Junkers After Dessau

Junkers After Dessau

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  • Sep, 16 , 22

Hugo Junkers was an engineering professor who designed several all-metal or mostly metal military aircraft during the First World War. He officially founded an aircraft and engine manufacturing company in Dessau, roughly halfway down the main road from Berlin to Leipzig, in the war’s immediate aftermath. Junkers Flugzeug und Motorenwerke AG became fully statemowned after Hugo’s death in 1935.

Between 1939 and 1942, a small team of engineers led by the Austrian Anselm Franz developed the Jumo 004 turbojet engine. This engine was chosen to power Messerschmitt’s Me 262 “Schwalbe,” the first operational, mass-produced jet aircraft.

Dessau was in an interesting situation at the end of World War II; although occupied by the American military, it was within the area designated as the Soviet administrative zone. Both the American and Soviets were fixated on the 262 and its jet engines, and both parties were aware that the engineers responsible for the engine were located in or around Dessau. The intelligence services of both powers identified and courted the engineers, offering them work, housing, and special treatment. A group led by Franz chose the Americans and worked their way to the US, in some cases very quickly thanks to the famous/infamous Operation Paperclip, which enabled the government to circumvent normal immigration procedures and bring German nationals to America immediately. Another group of former Junkers engineers chose the Soviets, particularly in the hope that they would be able to stay at home.

Unfortunately for the Soviet group, they were all shipped off to Russia/USSR-proper in 1946 and held there against their will. They were allowed to trickle back to East Germany between 1949 and 1953, where they formed the nucleus of VEB Flugzeugwerke Dresden. The East German government hoped that the Dresden Aircraft Works would spearhead a revival of their domestic aviation industry. The company’s first project was a jet airliner dubbed the Baade 152. The 152 was an evolution of a bomber design that the former Junkers crew had worked on in Russia during the late ‘40s. Three 152s were built, one crashed and killed its crew, and the program was canceled in 1961 when the DDR decided / was coerced to re-dissolve its domestic aerospace industry, from there onward purchasing and operating exclusively Soviet designs. Despite its obscure, unfortunate history, the Baade 152 does have the distinction of being the first and one of the only indigenous German jet airliners.

The Franz/US group gravitated to Lycoming in the postwar years. A team with a remarkable amount of personnel carryover from the Jumo 004 project designed the Lycoming T53 and T55 engines, which powered the famous Huey, Cobra, and Chinook helicopters. The same group is also largely responsible for the power plant of the M1 Abrams tank.

One such engineer who made his way from Junkers to Lycoming was Siegfried Decher. In Turbulent Journey, Siegfried’s son Reiner recounts the story of the German jet program, his father, and his family’s journey from Dessau to the United States.

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