Born: 1899-05-04. Died: 1971-04-08. Birth Place: Ruesselsheim.
Automobile manufacturer and rocketry enthusiast. Grandson of Adam Opel, founder of the Opel car company, educated at the Technical University of Darmstadt. After graduation, he was made director of testing for Opel and also put in charge of publicity. In this connection he was persuaded by Max Valier to fund a series of rocket-propelled motor vehicles and aircraft. After the stock market crash, General Motors, the majority owner of Opel stock, felt there was no future in Opel's rocket vehicles and insisted that the company concentrate on conventional motor vehicle development. Opel left the Opel company and Germany in 1929, dying in Switzerland 42 years later.
|Opel Rocket Train|
Max Valier campaigned to get automobile magnate Fritz von Opel interested in rocket-powered automobiles. Valier proposed to use different combinations of compressed black powder rockets manufactured by Friedrich Wilhelm Sander of Wesermuende. Sander's rockets were 80 cm long, 12.5 cm in diameter, and could came in two versions. The centre-bore rockets provided 180 kgf for 3 seconds, while the end-burners provided 20 kgf for 30 seconds. Valier proposed to use combinations of these motors to first boost an automobile to high speed with the high-thrust rockets, then use low-thrust units to maintain velocity. This had no practical application but would demonstrate the potential of rockets to the German public, at the same time giving Opel publicity. The first secret test, at Ruesselsheim, used a one high thrust and one low thrust motor in a small stock Opel. The results were unimpressive - the vehicle went only 140 m in 35 seconds.
After two tests the day before, which showed that a good fraction of Brander's rockets would either fail to ignite or explode, Valier made the first official rocket car run for the press. Of 12 rockets attached to the 'Rak' vehicle (a motor car stripped of engine and brakes), five failed to function, but the vehicle reached 110 kph and the press was mightily impressed. Opel received an unexpected amount of free publicity and funded Valier in further rocket car development.
Fritz von Opel personally drives rocket-car Opel Rak II, equipped with 24 Brander powder rockets, to 200 kph at Berlin. The same day Oberth is debating the German scientific establishment, trying to overturn their belief that space flight using liquid rockets is theoretically impossible. The VfR regard Valier's experiments with Opel as publicity stunts, threatening the credibility of their society.
A rocket-boosted glider is flown by Friedrich Stamer from the Rhoen Mountains in Western Germany. The development was funded by Opel, the canard-layout glider designed by Hans Lippisch, and the powder rockets developed by Sander. As in the Opel ground vehicles, a boost rocket (360 kgf for 3 seconds) was to accelerate the glider down the launch ramp. A sustainer rocket (20 kgf for 30 seconds) would keep the aircraft in flight. It was hoped to develop a method of launching gliders that would allow the pilot to get airborne without assistance - that did not require a tow aircraft or the eight-man crew needed to pull back the rubber band on existing rail launchers. Tests with smaller motors in models showed the high-thrust motors were too powerful, so the full-scale tests used a standard rubber-band rail launcher with only the low thrust motors installed. After two attempted flights, Stamer finally made a successful flight, firing two 20 kgf motors one after the other. The glider flew about 1.5 km in 70 seconds. On the second flight the first motor exploded, setting the aircraft on fire. Stamer landed successfully but further attempts were abandoned.
Opel sponsored resumption of tests of rocket-boosted gliders near Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. These involved a design by Lippisch, boosted by 16 powder rockets of 23 kgf each. With Opel at the controls, the glider successfully launched itself from a 20-m long rail launcher, and he flew the aircraft for ten minutes. However the landing went badly - the design had a landing speed of 160 kph, and with a total weight of 270 kg, a high wing loading. Opel survived but the glider had to be written off. This was Opel's last involvement with rocketry. General Motors, the majority owner of the Opel company, prohibited further rocketry work after the stock market crash. Fritz von Opel left the country and moved to Switzerland.