the USA after the war.
Fate was unkind to her on more than one occasion. Her partner fell to his death during a ballooning experiment and her young son died of diphtheria. After recovering from a period of paralytic shock, she began performing her aerial acrobatics again by the name of Miss Polly. She completed more than 165 parachute jumps in her life.
Walter Rieseler was a German aircraft developer. Once he had gained his pilot’s licence, he opened a flying school at Berlin-Johannisthal airfield and trained other pilots. Later on, he developed his own planes, including the Rieseler Parasol R III sport aircraft, which was the first private and sport aircraft to be built under licence. Rieseler was also dedicated to designing helicopters. His work in this field included developing the R1 helicopter for the German Department of Aviation, which was the first helicopter with rigid, contra-rotating coaxial rotors.
In 1910, Tschudi became manager of the airfield in Berlin-Johannisthal, where almost all the major aircraft manufacturers were based. During the First World War, he commanded the Reserve Flying Unit. Tschudi published a book about his life shortly before he died.
Georg Wulf was a pioneering German aviator. Even as a boy, he was so passionate about flying that he liked to spend his time making model aeroplanes instead of going to school. He left school before completing his final exams to work with the aircraft designer Henrich Focke. Together with Focke, he established an aircraft factory where the two men built a monoplane. This was the precursor for Focke-Wulf’s first light aircraft to go into serial production. Wulf’s passion for flying cost him his life: he crashed during a test flight in 1927.