Behold! Germany’s first jet airliner!
However, despite Germany’s pioneering nature with jet aviation, this very obscure little aircraft would end in tragedy, putting a halt to the nation’s plans for influence on the jet airliner market until the rise of Airbus in the 1970’s.
The Baade 152’s origins are steeped in obscurity, but most sources point to it being based off of a prototypical 1940’s Soviet jet bomber, the OKB-1 150. The 1 150 began development in 1948 and was created by former German engineers who had been captured or defected to the USSR following the end of World War II. OKB-1 (Opytno-Konstrooktorskoye Byuro – experimental design bureau) was set up at the specially built GOZ-1 factory near Moscow, with renowned German engineer Brunolf Baade leading the design team. Baade had made a name for himself during the interwar years and the rise of the Nazi regime, designing a number of passenger aircraft for the Bavarian Aircraft Works and Messerschmitt.
Much of what created the OKB-1 150 was taken from Baade’s designs while working for the aircraft manufacturer Junkers during World War II, some of his designs including the EF-131 and 140, jet bombers which were planned to be used against the Allies during the final days of the war but would eventually only leave the drawing board as prototypes following the end of hostilities in 1945. Baade’s design for the OKB-1 150 placed the wings atop the fuselage with two engines slung underneath. The aircraft would be capable of travelling at 603mph over a 2,800 mile range and with a service ceiling of 41,000ft, making it comparable to other bomber designs of the time, including the Boeing B-52 nad the Avro Vulcan.
The OKB-1 150 made its first flight on September 5th, 1952, but its success was hampered by bad weather and a series of defects discovered during the trials. After 17 flights, the aircraft was grounded permanently on May 9th, 1953, following a crash landing which, while causing non-extensive damage, was never repaired due to lack of enthusiasm with the project. Following the failure of the project, OKB was disbanded and the German engineers were sent back to East Germany, taking up residence in Dresden. However, Baade continued to toy with the concept and chose instead to recreate the project as a passenger airliner for the Eastern Bloc.
The aircraft’s design was near enough identical to that of the OKB-1 150, including high mounted wings with engines slung underneath. The aircraft’s military roots were evident in the design, including the fitting of a glazed nose for the navigator, a common feature on Eastern Bloc aircraft so they could be converted for bomber use easily in the event of war. Another trait carried over from its bomber origins was the mounting of the main gear on the centreline of the fuselage, with a set of outrigger wheels on the wingtips, making the design resemble the likes of the B-47 and B-52. The tail of the aircraft was based on that of the Ilyushin Il-14, a Soviet twin piston-engined propeller plane built under license in East Germany by VVB Flugzeugbau.
Construction of the aircraft began in 1956 at the VEB Flugzeugwerke works in Dresden, with the aircraft finally being rolled out in mid-1958. The first flight of the 152 occured on December 4th, 1958, lasting approximately 35 minutes. At this point in the development, hopes were high for the 152, with planned entry into service with East German national carrier Interflug expected for 1960.
The aircraft’s performance could be comparable to contemporary jet designs, being capable of flying at 572mph over a range of between 1,200 and 1,500 miles at an altitude of 41,000ft. Power was derived from four Pirna 014 turbojet engines mounted in twin pods under the wings. The aircraft could carry a maximum of 72 passengers, though configurations varied depending on the airlines. In essence, the aircraft was comparable to the Tupolev Tu-124, which was built as a rival to the BAC 1-11 and the Sud Aviation Caravelle.
However, tragedy struck the project on March 4th, 1959, when the prototype, only on its second flight, crashed for an unspecified reason at Ottendorf-Okrilla, killing the entire crew. The crash was never fully investigated, with the few results found being made public following the reunification of Germany in 1990.
Regardless of the crash, the project continued, with a second and third prototype being built in the same manner, though with some differences. The second prototype had a different landing gear configuration, with the main gear being mounted to the engines (similar to the de Havilland Dash 8), while the third prototype was built to a minimal requirement, its only role being for ground testing of the avionics and systems.
Testing of the second prototype only happened once, after which all examinations and flights of the aircraft were abruptly cancelled in September 1960. It was found that during the third flight of the second prototype there was a serious malfunction with the fuel tanks, interrupting sufficient fuel supply during steep descent. Whether or not this issue is what resulted in the crash of the first prototype is still a matter of debate.
Regardless, all development and testing of the 152 was stopped immediately, even though 20 units had already been assembled for delivery to East German carrier Deutsche Lufthansa, and all units scrapped by the end of the year. Instead, the Soviet Union promoted the Tu-124 to East German carriers as an alternative, thereby killing any chance for future commercial aviation development for East Germany.
While East Germany’s attempt at commercial aviation success met a disappointing end, West Germany saw greater output in the form of early projects by Dornier, including a variety of turboprops such as the Do 28 and the highly successful Do 228. West Germany would eventually manufacture its first successful jet airliner in 1971, this being the VFW-Fokker 614 twin-jet. Though not hugely successful, with only 19 units ever built, the aircraft did show that Germany could build a somewhat suitable jet airliner.
More importantly, West Germany was one of the founding members of the European manufacturing giant Airbus, which was formed in 1972. To this day, the reunified Germany continues to contribute heavily to this giant company, and also takes part responsibility of assembling the highly advanced members of the Airbus A320 family (with the exclusion of the A320 itself) at a specially built factory in Hamburg.
With Germany’s role in modern jet aviation now fully established, it’s no wonder that the Baade 152 has long since disappeared into obscurity. While the aircraft’s performance was comparable to the likes of the Boeing 707 and the Comet, it was simply never going to work, due largely to the fact that East Germany, unlike the rest of the Soviet Union, had no real investment. The nation was treated as some far off colony of the greater USSR, and thus any chance of creating major investment or helping to rebuild the damaged infrastructure following World War II was minimal. Therefore, it is likely that even if the Baade 152 did succeed and become a production airliner, it’s doubtful it would’ve made much of a splash on the airliner stage of the Eastern Bloc, probably being restricted to its homeland alone.