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Early flight attempts at Tempelhof Field

Early flight attempts at Tempelhof Field

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A military parade and exercise ground, Tempelhof Field was also the scene of early flight attempts, in which the Berlin public participated with enthusiasm and gusto.

Balloon flight proves its military utility

The Prussian military's experience during the siege of Paris led it to develop an interest in aviation towards the end of the 19th century. Since the end of 1870, gas balloons had served as a kind of airlift service, flying more than nine tons of mail and 155 people out of town. In 1884, 99 years after the first Berlin balloon flight, the Prussian army stationed four officers, four non-commissioned officers, one civilian balloon pilot and 29 soldiers of the 1st Prussian Railway Regiment in Schöneberg, at the western edge of Tempelhof Field, as a new “balloon detachment”. An airship test division was attached to the “balloon detachment”, tasked among other goals with the development of captive balloons. Converted in 1887 to an “airship detachment”, the unit was to take over reconnaissance and observation functions. To support research and experimentation with air and balloon flight, a balloon hall of corrugated iron was erected at Tempelhof Field, which was now serving as a practice and demonstration site for flight tests. Coal gas was used as a cheap and easily produced filling agent for what were primarily spherical and cigar-shaped kite balloons. With the increasing importance of balloon flight, the airship detachment was expanded to battalion strength, and transferred to the artillery range at Tegel. At this time, total personnel included 13 officers, one doctor, three clerks, 43 non-commissioned officers, 289 men, four craftsmen and 28 horses. Balloon travel as a purely civilian entertainment had become a thing of the past.

 

Ascent in the service of science

In the 1890s, the spectacular ascents made by members of the German Association for the Promotion of Aviation, founded in 1881 in Berlin, became the talk of the public – even if their first balloon, the “Humboldt”, seemed to have been born under an “unlucky star”, as the project's initiator declared. Produced by the Hanover firm Continental, the balloon was acquired for 12,000 marks through the Kaiser's reserve fund. Its maiden flight took place on 1 March 1893 from Tempelhof Field, in the presence of the Kaiser himself, but it exploded and burned while trying to land just two months later. Nobody was injured in the accident.

 

None of this deterred the renowned professors and doctors of the Royal Meteorological Institute from using balloon flights to measure atmospheric pressure, air temperature and humidity at ever-increasing heights. Seeking to investigate the atmosphere, they undertook around 75 science-focused ascents with the support of airship lieutenant Hans Groß.