Hugo Junkers

and the Indomitable Spirit of Man

by Corey Ducharme

Corey Ducharme is a PhD candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in Industrial engineering

Corey Ducharme is a PhD candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in Industrial engineering

It was a cold 2 degrees celsius on that fateful January 18, 1916 and yet a small crowd had gathered around Fliegerersatzabteilung 1, airfield in Döberitz Germany to see history in the making. They had heard the rumors of a new plane being tested out, but the characteristics they heard were beyond reason. As it came out the hangar and rolled up the runway, a wave of incredulity swept over the crowd. What they had brought out could not fly they felt. And how could it, it was metal. It was a deformed beast made entirely of that grey and hard substance that for now had been used entirely for the grey and hard labours of the earth. Sure it might look like a plane, and yet even with all the progress made in the recent years they felt that old comfort of Aristotelian natural science. Just as a rock does not fly because a rock’s place is on the ground so too must this blasphemous plane not leave the ground. Only 12 years ago they had come to believe that a plane made of twigs and cloth could fly as a kite can. But a rock cannot be attached to a string a made to dance in the wind. No the sky would not be conquered by a creature so diametrically opposed to what lived there the crowd decided.

Peter M Grosz collection

Peter M Grosz collection

Looking across the airfield, the crowd could see one man. An older gentleman looking at the plane with a knowing look born from the intimacy one has with his invention as though it were a lover and a look of inevitable triumph born from years of success with its accompanied failures. It was the engineer. That old Prussian was Karl Junkers whose reputation as an accomplished inventor and engineer preceded him. But even with him here such a feat was too much of an affront to the laws of nature the crowd decided.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1985-0529-541 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1985-0529-541 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

That it could fly felt the crowd was impossible. That it would fly felt Hugo Junkers was inevitable. As the whirring of the propeller and the thrumming of the Mercedes six-cylinder piston engine deafened the crowd, you could see the plane start moving forward the runway shaking erratically. And as that great moment in history is about to arrive, it is time for me the narrator to take you back in time a little to explain how this moment came to be.

Hugo Junkers was born in 1859 in Prussia, what is now called Germany, just in time to live on the forefront of the industrial revolution. He studied this newly popular profession, engineering, and very quickly understood the impact of the new and emerging discoveries and technology could have on the mankind. His company was founded to allow him to share his new inventions. But his interested in aviation would come much later with his fateful meeting with Hans Reissner in 1907 who had a dream of building an all metal airplane. Junkers always fascinated by the discovery of the airplane quickly understood that a metal design would finally allow it to be used to usher in a new era of transportation to mankind.

And now returning to the runway on that fateful cold January 18 in Döberitz, the plane gaining speed lift off. And it was at that moment that everyone in the crowd truly felt that mankind had conquered this last frontier on earth completely. For a machine of steel to so effortlessly fly through the sky meant a complete mastery of the mechanics that control it. And it was at that moment that mankind stepped through to the modern age.