A Birthday, One Hundred Years Ago

Today marks the 100th birthday of Dr. Hans von Ohain, co-inventor of the jet engine. Special Collections and Archives is fortunate to have collections from both co-inventors, von Ohain and Sir Frank Whittle. Reprinted below is the biographical note from our von Ohain collection, MS-335, The Dr. Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain Papers. Dr. von Ohain was a long-time resident of Dayton while working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Historical/Biographical Note:
Dr. Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain was born on December 14, 1911 in Dessau, Germany. He along with Sir Frank Whittle (1907-1996) are the co-inventors of the jet engine. As a child he had an interest in science and enjoyed physics and creating models. He received his doctorate in Physics and Applied Mechanics in 1935 at the University of Goettingen in Germany. Upon graduation von Ohain remained at the university for an additional year and privately developed a theory of turbojet engines. In 1936 he began an association with the Heinkel Company. Heinkel was enthusiastic about the potential for jet flight and offered the necessary financial assistance that supported the development of the turbojet.

Von Ohain developed and designed the HeS.3B engine that powered the He.178 plane that made the world’s first turbojet flight on August 27, 1939. The engine was made by Max Hahn and was flown by pilot Erich Warsitz. A number of weeks after the first flight, Adolph Hitler was persuaded to observe a demonstration. Ohain stated that he seemed unfriendly, icy cold and unwell. He asked an assistant what was wrong. The assistant said that the demonstration had been too early, “the fuhrer (leader) does not like to get out of bed before 11 a.m.” Hitler did not see the need for a new engine, commenting “why is it necessary to fly faster than the speed of sound?” Hitler was expecting a short war.

When applying for the patent for his new invention, Ohain was informed of the existence of British scientist Sir Frank Whittle’s patent. But because of significant differences between the two patents, Ohain was granted his own patent. Later, once Ohain and Whittle met they concluded that they had worked entirely independently of one another and that their discoveries were an example of simultaneous invention. Ohain received more than 50 company patents relating to radial and axial turbojet engines from 1935-1945. He lost all rights to these inventions with Germany’s defeat in WW II. He left Heinkel in 1945 and worked independently while conducting consultant work on gas turbine engines. In 1947 he began contract work with the U.S. Army Corps on advanced air breathing propulsion systems. He was part of Operation Paperclip, which was the codename for the operation by the U.S. government to take Rocket Weapon (e.g. V-1, V-2), Chemical Weapon (e.g. Zyklon-B), and medical scientists from Germany after World War II. The operation was called “Paperclip” because a paperclip was put on the files of those scientists deemed important to the U.S.

Operation Paperclip led von Ohain to permanent employment at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and citizenship status in America. He continued his aerospace research and from 1956-1975 he obtained 24 patents at the Aerospace Research Laboratory (ARL). In 1963 he was promoted to the position of Chief Scientist of ARL. He managed nearly all Air Force physical and engineering research. By 1975 Ohain was promoted to Chief Scientist of the Aero Propulsion Laboratory (APL) where he was responsible for maintaining the technical quality of research/development in air breathing propulsion, power and petrochemicals. He conceptualized and demonstrated the “jet wing” concept to provide cold air thrust augmentation for vertical and short takeoff and landing aircraft. The Navy used this idea with the experimental XFV-12AS fighter. In addition he showed that the potential efficiency of an electro fluid dynamic generator (in which the energy of fluid gases is converted directly into electricity without using moving parts) could be used as a practical power source. He also developed concepts for the economical retention of nuclear fuel in a gas core reactor which enabled further research of its use in high thrust-to-weight space propulsion systems. During his 32 years of government service, Dr. von Ohain published more than 30 technical papers. He received many awards including the Goddard Award, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Air Force citations, the Guggenheim Medal, Ludwig Prandtl Ring and the Stark Draper Prize. He is enshrined in the “International Hall of Fame” Engineering and Sciences “Hall of Fame” and the “National Aviation Hall of Fame.” He also served as the Charles Lindbergh Professor of the National Air and Space Museum-Smithsonian Institute and received honorable Doctor of Science degrees from West Virginia University of Morgentown and at the University of Dayton.

After retirement, Ohain worked as a professor at the University of Dayton from 1982-1988. He received 5 patents with the University of Dayton Research Institute. He and his wife moved to Florida and Ohain continued to participate in speaking engagements around the world and taught at the University of Florida. He continued to work on independent research projects and received his only independent patent in 1998. Ohain died on March 13, 1998 in Melbourne, Florida. He left behind his wife, four children and grandchildren.

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