On May 4, 1899, German automotive industrialist Fritz von Opel was born. Von Opel was the grandson of Adam Opel, founder of the Opel company. He was a pioneer in experiments with rocket propulsion for automobiles and aircraft. On 11 Apr 1928, at Berlin, together with Max Valier and Friedrich Wilhelm Sander, he tested the first manned rocket automobile, the Opel-RAK1.
Fritz von Opel was the grandson of Adam Opel, founder of the famous Opel company. He was educated at the Technical University of Darmstadt and was made director of testing for the Opel company and also put in charge of publicity. Probably during the 1920s, Opel became enthusiastic about using rockets in publicity stunts for the company. He received advice from Max Valier of the newly formed Verein für Raumschiffahrt and Friedrich Sander, a pyrotechnics manufacturer from Bremerhaven.
The first rocket-powered car, the RAK.1 by Opel was tested on March 15, 1928. It received a top speed of 75 km/h and proved the feasibility of the concept of rocket propulsion. After further improvement, he managed to increase the top speed to 230 km/h in the RAK.2, driven by 24 solid-fuel rockets. In the same period, Opel purchased the famous Lippisch Ente from the aeronautical engineer Alexander Lippisch. Fritz von Opel proceded to attach rocket motors to it and hence created the first known rocket plane. Unfortunately, the aircraft exploded during its second test flight and Opel never had the chance to pilot it himself. Fritz von Opel then commissioned the RAK.1, from Julius Hatry and flew it on September 30, 1929. The rocket plane Opel-Sander RAK.1 reached a height of 20 to 30 metres and covered almost two kilometres in 80 seconds. However, there was a crash landing, which Fritz von Opel survived undamaged. No further missile tests were carried out as a result. In the meantime, another mishap had claimed the RAK.3, a rocket-powered railway car powered by 30 solid-fuel rockets which had reached a speed of 254 km/h.
Opel left the family firm and Germany after 1929. On 25 April 1940, Fritz von Opel was taken off the Italian liner Conte di Savoia by the British authorities at Gibraltar. After being detained at Gibraltar for 16 days, he was allowed to proceed to the United States. Fritz von Opel died at Samedan in Switzerland in 1971
At yovisto academic video search you can enjoy the video Space Ship Takeoff, a Technical Fantasy. The German film depicts the launch of a space ship and its trip around the moon and return. It includes scenes of early German rocket power experiments, for instance of Fritz Von Opel and his Opel RAK-2 rocket-propelled car.
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