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December 14, 1911—The Birth of Hans von Ohain

Posted December 14, 2016 3:00 PM by MaggieMc
Pathfinder Tags: December 14 March 13

On December 14, 1911, in Dessau, Germany, German-American physicist Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain was born, beginning a lifetime of contributions to the jet engine. In fact, Ohain was the designer of the first operational jet engine.

Ohain received his Ph.D. in Physics and Aerodynamics from the Georg August University of Göttingen in 1935, after only four years, rather than the usual seven. After graduating, Ohain joined Ernst Heinkel’s manufacturing firm where he “developed a theory” regarding turbo jet engines. It was not until 1936 that Ohain patented this theory, which he bench tested in 1937. The liquid-fueled engine, named the HeS 3B, had its first successful flight on August 27, 1939 on the Heinkel manufactured HC-178 airplane.

While this successful flight is what designates Ohain as the “designer of the first operational jet engine,” the design used a “centrifugal compressor,” which was “inherently less efficient than one using an axial-flow compressor… It was a turbojet of this type, designed by Anselm Franz, that powered the Me 262, the world’s first operational jet fighter aircraft [first flown July 18, 1942].” (You can learn more about Anselm Franz in our Great Engineers & Scientists Blog.)

In 1947, Ohain left Germany for the United States as part of Operation Paperclip. Ohain worked at the Aerospace Research Laboratory (ARL) and the Air Force Aerospace Propulsion Laboratory (AFAPL); he later became the chief scientist of each, in 1963 and 1975, respectively.

During his time in America, Ohain conducted a “survey study of trends and research objectives in the field of energy conversion and propulsion,” and is credited with “more than twenty U.S. patents”—compared to his fifty German patents. Prior to his death on March 13, 1998, Ohain received a number of awards, and, in 1990, the University of Dayton honored him by establishing four graduate fellowships in his name in aerodynamics.

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