The his­to­ry of Avi­a­tion Re­search in Ger­many

Germany's era of modern aviation research begins with Otto Lilienthal in the late 19th century. He conducted his own flight experiments between 1880 and 1896. His epochal work Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst (Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation) was published in 1889.



The first pioneers


Otto Lilienthal achieves the first human flight with his single-wing glider. He completes 2,000 successful flights before dying in an accident.


First intensive research and development work on dirigible airships; Count Zeppelin shows immense entrepreneurial courage and advances to the forefront of the airship movement.


First motorised flight by the Wright brothers in the USA. At the same time, the German Karl Jatho from Hannover also performs the first successful aerial hops with a motorised apparatus. But he does not manage to control his machine in flight. Gustav Weißkopf from Leutershausen in Franconia, who had emigrated to the USA and was known there as Gustav Whitehead, is alleged to have completed several flights with a motorised flying machine in 1901, narrowly beating the Wright brothers at the post. But as there is no photographic or film evidence, the honour of completing the first documented motorised flight still goes to the Wright brothers.


Prof. Ludwig Prandtl drafts his pioneering theory of extremely low-friction flows, which becomes known as the 'boundary layer theory'.


Foundation of the Modellversuchsanstalt der Motorluftschiff-Studiengesellschaft (MVA, Institute of Model Testing of the Motorised Airship Study Society) in Göttingen. First closed loop wind tunnel, also known as the ‘Göttingen-type’ wind tunnel. This wind tunnel design inspires thousands more throughout the world.


Foundation of the Drahtlostelegraphische und Luftelektrische Versuchsstation Gräfelfing (DVG, (Wireless Telegraphic and Air Electricity Test Station Gräfelfing) near Munich by the high-frequency engineer Max Dieckmann.


  • Prandtl is appointed to Germany’s first Chair of Aeronautics at the University of Göttingen.
  • Hans Grade wins the Lanz-Preis der Lüfte (Lanz Prize of the Skies) with an aircraft and engine he designed himself.
  • Berlin International Aviation Week; opening of Johannisthal Airfield.
  • First International Air Show (ILA) in Frankfurt.


Theodore von Kármán (a student of Prandtl) publishes his theory of the vortex street.


  • Organisation of the 1st Emperor's Prize for the best German aircraft engine, which leads to the foundation of the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL, German Institute for Aviation Research) in Berlin-Adlershof.
  • Establishment of the first Reichspost airmail service, which uses airships and aircraft.
  • Foundation of the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Flugtechnik (WGL, Scientific Society for Aviation).



First World War


Beginning of metal aircraft construction.


  • Decision to build a Modellversuchsanstalt für Aerodynamik (MVA, Institute for Testing of Aerodynamic Models ) in Göttingen to meet the increased demands of the War.
  • A towing track with tower carriages to measure air forces acting on aircraft is built at the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL, German Aviation Research Institute ) in Berlin-Adlershof; the engine test field is also expanded and a propeller test rig is constructed.


Commissioning of Wind Tunnel I at today's DLR site on Bunsenstraße Göttingen by the MVA. Dismantling of the first Göttingen-type wind tunnel at MVA and reconstruction on the new grounds, then named Wind Tunnel II.


  • Junkers J 10 two-seater all-metal reconnaissance aircraft, a precursor to what became the Junkers F 13, the world’s first commercial aircraft.
  • Prof. Ludwig Prandtl publishes his lifting-line theory at the General Assembly of the Scientific Society for Aviation (WGL). It marks his first description of the relationships between airfoil lift and drag, as well as the formation of vortices behind an airfoil. Leading aerodynamic researchers regard it as one of Prandtl’s greatest scientific accomplishments.
  • The Institute for Testing of Aerodynamic Models (MVA) is renamed as the Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt (AVA, Aerodynamics Research Institute).



Reconstruction and realignment


  • Maiden flight of the Junkers F 13, the world's first all-metal passenger aircraft.
  • The Treaty of Versailles imposes drastic restrictions on the aviation industry and the research community.

From 1921

Work on aerodynamics and optimisation of vehicles (e.g. the Rumpler 'drop car', Daimler-Benz racing car) and locomotives (Betz guide plates) unrelated to the aviation sector is carried out during the period of hyperinflation.


  • Foundation of the Rhön-Rossitten Gesellschaft (RRG, Rhön-Rossitten Society); research efforts into glider technology are redoubled in response to the conditions of the Versailles Treaty.
  • Work on boundary layer suction at AVA in Göttingen.


  • Foundation of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut (KWI) für Strömungsforschung (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Flow Research ) in Göttingen. Prandtl is appointed director of the KWI for Flow Research and remains in charge of AVA.
  • Deployment of the three-engined all-metal Junkers G 24 commercial aircraft, forerunner of the legendary Ju 52, whose maiden flight is in 1931.


Foundation of the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug (DFS, German Institute for Glider Research).


Foundation of the Deutsche Forschungsrat für Luftfahrt (German Aeronautics Research Council) as a scientific advisory body.


Maiden flight of the Heinkel He 70, the first ‘fast aircraft’ with aerodynamically optimised configuration and retractable landing gear.



Subsidisation and rearmament in the Third Reich


  • Adolf Baeumker initiates reforms of the German aviation research sector.
  • Transformation of the Reich Commissariat for Aviation into the Reich Ministry of Aviation (RLM), Minister: Hermann Göring; Secretary of State: Erhard Milch (former Lufthansa Director).
  • Start of rapid expansion at the German Aviation Research Institute (DVL) in Berlin-Adlershof: engine test rigs, spin wind tunnel, 'large wind tunnel', high-speed wind tunnel.
  • Start of expansion at AVA, e.g. Wind Tunnel VI, high-speed wind tunnels and workshops.
  • Incorporation of the Rhön-Rossitten Society (RRG) within the newly established Deutsche Forschungsinstitut für Segelflug (DFS, German Institute for Glider Research).


  • Unilateral lifting of the aviation restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Volta Conference in Rome. Among the conference participants is Adolf Busemann, Prandtl student and professor at the Technical University of Dresden (later at DFL Braunschweig). His lecture on “Aerodynamic Lift at Supersonic Speeds” provides the first public outline of how swept wings work and what their benefits are in the high-speed range. This talk was a monumental moment in aviation research and has decisively influenced high-speed aerodynamics to the present day.


  • Foundation of the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DFL, German Research Institute for Aviation) in Braunschweig.
  • Maiden flight of the Focke-Wulf FW 61, the world’s first airborne, steerable helicopter.


  • Foundation of the Flugfunk-Forschungsinstitut Oberpfaffenhofen (FFO, Aircraft Radio Research Institute Oberpfaffenhofen for high-frequency and radio measurement technology and radar development.
  • Institutional separation of the AWA and KWI for Flow Research. AVA is placed under the control of the Reich Ministry of Aviation as an air force and special armaments concern. Albert Betz is appointed director of AVA. The KWI for Flow Research remains within the Kaiser Wilhelm Society under the leadership of Ludwig Prandtl.


  • The German Research Institute for Aviation (DFL) is remained as the Luftfahrtforschungsanstalt Hermann Göring (LFA, Hermann Göring Aviation Research Institute).
  • Non-stop flight of the Focke-Wulf FW 200 Condor from Berlin to New York.


A milestone in the history of aviation: maiden flight of the Heinkel He 178, featuring the first use of a turbojet engine with radial compressor and annular combustion chamber.


1939 -1945

Second World War

From 1939

Aviation research is largely subjugated to the needs of its military clientèle.


  • The Reich Ministry of Aviation releases a Five-year Plan for aviation research:

- aerodynamics

- high-performance piston engines

- jet and rocket engines

- weapon technology

- wireless navigation and measuring technology

- materials

  • Foundation of the Luftfahrtforschungsanstalt München (LFM, Munich Aeronautical Research Institute).
  • Based on intense research over preceding years: numerous project-related, aeroelastic wind tunnel tests and flutter investigations.
  • Series production of the Heinkel ejection seat for the Henkel He 219, Henkel He 162 and the Dornier Do 335.
  • Start of construction work on a high-speed wind tunnel in the Ötztal Alps. It was relocated to Modane after 1946 and later put into operation by ONERA (Office National d'Études et de Recherches Aérospatiales).
  • First two-spool jet engine with contra-rotating compressor based on AVA proposals for the Daimler Benz 007.


  • Maiden flight of the Flettner helicopter Fl 282 Kolibri with intermeshing double rotor.
  • Maiden flight of the twin-engine Me 262, the first operational military jet aircraft, and the Me 163, the first rocket-powered flying wing aircraft.
  • Eugen Sänger initiates a project to develop an interceptor with ramjet engine.
  • As the Total War spreads, forced labourers are increasingly used not only in armament factories but also in aeronautical research.


DVG becomes a branch office of FFO, and Max Dieckmann is appointed FFO director.

From 1944

Series production begins of the Jumo 003 and 004 jet engines with annular combustion chamber.

Until 1945

Numerous swept-wing designs for high-speed aircraft; the most striking examples include the Ju 287 with forward swept wings and Me 1101 with ground-adjustable swept wings. The designs are used later on as the basis for the US experimental aircraft, the Bell X5.


Takeover of the German aviation research institutions by the victorious powers. End of all aviation research activities. Successive dismantling of the test facilities and closure of the institutions. Documentation of German aviation research activities, for instance in the Göttingen and Braunschweig monographs as well as in BIOS, CIOS and FIAT reports. Emigration of numerous German aeronautical scientists, predominantly to the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

The following years see intense and extensive use of German aeronautical expertise in these countries and in:

  • Egypt
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • India
  • Spain
  • Sweden

One example is the redesign of the wings of the planned US bomber Boeing B 47 – which was initially given a conventional trapezoidal shape – based on Busemann’s swept wing theories (LFA).



New beginnings and reconstruction


  • Resumption of DVL's research activities in 'working groups'.
  • 'Aerodynamics' and 'High Frequency' in Aachen.

From 1952

  • 'Aviation Medicine' and 'Materials Research' in Bonn and Aachen.
  • Foundation of AGARD, NATO’s aerospace research institution, on the initiative of Theodore von Kármán.
  • Re-establishment of the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Luftfahrt (WGL, Scientific Society for Aeronautics).
  • The GDR starts rebuilding its aviation industry.

From 1953

  • 'Thermodynamics' and 'Aviation Fuels and Lubricants' in Mülheim an der Ruhr and Garmisch-Grainau.
  • Rebuilding of the German Research Institute for Aviation (DFL) in Braunschweig under the decisive leadership of Prof. Hermann Blenk, one of the original founding members in 1935.
  • Re-establishment of the German Institute for Glider Research (DFS).
  • Launch of the STOL (Short Take Off And Landing) and VTOL (Vertical Take Off And Landing) programme (especially at Dornier).
  • Rebuilding of the Aerodynamics Research institute (AVA) in Göttingen.
  • Establishment of the Deutsche Studiengemeinschaft Hubschrauber (DSH, German Society for the Study of Helicopters).

From 1954

  • 'Turbomachinery' and 'Machine Dynamics' in Aachen.
  • Conversion of the working groups into institutes.
  • Re-establishment of the Aeronautical Radio Research Institute Oberpfaffenhofen (FFO).
  • Foundation of the Forschungsinstitut für Physik der Strahlantriebe (FPS, Research Institute of Jet Propulsion Physics) under director Eugen Sänger.
  • Return of numerous German aeronautical researchers from the USSR to East Germany.


  • Merger between the Research Institute of Jet Propulsion Physics Oberpfaffenhofen (FFO) and the German Research Institute for Aviation (DFL).
  • Construction of test facilities in Aachen and Mülheim an der Ruhr, which are later relocated to Porz-Wahn, Cologne.
  • Commissioning of a low turbulence wind tunnel at AVA in Göttingen.


Inauguration of a grid testing track for transonic flow at AVA in Göttingen.


  • Licensed construction of the Fouga Magister jet trainer aircraft, followed later on by other licensed replicas of the Fiat G 91 and Lockheed F 104 Starfighter models.
  • The Dornier Do 27 enters service as Germany's first post-war aircraft.
  • Start of the Federal Ministry of Defence’s vertical take-off programme.


  • Resolution on the new headquarters of the German Research Institute for Aviation (DFL) in Porz-Wahn, Cologne.
  • Maiden flight of the four-engine GDR commercial aircraft ‘152’ (designed by Prof. Brunolf Baade).
  • Construction begins in Porz-Wahn; ground-breaking ceremony for the Institute of Air Jet Propulsion (later the Institute of Propulsion Technology).
  • Commissioning of a supersonic wind tunnel and the 3-metre wind tunnel at AVA.


Foundation of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Flugwissenschaften (DGF, German Society for Flight Sciences) under its director Prof. Hermann Blenk.


  • First research flights with a Do 27 in Braunschweig.
  • The German Institute for Glider Research (DFS) is renamed as the Flugwissenschaftliche Forschungsanstalt München (FFM, Aeronautical Research Institute Munich).
  • The German Society for the Study of Helicopters (DSH) is renamed as the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Hubschrauber und Vertikaltechnik (DFH, German Research Institute for Helicopters and Vertical Flight Technology).


Commissioning of the 1-metre wind tunnel at AV


  • Maiden flight of the VJ 101 VTOL tiltjet aircraft.
  • The Research Institute of Jet Propulsion Physics in Stuttgart is incorporated within DVL.
  • FFM merges with DVL.
  • Inauguration of the AVA Transonic Wind Tunnel in Göttingen.


Merger between DSH and DFL.

From 1965

  • Helicopter research in Braunschweig, including the investigation of rotor blades made of steel and fibre-reinforced plastic.
  • Commissioning of the Vertical Measuring Track in Cologne (VMK).


Merger of AVA, DVL and DFL to create the Deutsche Forschungs- und Versuchsanstalt für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DFVLR, German Test and Research Institute for Aviation and Spaceflight).


1969 – 1989

Consolidation and concentration within the DFVLR from 1969


  • Theoretical and experimental parachute investigations for rescue systems, Braunschweig.
  • First wind tunnel measurements on models of the future European Airbus.


First investigations into the electronic control of aircraft (Institute of Flight Guidance, Braunschweig).


  • Start of turbine exhaust emission testing.
  • Construction of the Hansa HFB 320 research aircraft as a flying simulator (Institute of Flight Mechanics, Braunschweig).
  • Development and testing of a night flight display for helicopters (Institute of Flight Guidance, Braunschweig).


New Canberra twin-engine research aircraft for high-altitude research, atmospheric research, antennas, remote sensing in Oberpfaffenhofen.


Construction of a flight simulator in Braunschweig (based on Hunting Percival Pembroke), Institute of Flight Guidance.


  • New test rig for helicopter rotors in Braunschweig (Institute of Flight Mechanics).
  • Measurements of the gust alleviation system Open Loop Gust Alleviation (OLGA) on a wind tunnel model
  • of the industrial flight test platform Do 28 TNT.
  • Establishment of Stiftung Deutsch-Niederländische Windkanäle (DNW, German-Dutch Wind Tunnels).


In-flight simulation of the planned Airbus A 310 using the HFB 320 as part of the civilian component programme.


First measurement flights with the new Bo 105 S-123 research helicopter (Institute of Flight Mechanics, Braunschweig).

Since around 1980

Development of large computer-based numerical methods for calculating the aerodynamic pressure distribution on oscillating airfoils (CFD, computational fluid dynamics).


Commissioning of a test model for the planned European Transonic Wind Tunnel in Cologne-Porz.


  • Start of the Advanced Technology and Testing Aircraft System programme (ATTAS) as the successor to the HFB 320.
  • Commissioning of the high-pressure wind tunnel in Göttingen.
  • Commissioning of the German-Dutch Wind Tunnel (DNW) on the Noordoostpolder.


Rotor jettison rescue system for helicopter pilots (Institute of Flight Mechanics, Braunschweig).


  • Initial investigations into wake vortex encounters at Frankfurt Airport (Institute of Flight Mechanics, Braunschweig).
  • Construction of the Air Traffic Management and Operations Simulator (ATMOS) in Braunschweig (Institute of Flight Guidance).


  • Commissioning of the new ATTHes research helicopter in Braunschweig.
  • New DO 228 remote sensing research aircraft, Oberpfaffenhofen.
  • Commissioning of the ROTOS rotor test rig at German-Dutch Wind Tunnel (DNW) (Institute of Flight Mechanics, Braunschweig).


First in-flight simulation with the new ATTAS research aircraft VFW 614 (Institute of Flight Mechanics).


  • New large test rig for compressor research (Institute of Propulsion Technology).
  • Investigation of laminar flow on the airfoil with ATTAS (Institute of Design Aerodynamics).
  • Commissioning of the Cryogenic Wind Tunnel in Cologne. Pilot function, also within the framework of the Planned European Transonic Windtunnel (ETW).


Wind tunnel tests in Göttingen, contra-rotating integrated shrouded propfan (CRISP).


DFVLR is renamed as the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, German Research Institute for Aviation and Space Flight).


1989 – today

New name and increased international collaboration


Development of a rudder made of CFRP (carbon fibre reinforced plastic), Institute for Structural Mechanics, Braunschweig.


Test of the COMPAS flight guidance system in Frankfurt (Institute of Flight Guidance, Braunschweig).


ATTAS in-flight simulation for the planned HERMES spaceplane.

1992 to 1995

Strato 2C high-altitude research aircraft; project discontinued following a political decision by the Federal Ministry of Research.


  • Tower view simulation in Braunschweig (Institute of Flight Guidance).
  • Completion of the European Transonic Windtunnel (ETW) in Cologne.


  • World's first remote control of a helicopter (ATTHes), Institute of Flight Mechanics.
  • Agreement between the German Research Institute for Aviation and Space Flight (DLR) and the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) on joint use of wind tunnel facilities.


  • First flight tests with the force feedback sidestick MAGSI. Cooperation between the Institute of Flight Mechanics and TU Braunschweig.
  • In-flight simulation of the planned Airbus A 3XX (now A 380) with ATTAS, Institute of Flight Mechanics, Braunschweig.
  • New wake vortex investigations with Doppler lidar, Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Oberpfaffenhofen.


Testing of a de-icing system for laminar wings in Braunschweig. Cooperation with Deutsche Aerospace AG (DASA).


  • Introduction of a non-contact measuring method for aerodynamic pressure determination (Leuchtender Flügel, 'glowing wing') in Göttingen.
  • Successful test operation of the TARMAC taxi guidance system at Braunschweig Airport, Institute of Flight Guidance.
  • Renaming of the German Research Institute for Aviation and Spaceflight as Deutsche Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (German Aerospace Center) with the same acronym DLR


  • Conclusion of the multi-year joint project 'Pollutants in Aviation', with participation by the DLR locations in Cologne-Porz, Göttingen and Oberpfaffenhofen.
  • Flow measurements on original Airbus landing gear and wing in the German-Dutch Wind Tunnel (DNW).


Commissioning of a helicopter ground simulator for the planned new research helicopter FHS (EC 135).


Vortex and acoustic measurements on helicopter rotors in DNW as part of HART II, Institute of Flight Systems in Braunschweig (formerly Institute of Flight Mechanics).


  • ATTAS in-flight measurement campaign with the planned Fairchild-Dornier 728 regional airliner.
  • First flyby test flights with the new FHS research helicopter, Institute of Flight Systems, Braunschweig.


Maiden flight of the ARTIS uncrewed helicopter, a technology demonstrator for autonomous VTOL flights (Institute of Flight Systems, Braunschweig).


  • Quiet air traffic and effects of night-time aircraft noise, Institute of Aerospace Medicine.
  • The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) puts a new control centre simulator for air traffic management into operation, Institute of Flight Guidance, Braunschweig.
  • First successful deployment of ATTAS as an uncrewed research aircraft, Institute of Flight Systems, Braunschweig.


  • Takeover of the Dornier Do 728 prototype for cabin research. Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology, Göttingen.
  • Ground vibration tests with the Airbus A 380/DLR-ONERA, Institute of Aeroelasticity, Göttingen.
  • First numerical simulation of slat flow noise using the new PIANO computing method, Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology.


DLR receives HALO as a new research aircraft for atmospheric research; start of deployment in 2008, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Oberpfaffenhofen.


  • DLR receives the new Airbus A 320 ATRA (Advanced Technologies Research Aircraft) as the successor to ATTAS; start of deployment in 2008.
  • DLR simulation centre C2A2S2E (Center for Computer Applications in Aerospace Science and Engineering) commences work.
  • The world's first microwave autoclave for fibre composite parts is put into operation by the Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems in Braunschweig.


Ground-breaking ceremony for a field test platform investigating the future of ground traffic control, a joint project by DLR, Flughafen Hamburg GmbH and Deutsche Flugsicherung.


  • The flight manoeuvre simulator is put into operation at the Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology in Göttingen.
  • DLR and DNW open a new aeroacoustic wind tunnel in Braunschweig.


DLR investigates wake vortices in cruise flight.


Europe's fastest computer for aeronautical research is put into operation at DLR with a capacity of 262,000,000,000,000 computing operations per second.


Ground vibration testing on the Solar Impulse solar-powered aircraft, carried out by the Institute of Aeroelasticity in Göttingen.


Commissioning of the Next Generation Turbine Test Facility for research into aircraft and power plant turbines at the Institute of Propulsion Technology in Göttingen.


DLR builds a replica of Otto Lilienthal's normal gliding apparatus, the world's first series-produced aircraft.


The new ISTAR Dassault Falcon 2000LX research aircraft is added to the DLR research fleet.


  • The CRAFT (Co/Contra-Rotating Acoustic Fan Test Rig) at the DLR Institute of Propulsion Technology is put into operation. It is used to develop future propulsion systems that are quieter and also more efficient.
  • Opening of the National Experimental Test Center for Unmanned Aircraft at the DLR site in Cochstedt.

* These data are intended merely to provide an overview of developments over the last century and can by no means be considered complete.

Andreas Schütz

Head of Corporate Communications, DLR Spokesperson
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-2474

Jessika Wichner

Head of Central Archive
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Central Archive
Bunsenstraße 10, Göttingen