Thursday, 18 September 2008

Hugo Junkers 1859-1935

Hugo Junkers was an innovative German engineer, as his many patents in varied areas (gas engines, aeroplanes) show. He pioneered the first great change in aviation materials and design technology, away from wood and fabric materials braced by wire rigging, towards all-metal, cantilever-winged monoplane aircraft that had little to no external bracing.

The name Junkers is mainly known in connection with aircraft, which were produced under this name first for the German Empire later in World War I, mostly in league with Anthony Fokker as requested by IdFlieg for the Luftstreitkräfte, and later for the Third Reich's Luftwaffe before and during World War II. By then, however, the Nazi government was running his businesses, and Hugo Junkers himself was deceased.

Born in Rheydt, Rhine Province, Junkers studied in Charlottenburg and Aachen. He was a professor of mechanical engineering at Aachen between 1897 and 1912. Working as an engineer, Junkers devised, patented, and exploited gas engines, heaters, a calorie meter and other inventions. His aeronautical work began in earnest only at the age of fifty. He had far-seeing ideas of metal aeroplanes and flying wings, but always realities of war dragged him back. During World War I the government forced him to focus on aircraft production. In 1915, he developed the world's first practical all metal aircraft design, the Junkers J 1 "Blechesel"[1] (Sheetmetal Donkey), which survived on museum display in Berlin until World War II, and later in 1918 his firm created the world's first low-winged single seat fighter aircraft, the Junkers D.I. However, the D.I. did not enter production until 1918. He also produced a two seat fighter (pilot and rear gunner), the Junkers CL.I. and an armored-fuselage two seat all metal sesquiplane, the Junkers J.I, considered the best German ground attack aircraft of the war. The J.I's pattern of an armored fuselage that protected the nose mounted engine, pilot and observer in a unitized metal "bathtub", was the possible inspiration for Sergei Ilyushin's later IL-2 Shturmovik (conceivably appropriate as Junkers did have a manufacturing plant in Fili, a suburb of Moscow, in the Soviet Union in the 1920s) with a similar armored fuselage design, and Andrei Tupolev and William Stout each owed much to Hugo Junkers in the designs of their earlier aircraft, which benefitted from Junkers' corrugated light metal construction philosophy.

After the war, several business ventures failed from wider economic or political problems that scuppered sound engineering plans. But Junkers always had more ideas: the massive four engined G38, nicknamed "Der Grosse Dessauer", delivered to Lufthansa made no commercial trips for many months as he repeatedly recalled it to the factory for improvements.

During the 1920s Junkers' employees represented a wide spectrum of views. There were left wing cultural revolutionaries and National Socialists. There were pacifists and World War I veterans who were convinced Germany would remilitarise following the ideas of such as Ernst Jünger. Some preferred pure scientific research, others focused on mass production. About every aspect of the business, and of its environment, there were differing opinions.

For members of all the many groups represented in Junkers, aviation offered hope for national renewal. Their varied views led to lively internal corporate politics until the Nazi government interfered. Junkers claimed affinity with Hitler's nationalist commitment, but ultimately had little sympathy with the requirements of mobilization for total war.

Junkers was a socialist and a pacifist; perhaps for these reasons, he had several occasions to cross swords with German leadership. In 1917 the government forced him into partnership with Anthony Fokker to ensure wartime production targets would be met. In 1926, unable to make government loan repayments after a failed venture to build planes for the USSR, he lost control of most of his businesses. In 1933, the Nazi government, on taking power, immediately demanded ownership of Junkers' patents and control of his remaining companies. Under threat of imprisonment he eventually acquiesced, to little avail; a year later he was under house arrest; a year after that he was dead.
nning his businesses, and Hugo Junkers himself was deceased.