The Imperial Aero-Club

Private organisations began to form very fast, where the early technology enthusiasts like cardrivers and aviators could join: in Germany the German (later the Imperial) Automobile Club was established in 1899, and on December 21st 1907 the German Aero Club was founded. This was initiated under the Chairmanship of Admiral von Hollemann in the rooms of the Allgemeinen Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG) ((German Electricity Board)), whose director Walther Rathenau was also a club member. His Highness Prince Ernst of Sachsen-Altenburg was chosen as President.

Prince Ernst von Sachsen Altenburg.
Imperial Aero-Club Villa in Berlin
Prince Ernst von Sachsen Altenburg.
President of the Imperial Aero Club
Imperial Aero-Club Villa in Berlin

In a General Meeting on March 5th 1908, the Clubhouse in Berlin at Nollendorfplatz 3 (the former Hanjery Palace) was inaugurated. There was also a Clubhouse at Johannisthal airfield, which was the first German airfield to be opened on the 26th of September, 1909.

From the stands of the muchused Clubhouse one could see the manoevring area particularly well.

Aero Clubhaus at Johannisthal airfield

At the beginning of 1909 the Club put a third independent-balloon into service, and on top of that also an airship `Parseval” for the sensational price at that time of 10,000 Reichsmark was procured. This was stationed in Bitterfeld and did twenty trips in the first year, one of which being a Gordon-Bennett competition race to Zürich in Switzerland.

Aero Clubhaus at Johannisthal airfield

On September 7th 1909 the German Emporer, Kaiser Wilhelm II took over the patronage of the Club, which named itself thereafter as the Imperial Aero Club. His son, the Crown Prince, became Honorary President

Panorama view over the airfield from Clubhouse balcony
Panorama view over the airfield from Clubhouse balcony

In 1910 a blue Club uniform was introduced, which was worn on the airfield, during flights and at Club meetings. It was comprised of a navy blue jacket with a waistcoat and trousers of the same colour. The jacket had two rows of black buttons with the Club emblem, each row having four buttons. The Club cap showed the emblem of the Imperial Aero Club. The Club members came from the upper classes, were officers, industrialists and true flight-enthusiasts.

Cap emblem of the Imperial Aero Club Membership badge of the Imperial Aero Club
Cap emblem of the Imperial Aero Club. vd
Membership badge of the Imperial Aero Club. vd

Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838-1917) was also a member of the Imperial Aero Club.

Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin

Graf Zeppelin, who had taken leave of his studies and fought on the side of the Northern States in the American Civil War was, apart from his military career as Cavalry Officer, the most successful airship engineer ever. On July 2nd 1900 he started his first airship L21 in Manzell, at Lake Constance. He founded various companies in order to market his airships, these businesses brought varied success. His company, the Deutsche Luftschiffahrts AG (Delag) carried 34,028 passengers on 1,588 trips [1] , on seven airships, and without accident - which is really saying something. Even in WW 1 airships were used, but they disappointed sadly because against fighter aircrafts they were virtually defenceless. The story of the airship ended with the tragedy at Lakehurst on May 6th 1937, when 35 of 97 persons on board lost their lives. Up to the present day, despite newer concepts and technologies, airships are a technical development that resulted in a dead-end.

Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin

Some women´s names include themselves in those early flying days. The most well-known was Amelie Beese, known as Mellie Beese, who flew a Rumpler `Taube` (`Dove`). She was the first woman in Germany who applied for a flying license, this was on her 25th birthday, the 13th of September, 1911. Several flying schools rejected her, male flying-school colleagues sabotaged her efforts, and yet despite all this she got her license with flying colours. On September 26th 1911 she achieved a flight at 825m altitude for the duration of 2,5 hours. This was the record on both counts, for female aviators with a passenger.

Mellie Beese, first German female pilot
Mellie Beese, first German female pilot

Ms Beese was a sculptress, but joined the Imperial Aero Club as a pilot and was registered as such in the membership records, just before war broke out in 1914. She was a daring woman, who later married the French aviator and designing engineer Charles Boutard. Boutard went into a detention camp in Germany at the beginning of the war, and Mellie Beese lost her flying license for the duration of the war.
A new start after 1918 failed; then divorced from her husband she injured herself very badly in 1925 in a crash landing. Three days before Christmas of that same year she shot herself, after leaving behind the words, flying is necessary, living isn´t”.

Anthony Fokker

Anthony Fokker in one of his aircraft

Surely one of the most remarkable Club members was the Dutch aircraft design engineer Anthony Fokker, who also constructed military planes for the Germans, in wartime.
Fokker was popular with the fighter pilots because he was the only engineer who spoke with them on the Front, and who listened to their suggestions about improvements - in order to carry them out. He became famous for the invention of a synchronisation mechanism which enabled the fighter pilots to shoot from behind the propeller circle through the rotating blades, during flight. An ingenious innovation, that apparently only took him two days to develop.

Further important members were:
- Hellmuth von Moltke, the General Chief of Staff of the German Army, who was Vice-President of the Club.

- The designing engineer of the first military-used monoplane, `Taube` (`Dove`), Edmund Rumpler.

- Baron Rudolf von Brandenstein, founder member and former Chief Staff Officer of the German Voluntary Automobile Corps and later Director of the German Arms and Ammunition factory (DWM).

- August Euler, a businessman from Frankfurt am Main, who applied for the first German pilot´s license on February 1st, 1910.

Beyond these we find military personnel like von Seeckt, bankers like Oppenheim, factory owners like Krupp, von Bohlen and Halbach, alongside aviators like Captain Franz Geerdtz, the Squadron Leader of the aircraft Battalion 3 in Hannover, northern Germany, one of the first four German military pilots, as well as Oswald von Richthofen – brother of the famous fighter pilot.

There were extremely close connections between the Imperial Aero Club and the Imperial Automobile Club. Nearly all Club flying competitions were hosted by both organisations.



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