Von Opel, Fritz Adam Hermann (1899–1971)

Fritz von Opel

Figure 1. Fritz von Opel piloted his own rocket glider in tests near Frankfurt on 30 September 1929. Its 16 rockets, each producing 50 pounds of thrust, were built by Friedrich Sander.

Fritz von Opel was a German automotive industrialist and grandson of Adam Opel, founder of the Opel car company, who took part, with Max Valier (of the newly formed Verein für Raumschiffahrt) and Friedrich Wilhelm Sander, in experiments with rocket propulsion for automobiles and aircraft, earning himself the nickname "Rocket Fritz."


Fritz von Opel


On 15 March 1928, Kurt Volkhart tested the world's first rocket-propelled car, the Opel-RAK 1 and achieved a top speed of 75 kilometers per hour (47 mph) in it, proving the concept. On 23 May of that year, he reached a speed of 230 kilometers per hour (143 mph) in an improved version, the RAK 2, driven by 24 solid-rockets. Later that same year, Opel purchased a sailplane named the Ente from Alexander Lippisch and attached rocket motors to it, creating the world's first rocket plane on 11 June. The aircraft exploded on its second test-flight, before Opel had a chance to pilot it himself, so he commissioned a new aircraft, also called the RAK 1 from Julius Hatry, and flew it at Frankfurt-am-Main on 30 September 1929. Opel wet on to pilot the second rocket airplane to fly, another Hatry glider fitted with 16 solid-fuel rockets.


Fritz von Opel was born in Rüsselheim and educated at the technical university of Darmstadt. After graduation, he was made director of testing for Opel and also put in charge of publicity – hence his involvement in rocket publicity stunts. He left the Opel company and Germany in 1929.