Friday, 8 January 2010

Projekt RAK - Das Raketenzeitalter begann in Rüsselsheim

Klaus F. Filthaut, Aero-Verlag-GmbH, Petershausen, Germany, 1999, ISBN 3-934596-00-2. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Aero-Verlag-GmbH, 1999.

This very beautifully designed and lavishly illustrated book is only partially an aviation publication. Its full purpose is to document the abundance of rocket propulsion experiments conducted by a small circle of dedicated people around Fritz von Opel in Germany in the 1920s, and it also attempts to provide an assessment of the legacy of these activities.

The first half of Projekt RAK is thus focused on Opel's trials involving various combinations of rocket motors and race cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and rail mounted vehicles. It is immediately clear that the author has produced a thoroughly researched and very comprehensive labor of love. The text is well written and full of absorbing detail and anecdotes. The reproduction of the often spectacular photos is almost always very crisp (the only exceptions are photos of which there survived only inferior quality copies), and there are numerous period drawings and documents to complete the narrative.

It is really the second half of the book, however, which falls within the scope of this blog. Starting on page 106, Filthaut focuses on the early experiments with rocket-powered aircraft. This includes the Opel-RK 22, the Lippisch Model Nr. 4 Storch, the Rhön-Rossitten-Gesellschaft Ente (with which the first manned rocket flights were undertaken on June 11, 1928), the Lippisch Raketenpfeilflügelflugzeug, the Flugzeugbau Gebrüder Müller GMG Raketenflugzeug (the world's first liquid-fuel rocket-powered aircraft), and the comparatively well-known Opel-Sander-Rak 1/Hatry-Raketenflugzeug.

Projekt RAK explores pioneering research conducted against the backdrop of a very unique time inbetween the two world wars in Germany. This book is truly a hidden treasure, an insider tip of sorts. Not only does it provide a prolific record of historically important events, it is also astonishing on account of the sheer amount of period photos that have survived to this day - the remarkable number of photos showing the Opel-Sander-Rak 1, during maintenance work, on its launch rail, in powered flight, and after its crash, for instance.

Some of the photos contained in Projekt RAK are truly stunning, both for the technical details and the situations they reveal. There is a double-page spread on pages 142/143, for example, which shows the GMG Raketenflugzeug during a static test of its liquid-fuel rocket engine. Apparently oblivious of the inherent danger of such a test, the image shows three of the protagonists standing a mere three meters from the operational rocket motor, without any protection. It was not least a similarly casual attitude which led to the death of rocket pioneer and erstwhile Opel companion, Max Valier, on May 17, 1930.

This remarkable book concludes with an illustrated summary, biographies of the main characters involved, and an appendix with bibliography.

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