Fritz von Opel (72), automobile manufacturer and rocketry enthusiast died

Thursday 8th April 1971

Fritz von Opel (72), automobile manufacturer and rocketry enthusiast died. He was the grandson of Adam Opel, the founder of the Opel car company. Opel was born in Rüsselsheim and educated at the technical university of Darmstadt. After graduation, he was made director of testing for the Opel company and also put in charge of publicity. In the 1920s, he became interested in using rockets in publicity stunts for the company and sought advice from Max Valier of the newly formed Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR – “Spaceflight Society”) and Friedrich Sander, a pyrotechnics manufacturer from Bremerhaven. On 15 March 1928 Opel tested his first rocket-powered car, the RAK.1, and achieved a top speed of 75 km/h (47 mph) in it, proving the feasibility of the concept of rocket propulsion. Less than two months later, he reached a speed of 230 km/h (143 mph) in the RAK.2, driven by 24 solid-fuel rockets. Later that same year, he purchased a sailplane named the “Lippisch Ente” (Ente is “duck” in German) 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 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. In the meantime, another mishap had claimed the RAK.3, a rocket-powered railway car powered by 30 solid-fuel rockets which had reached a speed of 254 km/h (157 mph). Also in 1928, Opel built and test ran a rocket-powered motorcycle called the Monster.[1On 25 April 1940 Fritz von Opel was taken off the Italian liner Conte di Savoia by the British authorities at Gibraltar. After being detained at Gibraltar for sixteen days, he was allowed to proceed to the United States. In 1947 Opel married Emita Herrán Olózaga (1913–1967) and became the father of Formula One driver Rikky von Opel (Frederick von Opel), born later the same year. He died at Samedan in Switzerland in 1971.

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