A 150 year family tradition


LOTS OF PEOPLE FOLLOW FAMILY members into aviation, but Stefanie von Linstow, communications leader at Airbus Corporate Jets, really did not have a choice. Lots of people are the second or third generation in their family to work in aviation, but her connection goes back more than 100 years to the late 19th Century.

Von Linstow’s great-great-grandfather was Otto Lilienthal, the 19th Century glider pioneer.

Dubbed the “flying man,” Lilienthal was the first person to successfully repeat glider flights. “Of all the men who attacked the flying problem in the 19th century, Otto Lilienthal was easily the most important,” said Wilbur Wright.

Working with his brother Gustav, Lilienthal’s first flight was in 1891. He went on to fly more than 2,000 times. Many of these flights were from a hill the brothers built near Berlin to allow them to experiment regardless of wind direction.

As well as his research – he published a landmark book Birdflight as a basis of aviation in 1889 – and experiments, his greatest contribution to aviation was perhaps showing that people could fly. Crowds would gather to watch him and photographs were published around the world. The Otto Lilienthal Museum has a collection of 145 known photographs of him.

In 1891, Lilienthal managed to fly 25 metres (82 feet). By 1893 he was gliding as far as 250 metres (820 ft). These were records until he died (the first flight by Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk was 37 metres). Hang gliders and microlights of today still have parts that look similar to his first glider – the Derwitzer.

He built a hill 15 meters high (49ft) so he could fly in any wind direction

In 1896, his glider crashed. He died 36 hours later. His final words to his brother were: “Sacrifices have to be made.”

Von Linstow’s work with Airbus Corporate Jets – some of the biggest business aircraft – is a long way away from her great-great-grandfather’s gliders. But without pioneers like Lilienthal who are prepared to stand on top of a hill and jump, business aviation would not exist.

CJI: When did you first learn about your great-great-grandfather?

Von Linstow: I can’t really remember a precise moment, as he has always been part of my family memories. At home and at my grandparents’ house in Germany there were portraits and framed pictures with very impressive images of the “flying man”. As a child it intrigued me a lot as this is something about which you can only dream. Later on, my parents took me to the Deutsches Museum in Munich, where there are replicas of my great-greatgrandfather’s gliders, including a biplane. This was in addition to discovering the “Fliegerberg” memorial near Berlin, where he built an artificial hill to launch his flights into the wind - no matter which direction it was coming from. These visits and listening to my grandfather brought Otto alive in my imagination!

CJI: Is it a coincidence that you ended up in aviation?

Von Linstow: My great-great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father and my husband are all in aviation. Of course, I have the same passion and met my husband while preparing for my private pilot’s licence! For me it is a testimony to my great-great-grandfather, to keep on flying further!

"If you look back in time when Otto Lilienthal performed his flights in the 1890s, it becomes clear he was not only an inventor but a visionary."

CJI: The Wright Brothers credit Otto Lilienthal with being a huge influence, how was he viewed by your grandfather and parents?

Von Linstow: If you look back at the time when Otto Lilienthal performed his flights in the 1890s, it becomes clear that he was not only an inventor but also a visionary. He had a lot of tenacity, even as a child he tried to find out how to fly by observing storks’ flights. He was convinced of the feasibility, and went on to apply a scientific methodology, while also promoting it to the public. For him, aviation was synonymous with connecting people, getting rid of national borders and triggering peace. Otto was a pioneer, even an artist, as he performed theatre plays and played musical instruments. He was ahead of his time: he founded his own company of steam engines and introduced employee ownership. Otto is definitively a role model for me!

CJI: How many people know about him?

Von Linstow: I am sure all aviation enthusiasts know of him! There are two museums I would recommend: Deutsches Museum in Munich and the Otto Lilienthal Museum in Anklam. In addition, Tegel airport in Berlin has been renamed Otto Lilienthal Airport.

Also, at the Airbus site in Hamburg, Germany, one of the A320 Family final assembly hangars bears his name. In remembrance of Lilienthal’s pioneering craft, researchers at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) scientifically examined, and then rebuilt, one of his first gliders. Even today, the aerodynamic properties of the “Lilienthal polar curve” is still fundamental to aircraft design.

CJI: How do you think he would react to an Airbus Corporate Jet today?

Von Linstow: He would be amazed that flying has become so comfortable, with such spacious cabins and modern technology. I would even say that he has been a pioneer of our business, as he was selling production gliders to buyers in Germany and other countries.

More information: www.lilienthal-museum.de

Photos from the Otto-Lilienthal-Museum Archives © archives Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Alasdair Whyte, Editor, Corporate Jet Investor