The dream of flying

The dream of flying

Experimenting since 1920 at TU Darmstadt: the Academic Pilots’ Group (Akaflieg). Image: Akaflieg
Experimenting since 1920 at TU Darmstadt: the Academic Pilots’ Group (Akaflieg). Image: Akaflieg

They lift off frequently and with a passion, and their constructions have been the nation's high-flyers for decades. Research it, build it, fly it – this has been the motto of the “Academic Pilots’ Group” (Akaflieg) at Technische Universität Darmstadt since 1920. Today, students are working on a new prototype, the training glider D-43. In the fuselage area both flying instructor and student can sit beside one another, hitherto only a feature of motor planes.

For mid-flight emergencies on a D-43, Akaflieg is developing a pilot rescue system called SOTEIRA. In a critical emergency, a solid-fuel rocket will catapult the pilot out of the cockpit; a parachute will take him or her safely to the ground.

About 50 students invest more than 300 man-hours in gliding every year, an effort that is rewarded with pilot training and a glider licence. All enrolled students are welcome to participate. TU Darmstadt runs the hangar and offices, provides financial support as well as the expertise of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, in particular its Lightweight Design and Construction research group.

The “Darmstadt School”

The SOTEIRA rescue system in action. Image: Akaflieg
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The SOTEIRA rescue system in action. Image: Akaflieg

Today's members of the Pilots’ Group still share the same fascination with gliding and aviation that inspired the founding fathers of Akaflieg, the first of a total of ten groups of engineers of the same name set up worldwide after World War I. Then, the Treaty of Versailles banned motorised aviation.

As early as 1923, Akaflieg Darmstadt built the D-9, “the Consul”, with its streamlined fuselage and cantilever wings. Today's gliders are still built in this style, which is referred to as the “Darmstadt School” construction design. Akaflieg member Johannes Nehring achieved his first world record in 1925 in a D-9, and in 1926 was the first to prove that gliding is possible in thermal updraught. In March 1931, Darmstadt Akaflieg members pioneered aerotow tests, later scoring ten gliding world records, winning gliding contests in the Rhön and crossings of the Alps.

The “Academic Pilots’ Group” Darmstadt has always stood for new constructions and international breakthroughs in glider construction.