The Fafnir
A life history of a 1930's German Sailplane and of it's pilot, Günther Groenhoff

A decade of research by
Vince Cockett


1927 - The Beginning of Aerotowing

The first Aerotow was implemented in 1927 by Gottlob Espenlaub and Gerhard Fieseler, and briefly by Espenlaub and Edgar Dittmar. In the following years aerotows were shown, particularly as attraction, on flight days with special "aerotow drones". For primary gliders the loads were considered too large.

In the spring of 1931 Otto Fuchs of the Akaflieg Darmstadt made the suggestion to tow the "Starkenburg“ and the "Darmstadt II" with the Flamingo. Kurt Starck on "Darmstadt II" made the first attempt. Tug pilot, Peter Riedel reports:

Thus on the morning of March 1931 "Darmstadt ll" stood with Kurt Starck at the east end of the Griesheimer Platze. They were by connected by a 120m to 150m long tow cable - the exact length escapes me - connected to the tow point of the NLG U 1a "Flamingo" D-1540. A red rag made the thin steel cable more visible. Slowly I gave full power. In the rear view mirror I saw, how the cable became taut and started the "Darmstadt" in motion. At the beginning, forward acceleration was retarded by the landing skid on the sandy soil. When we took off finally, I must probably have had too much speed. Anyhow there was jerk forward. Starck had released.

Abort, Abort!" - professor Georgii had excitedly called, when the "Darmstadt" started longitudinal oscillations - pulled the release -, separated and landed from the tow rope. Otto Fuchs however came over to me, as I had remained seated in the Flamingo. "Mr. Riedel, can you go a little more slowly?", he asked calmly and friendly. He understood that we both, Starck and I, had something like stage fright.

ow it came to the second start. There were no problems at all. We made a long tow flight up to a height of 1500m. Calmly the "Darmstadt" could be seen hanging in the rear view mirror, behind the Flamingo. Only after Starck had finally separated did the joy come over our achievement. The spell was broken. Aerotowing of gliders was no longer a problem and soon found it emulated.

Professor Georgii had Groenhoff and the "Fafnir" come immediately from the Wasserkuppe to Griesheim. Thus I towed a few days later Groenhoff, Starck and Fuchs of the Griesheimer, in that order. All three glider flights lasted several hours.

How deeply the rooted prejudice was against Aerotowing of gliders was shown by the following: Kurt Starck reported that, a few weeks later Wolf Hirth who had strong influence in Griesheim appeared and visited the Akaflieg Darmstadt, right after his return from the USA. There he spoke about the dangers of Aerotowing gliders and only after long discussions on the safety of Aerotow would he later be convinced.

More information on the Flamingo is contained in this old Profile Magazine