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Hugo Junkers

Hugo Junkers.

Junkers F13

Junkers F 13 planes flew the mail in South America in the 1920s and 1930s.

Junkers Ju 52/3M

The Ju 52 trimotor first flew in 1931. A heavy bomber version appeared in 1934 that formed the nucleus of the Luftwaffe's infant bomber force in the mid-1930s and was used during the Spanish Civil War.

Junkers Ju 88D

The German Ju 88 was one of the most versatile airplanes of World War II and was used in practically every kind of combat role.

Hugo Junkers and His Company

Hugo Junkers, one of Germany's great aviation pioneers, entered the aviation world later in life than many other people did. Born in 1859, he was 56 when he built his innovative airplane in a form that still flies today.

Junkers was an industrialist, owning a factory in the city of Dessau, Germany, that built steam boilers and heating equipment. He benefited from expanding opportunities and in 1913, founded the Junkers Motor Works in Magdeburg, which built large diesel engines for the propulsion of ships. He also cherished his ties to the academic world and was a professor at a technical institute in the town of Aachen.

Aviation was much in the news around 1910. Germany's Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin had built large airships that were flying successfully. French planebuilders also were succeeding with heavier-than-air machines. In Aachen, Junker's technical institute built one of the earliest wind tunnels, which sparked his thoughts in this new field. During that year he took out a patent for a "flying wing," an airplane that would lack a fuselage but would place its engines, fuel, crew, and payload within a single thick wing. He was far ahead of his time; nearly 40 years went by before America's Jack Northrop built successful aircraft of this type.

A colleague at Aachen, Professor Hans Reissner, was also designing airplanes. In 1911 Junkers helped him build one, crafting wings of corrugated sheet iron. This experience spurred Junkers to decide that aircraft of the future would be built entirely of metal—and would be monoplanes.

This indeed proved to be true; most airplanes built since 1935 have been of this type. However, in 1911, this too amounted to a leap into the future. The aircraft of the day were mostly biplanes, with a pair of wings connected by struts and wires to give a strong but lightweight structure. A few monoplanes existed but were quite flimsy. The aircraft of 1911 were built with frameworks of wood that were covered over with fabric.

In 1915 Junkers built his first all-metal monoplane, the J 1. Germany just then was fighting World War I, and aluminum, which is very light in weight, was in short supply. Junkers proceeded by crafting a framework of iron tubing and covering it with sheet iron. People called it the Tin Donkey, but it flew. Indeed, it topped 100 miles an hour (161 kilometers per hour), making it faster than some of that war's fighter aircraft.

Seeking to tap Junkers's talents, government officials brought him into a partnership with Anthony Fokker, a highly capable Dutch designer who was building warplanes for Germany. This government support enabled Junkers to secure a supply of aluminum, which he promptly used to build a new airplane, the J 3. To demonstrate the strength of its wings, he set one up as if it were a diving board and showed that it could support the weight of 42 men.

When the war ended, he turned his attention to commercial aviation. In 1923, following the first transatlantic flights by airplane and dirigible, he predicted that "the time will not be far off when as many people will cross the ocean by plane as they now do by ship." This indeed happened, late in the 1950s.

Just then, early in the 1920s, Junkers was making his own contribution to this goal with the first important all-metal monoplane: the F 13. Its aluminum skin was corrugated for strength, a design feature that carried over to the famous Ford Trimotor airliner of several years later. The F 13 was also an airliner, carrying four passengers. To stimulate sales, Junkers promoted the formation of airlines in Germany and other countries, which proceeded to purchase his planes. His largest airline, Junkers Luftverkehr, merged with a competitor in 1926 to form Lufthansa , Germany's great national carrier. The F 13 remained in production until 1932.

In 1928 Hugo Junkers built the first airplane to cross the Atlantic from east to west. Other pilots, including Charles Lindbergh, had flown from west to east but had been helped by tailwinds. Flight in the opposite direction thus meant battling headwinds. Overloaded with an extra ton and a half of fuel, the Junkers plane needed a very long takeoff run and barely cleared a group of trees. It then had to bank to avoid mountains. Its compass went out, while thick clouds hid the ground. Finally, after 36 hours aloft, its pilot brought it down onto an island near Labrador. He and his crew had made it.

The rise to power of the Nazis in 1933 brought the downfall of Hugo Junkers. He held patents that the new dictatorship wanted to seize; he also controlled his factories in Dessau and Magdeburg and hoped to continue building passenger airliners. By contrast, the Nazis wanted warplanes. By threatening him with prison, they forced Junkers to give them what they wanted. He died soon after, in 1935, at age 76.

Already his Dessau works were building one of the most important airplanes of that era: the three-engine Ju 52, fondly called "Auntie Ju." For a time, Lufthansa flew almost nothing but 52s. Some 4835 of them eventually were built, serving not only as airliners but also as bombers, troop carriers, cargo transports, tugs that pulled troop-carrying gliders, and flying ambulances. The Ju 52 was built in greater numbers than any other European transport. The first of them flew in 1932. They flew all through World War II, with some even continuing in service for a few years after the war.

In Nazi hands, the Junkers factory also turned out military craft. Ernst Udet, a senior official of the Nazi Air Force, visited the United States and saw a demonstration of a Curtiss Hawk dive bomber. He saw that such planes could drop bombs with high accuracy by diving toward their targets. Returning home, he insisted that Germany must have a dive bomber as well. This took shape as the widely feared Ju 87 "Stuka." Its engine howled with a terrifying noise during a dive, and Udet made it still more frightening by installing sirens. Fighting alongside tanks on the ground, Stukas helped bring the rapid defeat of France after the Nazis invaded in it 1940.

Junkers constructed nearly 6,000 Stukas. This was a special-purpose craft, and the company built far more—nearly 15,000—of a general-purpose warplane, the Ju 88. Different versions saw service as bombers, day and night fighters, and reconnaissance aircraft. The Ju 88 became Junkers's largest wartime program.

The Junkers engine division went on to develop the only turbojet engines to fly in combat during that war. These were Jumo 004s engines, two of which powered the Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter. The first of these jet planes flew in mid-1942, when Nazi conquests were at their height. But production of the 004 engine ran into serious delays. The engine had to be redesigned to avoid using the metals cobalt, nickel, and chromium, all of which were in very short supply. The revamped 004 then showed a strong tendency to burn out or fail when in use. Some 5,000 of these engines were eventually built, but they came too late in the war to affect the outcome.

Soviet forces occupied the Dessau and Magdeburg plants at the end of the war. With this, the name of Junkers vanished from aviation. Even so, it left a legacy. Anselm Franz, designer of the Jumo 004, had given the engine a simple layout that was well-suited to high thrust and high speed. By contract, early British and U.S. jet engines used more complex mechanical arrangements. But after the war, both nations changed to the Junkers type of design. In this fashion, Franz succeeded Hugo Junkers as a visionary who foresaw the future.

—T.E. Heppenheimer


Barker, Lt. Col. A. J., Stuka Ju-87. Secaucus, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 1980.

Davies, R. E. G. A History of the World's Airlines. London: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Emde, Heiner, and Demand, Carlo. Conquerors of the Air. New York: Viking Press, 1968.

Gunston, Bill. World Encyclopedia of Aircraft Manufacturers. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1993.

Heppenheimer, T. A. Turbulent Skies: The History of Commercial Aviation. New York: John Wiley, 1995.

Nevin, David. Architects of Air Power. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1981.

Schlaifer, Robert, and Heron, S. D. Development of Aircraft Engines and Fuels. Boston: Harvard University, 1950.

Schmitt, Gunter. Hugo Junkers and His Aircraft. Berlin: VEB Verlag, 1988.

Turner, P. St. John, and Nowarra, Heinz J. Junkers: An Aircraft Album. New York: Arco, 1971.

Walters, Brian. Junkers: A Pioneer in Aviation. Stroud, Gloustershire, Great Britain: Chalford, 1997.

Educational Organization

Standard Designation (where applicable

Content of Standard

National Council for Geographic Education

Standard 1

How to use maps and other geographic representations to acquire and process information.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 4

Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 8

Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.