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The Wasserkuppe (German: "water peak") is a high plateau (elevation 950m or 3100 ft), the highest peak in the Rhön Mountains within the German state of Hessen. Between the first and second World Wars, great advances in sailplane development were made there.

Students from the nearby Darmstadt Technical University began flying gliders from the Wasserkuppe as early as 1911, but interest in sailplanes in Germany increased greatly after 1918 when the Treaty of Versailles restricted the production or use of powered aircraft in the nation. From 1920 onwards, annual competitions were held, leading to records being set and broken for height, distance, and duration of unpowered flight. The first competition had been organised by Oskar Ursinus, who also built the first clubhouse on the Wasserkuppe in 1924 to replace the shipping containers that enthusiasts were using as accommodation up to that point. By 1930, the competition had become an international event, drawing pilots from all over Europe and even the United States.

Virtually every German aeronautical engineer and test pilot of note during the 1920s and 30s spent time building, testing, and flying aircraft here, including the Günter brothers, Wolf Hirth, the Horton brothers, Robert Kronfeld, Hans Jacobs, Alexander Lippisch, Willy Messerschmitt, Hanna Reitsch, Peter Riedel, Alexander Schleicher and many, many others. This period saw great advances in exotic technologies such as flying wings and rocket-powered flights.

During the Third Reich, gliding activities became largely controlled by the state, and for Hitler Youth pilots and their instructors, proficiency in gliding was viewed as the first step towards the Luftwaffe. Sailplane research was also nationalised under the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug (DFS - German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight).

Following the war, a US Army camp, radar station, and surveillance station were established there but when restrictions on German aviation were lifted in 1951, gliding soon returned to the Wasserkuppe where it has remained popular since. Beginning in the 1970s, the newer sport of hang gliding has also found a home there. Following the reunification of Germany and demise of the Soviet Union, the surveillance and radar installations were removed in the 1990s.

In 1970, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first competition, the Deutsches Segelflugmuseu] (German Sailplane Museum) was opened on the plateau, with Neil Armstrong a guest of honour at the ceremony. The museum gained a new building in 1987. The Wasserkuppe is also the home of the Oldtimer Segelflugclub (OSC - Oldtimer Gliding Club), dedicated (as its name suggests) to flying vintage sailplanes.

External link

Oldtimer Segelflugclub (in German)