Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hans Grade - German Aviation Pioneer

Hans Grade before takeoff, 1912
On October 30, 1909, German aviation pioneer Hans Grade won the 40.000 Reichsmark "Lanz-Preis der Lüfte", flying a new monoplane design, the 'Libelle' (Dragon Fly), the first really airworthy motor plane of Germany. Most probably, you have never heard of Hans Grade, who is also scarcely known in his home country. Nevertheless, he is one of the early pioneers of aviation and today, we will tell his story.

Hans Grade was born on May 17, 1879, in Köslin, the largest city of Middle Pomerania in today's north-western Poland. Working as a trainee in mechanical engineering in Grevenbroich, Cologne, he studied engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Berlin from 1900 to 1904. In 1903, Grade designed and constructed his first motorbike in Köslin and took over an engine workshop. In 1905, he founded the Grade-Motoren-Werke GmbH in Magdeburg and in 1907, he began experiments with a triplane at Magdeburg Athletic Field. On 28 October 1908 he successfully conducted the first motor-flight over German soil in a motorized triplane aircraft of his own construction at Magdeburg, where he succeeded in making a short hop, attaining an altitude of 8 meters. In September 1909, he made the first recognized flight of a German designed and built airplane from the Johannisthal Aerodrome at Berlin. The first flights were scarcely more than hops, but by November, 1909, he had logged one journey of 55 minutes duration.

On 30 October 1909, flying a new monoplane design he won the 40.000 Reichsmark "Lanz-Preis der Lufte", for the first German to fly a flat "8" in a German aircraft with German engine around two pylons 1000 meters apart, no match for pilots from other nations at that time. In 1910, Grade established the first aviation school in Germany. Grade continued with air displays in Hamburg, Bremen, Breslau and Magdeburg. On April 10, 1910, Grade sets an altitude record in Magdeburg of 1450 meters and in 1912 he was awarded The Crown Medal 4th class by the German Emperor.

It was also a Grade monoplane that carried Germany's first air mail, when pilot Pentz made a flight from Bork to Bruck in February 1912 with a small sack of mail in his lap. Although successful, Grade monoplanes did not become as famous as many contemporary European designs, and for this reason comparatively few were built. The small aircraft company, founded with his prize money, did not survived the Versaille-agreement of 1918. His extraordinary construction of driving a car with no use of a gear-box did not stand against the established constructions.

In 1921 he established an automobile company called "Grade Automobilwerke AG", which produced small, 2 seater personal cars. The Grade Automobilwerke AG was closed in 1927 owing to financial difficulties. After the Nazi takeover in the 1930s Grade tried, without success, to develop a new Volksflugzeug and in 1934 he undertook research projects for the German aircraft manufacturers. In 1939 May 14 he re-flew his original monoplane from 1909, then 30 years old, at Berlin Tempelhof Airport for about 550 metres to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. Hans Grade died in 1946 at the age of 67.

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