The Kindest Cut of All

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

In 1811, an inventive tailor in Ulm, Germany attempted a hang glider flight across the Danube River.  He failed in the attempt, but it became the stuff of legend and at least one television commercial.  Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger (1770-1829) had wanted to be a watchmaker, but was consigned to become a cutter of fabric.  Despite this, he used his spare time to invent things like the first jointed artificial leg in 1808.

Period illustration of Berblinger's hopeful start and less than triumphant rescue

Perhaps his skills with fabric led to his fabricating a pair of wings, essentially a hang glider, Shunned by his fellows for working outside the discipline of tailoring, Berblinger poured his resources into building and testing his glider.  Leaping from a scaffold built for the attempt by Prince Frederick on Württemberg Castle’s walls, he attempted to glide to the other side of the too-wide stream.  Ending up rescued by nearby boatmen, he was hailed as a hero nonetheless.  He died of emaciation (alternately reported as exhaustion) living in poverty, the victim of his far-seeing but unrewarded vision.

A philatelic tribute to Albrech Berblinger's 1811 flight

Although too late to save the plucky tailor, the city of Ulm, “As a tribute to his work… donated a prize bearing his name, which was awarded for the first time in 1988. The Berblinger Prize is awarded for special efforts, developments and innovative ideas in the field of general aviation. In the 1996 competition, for instance, the prize was awarded to a manned, fully solar-powered aircraft needing no ancillary batteries for takeoff and flight, which was the first of its type be developed for the competition.  In 2011, exactly 200 years after Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger’s attempt, the town of Ulm will be organizing another international aviation competition. In preparation for the competition and to promote the idea of practicable, environmentally friendly and resource-saving aircraft, a construction competition was held in 2006 and 5 prizes with a total value of Σ 28,000 (about $37,500) were awarded.”

This year’s competition will be held on Friday, April 15, 2011, with an alternative date of Saturday, April 16 “at Friedrichshafen/Messe Airport during the AERO Global Show for General Aviation (runway length: 980 meters or 3,140 feet, grass).”  Competition aircraft will be displayed in one of the show halls for the duration of AERO.

Organizers hope to demonstrate “flying using innovative technologies, on the basis of the latest research results, knowledge and developments in the field of aviation.”  17 judges from aeronautical and other disciplines will determine the winners, based on innovation (20 percent of the score), “eco-friendliness” (30 percent), flight performance (30 percent), and suitability for daily use (20 percent).  Similar to the Green Flight Challenge, weight is given to take-off performance over a 15 meter obstacle, the ability to use grass runways, and handling characteristics.    

Aircraft must fly an out-and-return mission from Friedrichshafen to Ulm and back, a distance of about 120 miles.  An in-flight data logger on each aircraft will record the times, altitudes, and speed of each competitor.

Imagine this Horten IV sailplane with a small electric motor

24 aircraft are entered, ranging from hydrogen-powered “trikes” to electric motorgliders, with only three entrants using any form of fossil fuels.  Schemp-Hirth, Lange Aviation, Gerard Thevenot, the University of Turin, Stuttgart University and Pipistrel are prominent names participating, but individuals and amateur builders are also competing.  Of particular interest, one entrant will fly a Horten IV glider, although the propulsive means has not been identified.

It’s refreshing to see a city honor its local tailor hero, and even though he did not attain widespread fame or deserved fortune in his own time, Albrecht Berblinger’s aspirations live on in others who still share his dream.

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