Fritz von Opel
Fritz von Opel at an international motorboat race in 1928
|Born||4 May 1899|
Rüsselsheim am Main, Germany
|Died||8 April 1971 (aged 71)|
|Alma mater||Technische Universität Darmstadt|
|Known for||Rocket propulsion|
|Children||Rikky von Opel|
|Parent(s)||Wilhelm von Opel|
|Relatives||Adam Opel (grandfather)|
Carl von Opel (uncle)
Fritz Adam Hermann von Opel (4 May 1899 - 8 April 1971), known as Fritz Adam Hermann Opel until his father was ennobled in 1917, was the only son of Wilhelm von Opel and a grandson of Adam Opel, founder of the Opel company. He is remembered mostly for his spectacular demonstrations of rocket propulsion that earned him the nickname "Rocket Fritz".
Opel was born in Rüsselsheim. He studied at the Technische Universität Darmstadt and received his doctorate from the university. 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).
On 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 16 days, he was allowed to proceed to the United States, arriving in May on the Italian liner Rex. He was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigations in February 1942, as a 'potentially dangerous alien', although was subsequently released.