The man who almost made a name for himself
Even the most ardent aircraft historian might be forgiven for not recognising the Baade 152. The failed 1950s Eastern bloc airliner built at Dresden in East Germany never carried any paying passengers, yet it will go down in history as the jet that brought several hundred German engineers back home.
The story begins with Brunolf Baade, one of the most talented yet unsung German aircraft engineers of the last century. Baade was born in Berlin in 1904 and, after graduating from the city’s Technical College, initially worked in shipbuilding at Blohm + Voss in Hamburg, creating designs for the liner Waskenland, before moving into aeronautical work with Bayerische Fluzeugwerke in Bavaria, working alongside the legendary Willi Messerschmitt.
Baade could easily have designed for either side in the looming war. Between 1930 and 1935 he worked in America for companies including Goodyear, Eastern Aircraft, North American Aviation, and the US subsidiary of the Fokker Company. However, he was already a card-carrying Nazi and elected to return to his fatherland, where he joined the design office of the Junkers company to work on the Ju 88 light bomber and its successors, the Ju 188 and Ju 388.
In 1945, he became a key figure in developing one of the most radical aircraft of WWII, the Junkers Ju 287 four-engined jet bomber, with swept-forward wings, two forward fuselage-mounted jets and two more on under-wing pylons. Despite its unconventional appearance the prototype apparently flew well, but Germany was by then crumbling and in May 1945 Baade was arrested and interrogated by the US Army before the Americans handed the remains of the Junkers works at Dessau, on the east side of Berlin, to Russian control.
In 1946, Baade and other key engineers were forcibly moved to Russia, to Pobderezye near Moscow. They were instructed to continue the development of the Junkers design to create the OKB-1 jet bomber. The aircraft (now with more conventionally swept-back wings) made its maiden flight in 1952, but its engines struggled to deliver the required thrust and had poor fuel consumption, so the project was cancelled.
Baade had become the leader of the relocated German engineers and he persuaded the Soviets to redevelop the OKB-1 as a state-of-the-art jet airliner, to demonstrate the prowess of the newlyformed German Democratic Republic. He also made the case that it made poor sense holding the 300-plus German aeronautical engineers and their families in a village north of Moscow, when they were going to create a new technical showcase for the GDR. He struck a deal to relocate himself and his contemporaries to East Germany, and in 1954 the engineers went home, establishing VEB Flugzeugwerke at the Klotsche airfield on the outskirts of Dresden. Thus, even before it had flown, the Baade 152 managed to bring its creators home.
In a record two-and-a-half-years from scratch, VEB rolled out its new jet, the Baade 152 making its maiden flight on 4 December 1958. While other jet airliners such as the de Havilland Comet, Sud Aviation Caravelle and Boeing 707 were already in service, the Baade 152 offered some radical new ideas, with its swept wing located high on the deep fuselage and its four engines mounted in two underwing pods of two engines each. Even more unusual was its tandem undercarriage, with the nose- and mainwheels located on the fuselage centreline with wingtip-mounted stabilisation wheels. This weight-saving design was used on some military jets such as the Boeing B-47 and B-52, but the configuration has never been used before or since on a civilian airliner.
Four months after its maiden flight, on 4 March 1959, the Baade 152 prototype made its second, and what would prove to be its final flight.
The original plan was to climb to 20,000 feet. However, among the spectators that day was none other than Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In his honour a change of plan was made to incorporate a fly-by. Unfortunately, something went dramatically wrong in the descent and the aircraft crashed about six kilometres from the airfield killing all on board−possibly due to a malfunction in the fuel tanks interrupting fuel flow in the steep nose-down attitude.
It was a bitter blow to East German prestige but not the end. A second prototype was built, making its maiden flight on 29 August 1960, and construction began on production aircraft for the national airline, Interflug. But Eastern bloc politics once again intervened, with the Soviet Union requiring that the airline buy Russian Tupolev airliners. The VEB production line and the part-built aircraft were dismantled, with the engines being reallocated for use in warships and power stations.
One fuselage, construction number 11, survived and was found in 1995 being used as a chicken coop. Its restoration was undertaken by EADS EFW (Elbe Flugzeugwerke Gmbh), the direct successor of VEB, which today specialises in Airbus freighter and tanker aircraft conversions. The sole-surviving Baade 152 is now preserved at the Verkehrsmuseum at Dresden Airport. It is a fitting reminder of the skill and fortitude of Brunolf Baade and his 300 fellow engineers and their families, for whom the 152 project meant a ticket home from Russia to their native Germany.
Baade could easily have designed for either side...