Alexander Lippisch and the Delta Wing

Convair XF-92A
Image: Nasa

On November 2, 1894, German pioneer of aerodynamics and aviation Alexander M. Lippisch was born. He made important contributions to the understanding of flying wings, delta wings and the ground effect. His designs of tailless and delta-winged aircraft in the 1920s and 1930s were important in the development of high-speed jet and rocket airplanes. His most famous design is the Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket-powered interceptor.

In 1909, Lippisch is assumed to have witnessed a flight by Orville Wright in Berlin Tempelhof, which highly fascinated him. However, the young man still planned to follow his father’s footsteps and enter art school. However, during World War I, Lippisch was able to fly as an aerial photographer and mapper and kept this interest in flying after the war. He became increasingly fascinated by tail-less aircraft and finished his first design in 1921, which was called the Lippisch-Espenlaub E-2 glider. This was the first of his designs that would reach production and it was built by Gottlob Espenlaub. In 1924, Lippisch was appointed Director of the Aeronautical Department of the RhonRossitten-Gesellschaft (RRG, which later became the German Research Institute for Soaring Flight).

Alexander Lippisch developed his designs step by step, first testing his concepts as a flying model, then as a man-carrying glider followed by the design of the powered aircraft. He preferred this method over expensive wind tunnel experiments. From his further designs in the period evolved his Storch model and his delta-wing designs. In 1929, the Storch IV glider demonstrated impressive stability and control characteristics with Gunther Gronhoff at the controls. The craft was demonstrated at the Tempelhof Airfield in Berlin, where Lippisch once saw Orville Wright and the young engineer hoped to receive financial backing from the government. Even though the government was not highly interested, the pilot Captain Herman Kohl was and he expressed his interest in the idea of a tailless aircraft for flights across the Atlantic. The engineer interrupted his work on the Storch series and developed the renowned Delta series. [1]

In June 1931, the powered Delta I was flown and since Gunther Gronhoff’s test flights were so successful, another demonstration at Tempelhof as conducted with great success. The Delta I was the world’s first tailless delta wing aircraft to actually fly. Lippisch’s interest resulted in a total of five aircraft, numbered Delta I Delta V, which were built between 1931 and 1939. [1,2]

During a research program with wind tunnels, it was found that the delta wing was an advantage for supersonic flight and the engineer set to work designing a supersonic, ramjet-powered fighter, the Lippisch P.13a. However, the project had only advanced as far as a development glider, the DM-1. After World War II, Lippisch came to the United States in order to design a hybrid jet/rocket engine. After the F-92, the Convair XF-92 was developed and led Convair to proposing delta wing for most of their projects through the 1950s and into the 1960s, including the F-102 Delta Dagger, F-106 Delta Dart and B-58 Hustler.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a detailed interview with a former pilot of a delta winged Blackbird, who discusses his experiences in the air and talks about myths concerning the aircraft and their missions.

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