Born in Schwerin, in north-eastern Germany in 1912, Bölkow was the son of a foreman employed by Fokker, one of the leading aircraft constructors of that time.
Bölkow’s first job was with Heinkel, the aircraft company, before studying aero-engineering at the Technical University in Berlin. On graduation, in 1939, he joined the project office of Messerchmitt AG in Augsburg, where he served initially as a clerk, later as a group leader for high-speed aerodynamics, especially for the Messerchmitt ME-262 and its successors. In January 1943, he was appointed head of the Messerchmitt ME-109 development office in Vienna. A year later, Bölkow returned to the Messerschmitt project office, which had meanwhile moved to Oberammergau. There he set up a program for the development of the Messerschmitt MeP1101 jet fighter.
In 1948, he founded his own engineering office for construction and automation in Stuttgart where he developed innovative construction methods, large-sized automated machines and new construction machinery among other things. After sovereignty over its airspace was restored to Germany, Bölkow began to focus again on the design of defence missiles, airplanes and helicopters in 1955.
In 1968, Bölkow merged with Messerschmitt, and one year later they formed the air and space company Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm which was integrated into DASA, in 1989, before merging to form EADS in 1999.
The Bölkow group developed innovations in aeronautics, military systems, satellites and transport systems.
Bölkow was recognised as a visionary in the field of future energy systems as, for example, the solar hydrogen technology. In 1983, the Ludwig Bölkow Foundation was set up at his initiative. It deals with research in the fields of renewable energies, solar hydrogen technology, transport systems and environmental protection.