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Alexander Lippisch

Dr. Alexander Martin Lippisch (November 2, 1894 - February 11, 1976) was a German pioneer of aerodynamics who made important contributions to the understanding of flying wings and ground effect craft. His most famous design was the Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket-powered interceptor.

Lippisch was born in Munich, Germany. He later recalled that his interest in aviation was first kindled by watching a demonstration by Orville Wright in September 1909 in Berlin. He was, however, planning to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter art school when World War I intervened. During his service with the German Army from 19151918, Lippisch had the chance to fly as an aerial photographer and mapper.

Following the war, Lippisch worked for a while with the Zeppelin Company, and it was at this time that he first became interested in tail-less aircraft. In 1921 the first such design of his would reach fruition in the form of the Lippisch-Espenlaub E-2 glider, built by Gottlob Espenlaub. This was the beginning of a research programme that would result in some fifty designs throughout the 1920s and 30s. Lippisch’s growing reputation saw him appointed the director of Rhon-Rossitten Gesellschaft (RRG), a glider research group.

Lippisch’s work led to a series of tail-less designs numbered Storch IStorch IX between 1927 and 1933. These were greeted with almost complete indifference by both government and private industry. During this time, one of Lippisch’s designs, the Ente (Duck), would enter history as the first aircraft to fly under rocket power. It was a sign of things to come.

Experience with the Storch series led Lippisch to concentrate increasingly on delta-winged designs. These would find expression in five aircraft (simply numbered Delta IDelta V) built between 1931 and 1939. In 1933, RGG had been reorganised into the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug (DFS - German Institute for Sailplane Flight) and the Delta IV and Delta V were designated as the DFS 39 and DFS 40 respectively.

In early 1939, the Reichsluftfahrtsministerium (RLM) – (Reich Aviation Ministry) transferred Lippisch and his team to work at the Messerschmitt factory to design a high-speed fighter aircraft around the rocket engines then under development by Hellmuth Walter. They quickly adapted their then-current design, the DFS 194 to rocket power, successfully flying in early 1940. This was the direct ancestor of the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet.

Although technically brilliant, the Komet did not prove to be a successful weapon, and friction between Lippisch and Messerschmitt was frequent. In 1943, Lippisch transferred to Vienna’s Luftfahrtforschungsanstalt Wien (LFW), to concentrate on the problems of high-speed flight. That same year, he was awarded a doctoral degree in engineering by the University of Heidelberg.

Wind tunnel research in 1939 had suggested that the delta wing was a good choice for supersonic flight and Lippisch set to work designing a supersonic, ramjet-powered fighter, the Lippisch P-13. By the time the war ended, however, the project had only advanced as far as a development glider, the DM-1.

Like many German scientists, Lippisch was taken to the United States after the war under Project Paper Clip. Advances in jet engines were making his original interceptor designs more practical, and Convair became interested in a hybrid jet/rocket design that they proposed as the F-92. In order to gain experience with the delta wing, they first built a jet powered test aircraft, the 7003, which became the first powered delta-wing aircraft to fly. Although the USAF lost interest in the F-92, Convair's experience with the delta-wing design led them to proposing it for most of their projects through the 1950s and into the 1960s, including the F-102 Delta Dagger, F-106 Delta Dart and B-58 Hustler.

From 1950-1964 Lippisch worked for the Collins Radio Company in Iowa, which had an aeronautical division. It was during this time that his interest shifted toward ground effect craft. The results were an unconventional VTOL aircraft (an aerodyne) and an aerofoil boat. Lippisch resigned from Collins because of ill health caused by cancer.

When he recovered in 1966, he formed his own research company, Lippisch Research Corporation, and attracted the interest of the West German government. Prototypes for both the aerodyne and the ground-effect craft were built, but no further development was undertaken. The Kiekhaefer Mercury company was also interested in his ground-effect craft and successfully tested one of his designs as the Aeroskimmer, but also eventually lost interest.

Lippisch died at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.