9. November 2017
DLR's precursor was founded in November 1907 in Göttingen

The cradle of aeronautical research celebrates its 110 anniversary

Zeppelin model in the wind tunnel
Image 1/7, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Zeppelin model in the wind tunnel

Model of the Zeppelin airship LZ120 ‘Bodensee’ in Wind Tunnel 2 in Göttingen (1920).

DLR site in Göttingen
Image 2/7, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

DLR site in Göttingen

Aerial view of the DLR site in Göttingen.

Plans of the Model Testing Institute, 1907
Image 3/7, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Plans of the Model Testing Institute, 1907

Elevation and floor plan of the Göttingen Model Testing Institute, 1907.

Construction of the Model Testing Institute
Image 4/7, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Construction of the Model Testing Institute

Construction of the Göttingen Model Testing Institute, 1908.

Ludwig Prandtl with his fluid test channel
Image 5/7, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Ludwig Prandtl with his fluid test channel

Ludwig Prandtl (1875-1953) with his water test channel in Hannover, 1904. Prandtl founded the Model Testing Institute in Göttingen and is regarded as the ‘father of aerodynamics’.

Smoke flow over a model car, 1921
Image 6/7, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Smoke flow over a model car, 1921

Testing of vehicle aerodynamics using models: photograph of a limousine. The airflow is rendered visible using smoke (1921).

Ski jumper test dummy in a wind tunnel
Image 7/7, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Ski jumper test dummy in a wind tunnel

Testing the aerodynamics of a ski jumper test dummy about 50 centimetres tall in a wind tunnel at AVA Göttingen, a predecessor of the present-day DLR. The photograph has been rotated to make it easier to understand – in reality, the dummy was suspended upside down.

  • The cradle of aeronautics research was founded in Göttingen 110 years ago
  • Focus: aeronautics, transport, aerospace, energy, history

The first German state institute for aeronautics research was founded 110 years ago in Göttingen. It was the precursor of the present-day German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), and laid the foundations for modern aeronautics.

When the first airships and aeroplanes took to the air at the beginning of the 20th century, there were frequent unexplained problems and crashes. Certain shapes and constructions flew better than others. But why? Objects moving through the air seemed to be affected by unknown influences. Ludwig Prandtl, appointed as Director of Technical Physics at the University of Göttingen in 1904, wanted answers. And so in November 1907, at Prandtl's instigation, the Göttingen Model Testing Institute was established to carry out aerodynamic experiments. "This was the first national institute for aeronautics research in Germany," says Jessika Wichner, Head of the DLR Central Archive. "At the beginning of the 20th century in Göttingen, the theoretical and experimental foundations were laid without which present-day aviation would not be possible."

The quest for the perfect shape

One of the things that the new research establishment looked into in its early years was the development of the best shape for an airship. Ludwig Prandtl is acknowledged worldwide as the 'father of aerodynamics' for his research into the scientific principles underlying boundary layer theory and aerofoil theory.

After the First World War, the Model Testing Institute became the Göttingen Aerodynamic Experimental Station (AVA), one of DLR's three predecessor organisations. "Göttingen was a magnet for the pioneers of aeronautics research across the globe," says Wichner. Among those who worked there were the Hungarian scientist Theodore von Kármán, who would become one of the foremost aerodynamics experts in the USA, and Hans Pabst von Ohain, inventor of the first jet engine.

The primary focus of the work has remained the same: the scientific quest for perfect flight and travel conditions – whether for aircraft, spacecraft or high-speed trains.

DLR film from 2012 on 100 years of aeronautics research in Germany (in German):

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Credit: DLR

The flying wing

In 1907, Prandtl developed the 'Göttingen-type' wind tunnel that, unlike the wind tunnels commonly used at that time, consisted of a completely closed circular system; most modern wind tunnels are now based on it. Such revolutionary designs as the flying wing and the rotor ship were tested in Göttingen-type wind tunnels. A flying wing is an aircraft with no tailplane and no differentiation between wing and fuselage. Models designed by the Horten brothers were tested in Göttingen before and after the Second World War. Today, this design is considered to have been the inspiration for the American B2 stealth bomber and the next generation of civilian wide-bodied aircraft.

Rotor ships were being developed in Göttingen as early as the 1920s. They were driven by a rotating cylinder – an idea that did not catch on, but which has been taken up again in recent years in the E-Ship 1 An invention as simple as it was groundbreaking was the swept wing, now standard in almost all modern aircraft. Without the swept wing, modern fast cruising flight would not be possible.

Today, 480 of DLR's 8000 staff members work at the DLR site in Göttingen.

  • Jens Wucherpfennig
    Corporate Communications, Göttingen and Hannover
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)

    Public Affairs and Communications
    Telephone: +49 551 709-2108
    Fax: +49 551 709-12108
    Bunsenstraße  10
    37073 Göttingen
  • Dr. Jessika Wichner
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Central Archive
    Telephone: +49 551 709-2153
    Fax: +49 551 709-2948
    Bunsenstr.  10
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