The Alexander Lippisch Papers , n. In addition to a rich array of material relating to Lippisch's work in aeronautical engineering, the collection also includes biographical material about Lippisch and publications and photographs related to general aviation history. Scientific files document Lippisch's work designing sailplanes and gliders, delta winged aircraft, and aerodynes, as well as research involving aerodynamics, smoke tunnels, and ground effect. These files include materials such as calculations, data, statistics and experimental test results, and technical designs and conceptual drawings of aircraft designs. The collection also includes copies of patent applications for Lippisch's work as well as the work of other aeronautical engineers. Only a portion of the Alexander Lippisch collection housed in the Special Collections Department is represented in the digital collection.
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Few aircraft configurations are more familiar than the delta wing, which dominated the sky for many years, and continues to do so in modified form. The delta wing provided convincing aerodynamic solutions for a wide variety of mission challenges, and also almost inadvertently created beautiful aircraft.
The delta wing proved practical for everything from subsonic fighters like the Gloster Javelin to hypersonic space vehicles such as the space shuttle and the Soviet Buran. There were many others, of course, including such dazzling prototypes as the North American XB, and even a few disappointments, among them the Convair Sea Dart. Nonetheless, the delta-wing planform in its many variations—tailless, tailed, ogival, etc.
Many modern aircraft still use some form of it, including the Lockheed Martin F, the Eurofighter, the Gripen and others. Yet we rarely see any mention of the man at the root of this type of design, Alexander Lippisch. While the genius of men such as Kelly Johnson, Ed Heinemann, Igor Sikorsky and others is widely and justly celebrated, there are many other engineers who attained truly stellar status among their peers, but who are virtually unknown to the public.
Lippisch was by nature and training an artist, but he was led by instinct, circumstance and hard work to become a great engineer. His status as both engineer and artist is evident in many of his plus aircraft designs. Among aviation aficionados, he is most widely recognized for the designs that led to the Messerschmitt Me , the only rocket-powered fighter to see combat. His carefully worked out design of the delta wing led to thousands of beautiful production airplanes from Douglas and Convair, but none of them bore his name.
His work, which began with simple gliders in Germany, ultimately led to a stunning example of engineering and artistic prowess in the Convair B He both flew and fought in World War I, then endured the rigors of the upheavals in postwar Germany. After he was forced to adhere to Nazi organizational requirements in order to pursue his work. He was short, slight and saturnine in appearance, but he was also often amusing and even lighthearted despite the difficulties dealt him.
Later in life, when he was able to embrace the freedom offered him in the United States, he became more open, engaging in a broad spectrum of engineering challenges. From it you can obtain a very genuine impression of a man who enjoyed his life—which was in fact his work. Lippisch was born in Munich on November 2, His father, Franz, was a successful painter, creating portraits and landscapes that are highly valued today.
He painted and played the lute, which attained wild popularity in Germany at the start of the 20th century, just as the guitar did in America some 50 years later. Yet his interest was also stirred by the growing fascination with aviation in Europe. Otto Lilienthal had become a national martyr to flight in , and Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin was pioneering new territory in lighter-than-air craft.
Young Lippisch was at Templehof in when Orville Wright conducted a series of demonstration flights that would launch Germany—and the year-old Lippisch—toward the future of aviation. The teenager was so impressed that he made a watercolor painting of the event, which he kept for the rest of his life.
He also began building models, starting with a Wright Flyer. Family tradition induced Alexander to enter art school at Weimar in But fate dictated a new path with the beginning of what became known as the Great War.
Lippisch soon found himself serving as an infantryman on the Eastern Front. After he suffered a bout of pneumonia, officials assigned the former art student to prepare topographical maps from aerial reconnaissance photos—some of which had reportedly been taken by Lippisch himself.
His next assignment, however, was improbable: He was sent to work for the great Claude Dornier, an important engineer with the Zeppelin firm. The die had been cast. The end of the war disrupted most lives in Germany, particularly in its once-booming aviation industry, since the Treaty of Versailles prohibited building powered aircraft.
Yet Lippisch survived those dark days, employed by Zeppelin but also moving forward in clandestine entrepreneurial efforts with powered aircraft. More important, he became fascinated by the concept of all-wing i. Espenlaub later became famous for introducing the idea of towing gliders into the air with powered aircraft, as well as his experiments with rockets in planes and automobiles.
The strictures of the Versailles treaty were beginning to ease, and Lippisch was able to lead experiments with powered gliders. Along with many other air-minded Germans, he based his operations in the Wasserkuppe, a high plateau near Fulda, roughly 60 miles from Frankfurt.
In he worked with Fritz Stamer, his future brother-in-law, who also became his business partner and served as a test pilot. He recognized that he was not a good pilot, and wisely left the flying to others. His most important work during this period was the design of nine tailless aircraft, designated Storch I through IX.
In he placed an 8-hp, 2-cylinder engine on Storch V, which flew very well, but Lippisch could not secure formal backing for the design. All the Storks featured lightweight construction and appeared fragile, but they evolved over time to incorporate his trademark delta wing. Lippisch believed the new shape would be advantageous for fighters, bombers and transports. He was initially best known for his canard-surface, tailless Ente Duck , which attracted the attention of automobile magnate Fritz von Opel, who was then conducting publicity-generating experiments with rocket power.
The Duck design lent itself to the installation of two simple black powder rockets, intended to be fired sequentially for maximum duration.
Stamer made the first successful powered rocket flight on June 11, , flying a one-mile circuit over an airfield.
A second flight ended in disaster when a rocket set fire to the Ente. Stamer executed a successful forced landing, but the airplane was consumed in flames.
While not an ardent Nazi, he joined the party in , subsequently becoming a member of first the Nazi Flying Corps and then the German Labor Front. Far more than anything else, however, he was obsessively involved in aviation engineering, which would have been the case regardless of politics. Not surprisingly, there were many obstacles along the way to the Me, few of them related to its superb aerodynamic qualities.
The rocket engines were inherently dangerous, and remained so for the life of the program. There was unseemly squabbling with both the Heinkel and Messerschmitt companies, and Lippisch sometimes squared off with Willy Messerschmitt himself. National Archives. Courageous test pilot Heini Dittmar made the first flights. Ultimately Lippisch was tasked with sole responsibility for building the rocket-powered fighter, requiring him to leave the DFS, which he did on January 2, He and 12 colleagues joined Messerschmitt and formed a special unit devoted to developing the Me as an operational rocket interceptor.
A series of gliding flights were undertaken to refine the aerodynamics of the aircraft. By the summer of , a 1,pound-thrust HWK rocket motor allowed Dittmar to achieve speeds of mph, unofficially shattering all world speed records.
Fuel supply remained the limiting factor. But on October 2, , when Dittmar was towed to altitude behind a Messerschmitt Me, he cast off at about 13, feet, fired the rocket motor and reached an incredible speed of The aircraft was dangerous because of the volatile fuel used for its rocket engine, and its duration of flight was far too short. The undercarriage system consisted of a trolley for takeoff and a skid for landing, which turned out to be both inconvenient and troublesome.
But despite its flaws, the Me boasted superb aerodynamic qualities and flying attributes. In he left Messerschmitt behind, going to the Aeronautical Research Institute in Vienna to study high-speed flight. His most notable design in Vienna was the DM-1, a delta-wing glider that ultimately would have led to a ramjet fighter powered by a radical coal-burning engine.
Designated the Lippisch Pb, it never actually flew, but computer graphic renditions of the design often appear in TV documentaries. After the war ended, Lippisch was among the leading German scientists and engineers scooped up in Operation Paperclip.
An FBI analysis of his past led to the conclusion that Lippisch was not an ardent Nazi, but rather one of many scientists who had joined the party in order to continue their work in wartime. In the U. Despite those consultations and the fact he remained as farseeing and inventive as ever, the postwar years did not provide Lippisch with an opportunity to bring many of his ideas to fruition. He then took a job with the Collins Radio Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, serving until as director of its aeronautical division.
He envisioned them in a wide variety of types, including vertical takeoff interceptors, bombers and fighters. In the early versions, two coaxial propellers drove the Aerodyne, with vertical flight achieved through the slipstream being diverted downward through flaps. Control was effected by deflecting the slipstream in the desired direction. Unmanned versions were tested at Collins, and Lippisch patented the idea in As a result, a piloted version was never built. AP Photo.
The general concept was developed elsewhere as well. It proved to be more short-lived than short-takeoff. In ensuing years Lippisch headed the hydrodynamic laboratory at Collins and built a series of high-speed craft that led to the aerofoil boat, a seaplane that flew well over water or land.
The first full-scale model was the Collins X, flown in , a year after Lippisch retired. He was then 70 and in poor health: His longtime cigarette habit had led to emphysema.
After Kate died in from an acute appendicitis attack, he married Gertrude Knoblauch the following year. He and Gertrude had three children, Sibylla, Blanca and Peter. Lippisch somehow managed to keep his family together, and often with him, throughout World War II.
He subsequently brought them with him to the United States. The ordinary peacetime civil and military market was not ready to pursue his later advanced ideas at such a rapid pace. Nonetheless, with more than 50 aircraft designs and 50 patents, Alexander Lippisch remains one of the most important designers of his time. Contributing editor Walter J. Boyne is a retired U. Air Force colonel, former director of the National Air and Space Museum and author of more than 50 books on aviation. Lippisch , by Henry V.
This feature was originally published in the July issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.
Alexander M. Lippisch
Alexander M. He was 81 years old. Lippisch was born in Munich. His career in aviation began at the end of World War I, when he became associated with the Dornier Aircraft Company, where he stayed four years. He was then active in the design of sailplanes and gliders until , when he joined the Messerschmitt Company as chief of design and speed research.
Alexander Lippisch Dead at 81:Messerschmitt Aircraft Pioneer
Alexander Martin Lippisch November 2, — February 11, was a German aeronautical engineer, a pioneer of aerodynamics who made important contributions to the understanding of tailless aircraft , delta wings and the ground effect , and also worked in the U. His most famous designs are the Messerschmitt Me rocket-powered interceptor  : and the Dornier Aerodyne. Lippisch was born in Munich , Kingdom of Bavaria. He later recalled that his interest in aviation began with a demonstration conducted by Orville Wright over Tempelhof Field in Berlin in September