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Hans-Joachim Pabst von Ohain

Born: 14 December 1911, Dessau

Died: 13 March 1998, Melbourne/Fla.

"The propellers made a horrendous noise. The airplane rattled because it had piston engines. You couldn't even talk to your neighbour. It was not as romantic as I thought it would be. ... I thought flying should be elegant."

In the 1930s, von Ohain conceived a novel aircraft engine to power the world's first jet plane.

Studies in physics and jet planes

He took up studies in physics at the Georg-August university in Göttingen in 1930 and obtained his doctorate in 1935. While still a student he conceived a new propulsion system for aircrafts.
The systems used at that time were based on reciprocating engines and propellers causing much noise and strong vibrations.
Together with car mechanic Max Hahn he built a test model of an aircraft engine. When the project became too expensive, von Ohain contacted aircraft manufacturer Heinkel, upon recommendation by his professor. Heinkel immediately hired von Ohain and Hahn and founded a secret research lab without informing the authorities.
In the time that followed, strange hissing noises were heard from the hall. The test engine completed a first successful trial run in March 1937. An airplane with advanced aerodynamic properties was designed in parallel to the new engine.
On 27 August 1939, the first turbojet aircraft took off from the airport in Rostock-Marienehe. Instead of the conventional propeller drive, Heinkel He-178 aircraft featured a jet engine.

The jet engine

comprises the following components: fan, compressor, combustion chamber, turbine and propelling nozzle. Air is sucked in and compressed by a series of fans, then heated in the combustion chamber. Due to the expansion in the combustion chamber, the air passes the turbine and exits the propelling nozzle. The turbine drives the compressor, and the remaining energy of the air jet, expelled via the nozzle, creates the thrust.

Parallel invention

In 1936, von Ohain filed a patent application for a "process and apparatus for producing airstreams for propelling airplanes". At that time, Frank Whittle had already filed an application for the first jet engine in Great Britain. As both concepts were differing in important aspects, von Ohain was granted a patent in 1937.
Von Ohain moved to the United States in 1947, where he first worked as a research scientist at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and then at today's Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee. He was professor and research engineer at the University of Dayton until 1992.

Patent search

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Foto Ohain
© Jakob Forthuber

Patent document CH-184920

"Verfahren und Vorrichtungen zum Umwandeln von Schwingungen in Lichtschwankungen."

(PDF - 270 KB)

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