By Rob Arndt

Gottlob Espenlaub was one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic pioneers in a wide range of fields who was a contemporary of the famous Dr. Alexander Lippisch and yet who remains largely unknown today.


Born at the turn of the century in Swabia as the son of a shepherd, Espenlaub finished technical school by age 17 before serving with the Imperial German Army for 6 months until World War I ended. During the next two year he worked as a carpenter and then managed to construct from spare crashed aircraft parts and his own materials his very own glider- the Espenlaub E-1 of 1920.



At age 21 in his parents’ workshop he fabricated a hang glider and then began to enter the world of sailplane aviation, competing at the Rhon Wasserkuppe where he meets Alexander Lippisch.

Together, they work on one of the world’s first flying wings, the E-2 of 1922 which was the very first of over fifty swept-wing and tailless designs Lippisch would come to produce over the next three decades.

Plates at each wing tip of the E-2 were drooped to provide directional stability.

Though this first co-operative effort was less than impressive, it at least was a starting point from which Lippisch began serious, systematic development of tailless designs while Espenlaub soon got into the aviation technical journals.

Both then built two test sailplanes, the “Alexander” and “Weltensegler” (World Sailer). During this time Lippish invents an acoustic speedometer. For the sailplane competition the Espenlaub 3 competes and earns Gottlob 3000 Marks. He continues with sailplane experimentation and competition for several years before embarking on a more dangerous mission of developing rocket powered craft.


His first aircraft, the E-11 is built by 1927 with the intention of working up to rocket flights. It is powered by a 3-cylinder Sterling motor.

The first towing with airplanes is also accomplished in 1927 by Espenlaub working with Gerhard Fieseler and also with Edgar Dittmar. In the following years, airplane towing becomes a particular attraction on flight days with special "dragging points". The following year Espenlaub starts the E-15 as a purpose-built rocket glider with a first flight aimed at 1929. Testing of the solid fuel black powder rockets is conducted in 1928 extensively at Düsseldorf. On October 22, 1929 Espenlaub flies the rocket glider but disaster strikes as it begins to burn. He manages to land it safely without injury.


During the late 1920s and 1930s Espenlaub also endeavors to develop a series of ultra-streamliner cars until the war breaks out in 1939. Here are some of those designs from 1928-1935 - the Stromlinie and Wanderer which bear a certain Porsche resemblance:



But as the war rages on Espenlaub is awarded a contract for development of war kites- Luftflugabwehrdrachen that would be deployed over factories and air bases. Espenlaub provides the Luftwaffe with several advanced designs, some of which become manned projects. They become a success and a cheaper alternative to standard barrage balloons, but remain an enigma to the Allies.

Further development ensues with both powered types with a seat mounting launching rack for some form of solid fuel rocket and strange steerable Rollplans (Rolling Planes) of which the mysterious Flugobjekt appears towards the end of the war.






The first experimental Rollplans are largely tethered like a normal kite but with added lines for steering in ways that others cannot maneuver. From these early tests Espenlaub attempts to design a remote controlled untetheredDrache with a control antenna and wingtip internal flight controls of unknown construction.


continues kite development but the RLM (German Air Ministry) grants him his own Flugzeugbau (Aircraft Company) entrusted with vital repair of many Luftwaffe aircraft including the Ju-87 Stuka, Ju-88, Fw-190, and Fw Ta 152. Captured Allied aircraft are also repaired by Espenlaub for export to Axis satellite nations. Espenlaub’s uncanny ability to repair aircraft from scavenged parts keeps many aircraft fighting so the RLM gives him a thousand workers and the highest priority repair facilities in Wuppertal. It is here that he even manages to develop his own aircraft of which virtually nothing is known. Only these photos survive of the beast to be constructed from Ju-87, Ju-88, and Fw-190 components:

Nothing is known of this aircraft’s first flight or flight performance. By war’s end Espenlaub’s facilities are moved due to constant Allied bombing, yet the RLM transfers his operations to a secret underground facility of utmost importance called “Miese I” while much larger aircraft manufacturer facilities battle it out above ground.

There he remains until the end of the war developing several secret projects. During 1944, Espenlaub even found time to make an experimental car from Ju-87 Stuka scavenged parts which he called the “Flounder“!


In 1945 all Espenlaub documents are destroyed deliberately to conceal unusual activity and possible secret rocket development plans. Espenlaub fears for his life due to covert operations in connection with the Luftwaffe’s clandestine KG-200 unit that used the Espenlaub Flugzeugbau to repair captured Allied aircraft that managed to smuggle a wanted Nazi fugitive to a neutral country. He never speaks of his wartime activity to anyone.


Postwar, Espenlaub immediately goes back to designing streamlined cars for sale and takes up kiting purely as a hobby. Here are some of his postwar company car designs from the early 1950s, including an experimental 3-wheeler:


But his love of kites never diminishes, so in 1969 the Espenlaub Company begins to manufacture advertising kites. They prove a great success in Europe. Espenlaub, however, shocked many motorists in 1969 with a replica experimental war “Flugobjekt”. This caused a panic. Here is the May 17, 1969 Wuppertal newspaper report concerning the Espenlaub UFO:

The Unknown "Flying Object"

A strange flying object, floating above the highway rest stop at the Blombachtalbrücke, caused travelers to puzzle over whom it belonged to and what function it had.
Because the wingtips of the dark kite were painted fluorescent red, it was speculated that it was a flying object of the Bundeswehr or an Autobahn patrol helicopter.

Some passers-by even urged calling the police.
Finally the riddle was solved, in a harmless fashion: At the other end of the kile was the constructor Gottlob Espenlaub.

He had rebuilt this kite, that was used to defend against enemy planes, as a hobby project.



This 1969 version was not remote controlled but shows the general appearance of the type that would have become possibly armed aerial Vogelschreck “Scarecrows” over Luftwaffe air bases and Reich industrial facilities. Since no report of this object has come forth from Allied sources it most likely was a prototype only. But it is symbolic of the creative designs Espenlaub should be known for. Instead, Espenlaub died of heart disease in 1972 in relative obscurity, even though he had the great privilege to meet astronaut Neil Armstrong personally in 1970.



Site Meter