Rocket Pioneers

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Dec 14, 2022
The first rocket-powered human flight

The Weimar Republic was a wild and violent time, also a hotbed of creative ideas. The engineer and industrialist Friedrich Adam Hermann von Opel fantasized about rocket propulsion for vehicles and aircraft. So he teamed up with rocket pioneers Fritz Sander and Max Valier. In 1928, they built a rocket set into the rear of an Opel car, ignited it, and Kurt Volkhart at the wheel tried to stay on course. He succeeded, reaching 100 km/h in 8 seconds and a top speed of 125 km/h, on April 11, 1928.
Nevertheless, one must realize: this was not a joke, it was rather highly dangerous pioneering work. It was clear to them that the rocket engine did not belong in the car, but much more in the airplane. But these were the first steps.
Then the trio built a more specialized vehicle with stubby wings to generate downforce and a few more rockets. They wanted to stage a public demonstration on Berlin's Avus. They succeeded - those who could came to witness the spectacle. On May 23, 1928, von Opel himself squeezed behind the wheel and sped off, hissing and thundering. Everyone got their money's worth, including 'Raketen-Fritz'. He actually reached 238 km/h, which was a record for land vehicles. They did something similar on a rail vehicle.
Now they had to get an airplane. They took a glider, for certain reasons a duck plane of Alexander Lippisch, who later became a pioneer of flying wing only and delta wing aircraft. They went to the iconic Wasserkuppe in the Rhön Mountains and made a plan with the courageous pilot Fritz Stamer. Stamer wanted to avoid a rocket-powered takeoff. He was flung up by means of a bungee cord, and in the air he was then to ignite the engine.
On June 11, 1928, it took off. The launch succeeded, Stamer completed a flight of a good 1500 m and made a flawless landing. This was the first rocket-powered human flight.
Von Opel had a new flying machine built and piloted it himself. Further jumps were achieved along with a clean emergency landing. In 1929, the economic crisis approached and he had to sell 80% of his car factory to General Motors. The Nazis did not like him, and he fled first to Switzerland, then to the USA. During the war he was interned there. Later he returned to Europe, lived off his inheritance and wrote poetry. In 1971 he died in Switzerland, 71 years old.

Why am I writing this? The manned rocket flight is just celebrating its 95th anniversary.

Translated with (free version)


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