Lippisch, Alexander (1894-1976)
69.97 linear ft. (100 document boxes, 9 tubes, 6 map case drawers, 7
lantern slide boxes)
Special Collections Department, Iowa State University.
Open for research
Consult Head, Special Collections Department
Alexander Lippisch Papers, MS 243, Special Collections Department, Iowa
State University Library.
Alexander Martin Lippisch was born on 2 November
1894 in Munich, Germany, the son of Franz and Clara (Commichau)
Lippisch. His father was an artist. Alexander was educated at schools
in Berlin and Jena, Germany, and was planning to enter art school when
the First World War began. He enlisted in Germany's armed forces in
1915, and served until 1918 as an aerial photographer and mapper. In
1943 he was awarded a doctoral degree at the University of Heidelberg.
Lippisch worked for the Dornier Aircraft Company in
Friedrichshafen, Germany, as an aerodynamicist from 1918-1922. He was
employed as a glider designer for Weltensegler, Inc. in Baden-Baden
(1922-1923); as a designer for A. G. Steinmann, Hagen, Westphalia
(1923-1925); and in 1925 he joined the staff of the aerodynamics and
design department of the Rhon-Rossittengesellschaft, north of
Frankfurt. From 1933-1939 he was in Darmstadt as chief of the technical
department of the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fur Segelflug (DFS). DFS
sent him to the Messerschmitt Company in 1939, to head a department to
develop a rocket fighter for the Air Ministry. From 1943-1945 he served
as director of research for the Aeronautical Research Institute in
He came to the United States in January 1946 as a
part of the Operation Paper Clip program administered by the United
States Department of Defense. He was stationed at Wright Field in
Dayton, Ohio, where he stayed until December 1946 when his family joined
him. He worked for the Naval Air Materiel Center in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, from 1946-1950. Lippisch and his family received United
States citizenship in 1956.
In 1950 Lippisch accepted employment at Collins
Radio Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was director of the
aeronautical division until 1964. One of his first projects at Collins
was the design of a high-speed smoke tunnel. Lippisch's work on smoke
tunnel flow visualization led to a thirteen part television series in
1955, entitled The Secret of Flight. The series addressed the
amateur viewer, demonstrating the principle of flight through the use of
simple models and a smoke wind tunnel. A believer in the importance of
a broad education, Lippisch gave many lectures on the significance and
the history of flight.
He also worked on remote powered vehicles which led
to his concept of the Aerodyne. This wingless aircraft was suspended
solely by the thrust of its engines and was capable of vertical takeoff
and landing. The Aerodyne project was discontinued in 1960, at which
time Lippisch became the director of the hydrodynamic laboratory at
He designed a high speed boat which performed very
well up to a certain speed, but beyond that point the aerodynamic forces
lifted the bow too much. This triggered his interest, and he proposed a
boat whose hull would lift out of the water by means of short airplane
type wings. This idea was utilized in the aerofoil boat, which was a
seaplane that flew efficiently near the ground or water surface. It was
powered by a conventional aircraft propeller and was capable of flying
far from the ground like a regular airplane. The first full scale
aerofoil boat was the Collin X-112. It was first flown in 1965.
Lippisch retired from Collins Radio Company in
1964. He underwent lung surgery and upon recovery found himself
desiring to continue his work in aircraft design. He consulted for
several United States and German companies on the designs of Aerodynes,
Aeroskimmers, and Aerofoil boats.
In the mid 1920s a friend sent Lippisch a flying
seed of a tropical plant. This seed was essentially an arrow shaped
wing, and as others had done before him, Lippisch based his tailless
arrow shaped aircraft on this example from nature. A private sponsor
saw one of these designs and thought it would be possible to build a
large version of this type for use as a trans-oceanic transport.
However, Lippisch felt that the wing near the body should be thicker so
that it could be utilized for additional storage. Lippisch decided that
this would only be possible by making the wing near the body longer, and
this is how he arrived at the delta shaped wing. His first motorized
delta wing flew in 1931. Lippisch continued his work with the delta
wing during his time as director of the Aviation Research Institute in
Vienna, Austria. His team worked on delta wing airplanes that were
designed to accommodate a variety of new engines, such as the turbojet
and ramjet engines.
Alexander M. Lippisch died 11 February 1976 in
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, of a heart and lung ailment.
Alexander Lippisch Papers (1897-1993, n.d.) contain biographical
material, correspondence, scientific research, materials relating to
patents, publications, photographs, and films. In addition to a rich
array of material relating to Lippisch's work in aeronautical
engineering, the collection also includes biographical material about
Lippisch and publications and photographs related to general aviation
Scientific research files document Lippisch's work designing sailplanes
and gliders, delta-winged aircraft, and aerodynes, as well as research
involving aerodynamics, smoke tunnels, and ground effect. These files
include materials such as calculations, data, statistics and
experimental test results, and technical designs and conceptual drawings
of aircraft designs. The collection also includes copies of patent
applications for Lippisch's work as well as the work of other
Highlights of the
collection include the technical designs and conceptual drawings of
Lippisch's aeronautical designs, and the numerous photographic images
and films. The films include brief films of research experiments as
well as a number of professionally produced films, such as the series
The Secret of Flight.
The collection is organized into 14 series:
Series 1, Biographical Documents, 1909-1993, n.d.
Series 2, Aviation History, 1897-1974, n.d.
Series 3, Soaring
Sailplanes and Gliders, 1919-1977, n.d.
Series 4, Delta-Winged
Aircraft, 1904-1982, n.d.
Series 5, Aerodynamics,
Series 6, Smoke Tunnels,
Series 7, Aerodynes,
Series 8, General Ground
Effect, 1923-1976, n.d.
Series 9, Ground Effect - Aeroskimmers, 1959-1976, n.d.
Series 10, Ground Effect - Aerofoil Boats, 1946-1988, n.d.
Series 11, Aerodynamics and Smoke Tunnels, 1951-1959, n.d.
Series 12, Hydrofoil Boat, 1928-1964, n.d.
Series 13, Miscellaneous Files, 1924-1979, n.d.
Series 14, Films, 1928-1975, n.d.