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Ernst Heinkel

Ernst Heinkel (January 24 1888 - January 30 1958) was a German aircraft designer and manufacturer.

He was born in Grunbach and as a young man became an apprentice machinist at a foundry. He initially became interested in aviation through a fascination with zeppelins, and in 1909 attended an international airshow in Frankfurt am Main. The following year, he built his first aircraft, working from a set of plans by Henri Farman.

Soon afterwards, he gained employment at Luft Verkehrs Gesellschaft (LVG) who were building Farman aircraft. From there, he went to Albatros, where Heinkel designed the Albatros B-II, a reconnaissance aircraft used during the early stages of the First World War. After leaving the Albatros, Heinkel designed several seaplanes for the Hansa-Brandenburg company starting in 1914.

In 1922 Heinkel established the Heinkel-Flugzeugwerke company at Warnemünde. Due to the restrictions placed on German aircraft manufacturing by the Treaty of Versailles, Heinkel looked overseas for contracts, with some seaplane designs being licence-built in Sweden and working on catapult-launched seaplanes for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Back in Germany, he installed a similar catapult on the ocean liner Bremen for launching mailplanes.

After Adolf Hitler came to power, designs by Heinkel's firm formed a vital part of the Luftwaffe's growing strength in the years leading up to the Second World War. This included the Heinkel He 59, the Heinkel He 115 and the Heinkel He 111.

Heinkel was passionate about high-speed flight, and was keen on exploring alternative forms of aircraft propulsion. He donated aircraft to Wernher von Braun who was investigating rocket propulsion for aircraft, as well as sponsoring the research of Hans von Ohain into turbojet engines.

Heinkel had been a critic of Hitler's regime from the time that he had been forced to sack Jewish designers and staff in 1933. In 1942 the government "nationalised" the Heinkel works. In practice, this meant that Heinkel was detained until he sold his controlling interest in his factories to Hemann Göring. At the end of the war Heinkel was arrested by the Allies but evidence of anti-Hitler activities and his treatment by the regime led to his acquittal and he was allowed to go free, although his company (along with the rest of Germany's aviation industry) was initially forbidden to produce aircraft.

Ernst Heinkel died in 1958 in Stuttgart. His autobiography, Stürmisches Leben was published in 1956 and translated into English as He1000 in its British edition and Stormy Life: Memoirs of a Pioneer of the Air Age in its US edition.