Civilian and military aeronautical research – from 1908

Civilian and military aeronautical research – from 1908

Lichtwiese Airfield in the 1920s. Image: Darmstadt city archives
Lichtwiese Airfield in the 1920s. Image: Darmstadt city archives

Not very many universities can boast their own airfield. Since 2005, Technische Universität Darmstadt has been the proud owner of Germany's oldest airfield, named after aviation pioneer August Euler (1868-1957), a jack-of-all-trades who established the airfield on the Griesheimer Sand in 1908. He was simply far ahead of his time: He built the first motorised aircraft in his on-site aircraft factory, where he also founded the first school of aviation.

Inspired by this pioneering spirit, TH Darmstadt introduced its first professorship for “Aviation and Aircraft Technology” in 1913. The university offered excellent training opportunities with its specialist lectures in aeronautics, mechanics and aerodynamics as well as aeronautical meteorology. In 1921, students founded the academic flyers' group, which built and produced its own aircraft prototypes. Their spectacular records sealed Darmstadt's international reputation as the central hub for gliding. From 1927/28, the Department of Mechanical Engineering offered a specialisation in aircraft engineering.

Darmstadt Airport 1924/25

August Euler in one of his first aeroplanes, 1909. Image: Darmstadt city archives
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August Euler in one of his first aeroplanes, 1909. Image: Darmstadt city archives

In 1924/25, the city of Darmstadt, Technische Hochschule, the government of the Bundesland Hessen and local industry co-founded an airline operating company that turned the Lichtwiese, an open field which is now the second campus of TU Darmstadt, into the forerunner of today's Frankfurt Airport. In 1926, Süddeutsche Luft Hansa introduced air transport, serving Stuttgart and Munich as well as Cologne, Hanover and Hamburg.

Griesheim Airfield 1933/34

In 1933/34, Darmstadt Airport moved to the Griesheimer Sand – with the approval of the Reich Aviation Ministry and the Foreign Office. The Nazi regime was well aware of the military and armaments potential of the local scientists and aeronautical industry. The facilities were quickly expanded and modernised for the Luftwaffe and became one of the Reich's central training and development centres for war planning with more than a thousand employees. TH professors were intensively involved in armaments research. TH wind tunnel was built between 1935 and 1937.

The airport housed the German Research Institute for Gliding Flight (DFS) as well as the student-run Akaflieg, the German Air Sports Association, the School for Aeronautical Engineering and, from 1937, the pre-military combat organisation “National Socialist Aeronautical Corps” (NSFK).

Testing ground for many sciences

After the end of the Second World War, the facility was used by US troops. In 1955, the Americans ceded the wind tunnel to the university and in 1992, authorised the use of the airfield for take-offs and landings for scientific purposes.

Today, about a dozen of TU’s institutes and specialised departments conduct research at the airfield: they use aircraft to measure turbulence in the atmosphere, test safety assistance systems and new LED tail-lights on cars, develop applications for satellite navigation and, in terms of both geoscience and biology, have an extremely interesting, broad field.