Thursday, 18 September 2008

Ernst Heinrich Heinkel 1888-1958

Ernst Heinkel was born in Grunbach and as a young man became an apprentice machinist at a foundry. He initially became interested in aviation through a fascination with zeppelins, and in 1909 attended an international airshow in Frankfurt am Main. The following year, he built his first aircraft, working from a set of plans by Henri Farman.Soon afterwards, he gained employment at Luft Verkehrs Gesellschaft (LVG) who were building Farman aircraft. From there, he went to Albatros, where Heinkel designed the Albatros B-II, a reconnaissance aircraft used during the early stages of the First World War. After leaving the Albatros, Heinkel designed several land- and seaplanes for the Hansa-Brandenburg company starting in 1914.

In 1921, Heinkel was appointed head designer of the recently re-established Caspar-Werke, but soon left after a dispute over ownership of a design. In 1922 he established the Heinkel-Flugzeugwerke company at Warnemünde. Due to the restrictions placed on German aircraft manufacturing by the Treaty of Versailles, Heinkel looked overseas for contracts, with some seaplane designs being licence-built in Sweden and working on catapult-launched seaplanes for the Imperial Japanese Navy which Heinkel had business links with Japan since 1922. Back in Germany, he installed a similar catapult on the ocean liner Bremen for launching mail planes.

After Adolf Hitler came to power, designs by Heinkel's firm formed a vital part of the Luftwaffe's growing strength in the years leading up to the Second World War. This included the Heinkel He 59, the Heinkel He 115 and the Heinkel He 111.

Heinkel was passionate about high-speed flight, and was keen on exploring alternative forms of aircraft propulsion. He donated aircraft to Wernher von Braun who was investigating rocket propulsion for aircraft, as well as sponsoring the research of Hans von Ohain into turbojet engines, leading to the flight of the Heinkel He 178, the first aircraft to fly solely under turbojet power by Erich Warsitz on August 27, 1939.

Heinkel had been a critic of Hitler's regime from the time that he had been forced to sack Jewish designers and staff in 1933. In 1942 the government "nationalised" the Heinkel works. In practice, this meant that Heinkel was detained until he sold his controlling interest in his factories to Hermann Göring. Heinkel moved to Vienna and started a new design bureau there, working on the Heinkel He 274 design until the war ended.

At the end of the war Heinkel was arrested by the Allies but evidence of anti-Hitler activities and his treatment by the regime led to his acquittal.

With Germany forbidden from manufacturing aircraft by the Allies, Heinkel used his company's facilities to build private transportation. In 1953 Heinkel began production of the Tourist scooter, followed by the Perle moped in 1954. In 1956 he introduced the Heinkel Kabine bubble car. Bubble car and moped production ceased shortly after the restriction on aircraft manufacture was lifted, but scooter production continued until 1965.