By Rob Arndt


1928 Opel RAK-1 rocket car with Sanders rocket propulsion in tail

A series of rocket powered cars, railway vehicles, and planes were commissioned and, in some cases, driven or piloted, by Fritz von Opel, of the Opel car company. Opel helped pioneer rocket vehicle development in association with others, including Max Valier and Wilhelm Sander.

The Opel-RAK-1, the world's first rocket-propelled car was driven by Kurt C. Volkhart to a top speed of 75 km/h (47 mph) on March 15, 1928. On May 23, 1928 he reached a speed of 230 km/h (143 mph) in an improved version, the RAK-2, driven by 24 solid-fuel rockets.

Later that same year, Opel purchased a sailplane named the Ente (German for "duck") from Alexander Lippisch and attached rocket motors to it, creating the world's first rocket plane on June 11, 1928. The aircraft exploded on its second test-flight, before Opel had a chance to pilot it himself, so he commissioned a new aircraft from Julius Hatry, and flew it at Frankfurt-am-Main on September 30, 1929. This plane is also known as the Opel RAK-1, or, alternatively, as the Opel-Hatry RAK-1 or Opel-Sander RAK-1 in acknowledgement of its builder or the supplier of its engines respectively. In still other references it is called the RAK-3 to distinguish it from Opel's previous RAK-1 and RAK-2 rocket cars. As it happened, all three names, Opel, Sander, and Hatry were painted on the aircraft (with Opelís most prominent), as was the RAK-1 designatio

German photo of 1928 Opel RAK-2 rocket car on speedway


RAK-2 with 24 Brander cluster powder rocket propulsion tail unit


The RAK-1 had a sailplane wing, under which a pod was suspended to house the pilot and sixteen Sander black powder rockets. The tail plane was mounted on booms behind the wing and up out of the way of the rocket exhaust. Opel successfully piloted the RAK-1 over 1.5 km (1 mile) in 75 seconds of flight, but landed hard, damaging the aircraft beyond repair.

Opel planned to build a second rocket plane, but apparently lost interest before the project was completed. In the meantime, another mishap had claimed the official RAK-3, a rocket powered railway car powered by 30 solid rockets, which reached a speed of 254 km/h (157 mph).


1928 Opel Zopeltra rocket rail rider

1928 Rak-3 rocket railway car, unmanned

                                                                                                                   1929 RAK-1 Opel rocket plane



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