2. THE FLIGHT
Compared to the Honorable Mrs Bruce and the young Baron Koenig-Warthausen who were very inexperienced when they started their round the world flights, Elly Beinhorn already had considerable experience. Over and above the many flying hours Elly had obtained in Europe, she had also made a long trip to Africa, and had experienced both an engine failure and a forced landing.
Elly Beinhorn was born in May 1907 in Hanover, Germany. She was the only child of a merchant family, and although she may have been a lonely child, she had a normal childhood.
In 1928, friends took Elly to a conference of Hauptman Herman Köhl, who had been one of the pilots of Baron Gunther von Hunefeld, in the first crossing of the Atlantic, east to west, on a Junker, the Bremen. At the end of the conference, Elly knew that flying was what she was missing in her life, and decided then and there, to learn to fly. Elly moved from Hanover to Spandau, a suburb of Berlin, and began flying lessons at the Berlin-Staaken airport, where she was given a lot of encouragement from her instructor Otto Thomsen. Elly solo'd after a short time in a small Klemm KL-20, with a Daimler engine of 20 HP, and after obtaining her pilot's licence, went on to learn aerobatics. Dreaming of one day making long distance flights, Elly earned money barnstorming from town to town every weekend.
Elly's dream came true in 1931 when she joined a scientific expedition to Portuguese Guinea, in West Africa. This is now known as Guinea Bissau. The expedition was organised by an Austrian, Dr. Hogo Bernatzik.
Elly left Berlin on January 4th, 1931, arriving on February 1st. At the end of the expedition, instead of following the coast as she had done on the flight over to Portuguese Guinea, Elly decided to cut across the Sahara, where she suffered an engine failure and had to make a forced landing near Tumbuctu. It was from here that Elly had to be evacuated, when she was forced to abandon her aircraft after catching a bad fever.
A few months later, Elly started again, this time for India and Bali, flying another Klemm aircraft which was fitted with an Argus engine of 80HP. Although she didn't know it at the time, this flight was to take her around the world. From her previous experience in Africa, Elly made sure that this time she was better equipped, carrying spare parts, a tropical hat, mosquito net, insect powder, a water filter and a 10 litre water-bag.
In Turkey, quite be chance, Elly met up with a friend from Hanover she had not seen since her school days. Her friend, who had married a turkish engineer, was unhappy in her new environnment, so it was with great pain that Elly had to leave the girl who had been the queen of their dancing contests.
After crossing the Gulf of Alexandretta in a storm, Elly had a difficult landing in Alleppo in Syria, where she removed the wings of the Klemm, and secured it for the night. Bagdad, the town of legends was next, with it's mosques featuring beautiful coloured domes. Elly made another forced landing, this time near Bandar-e-Deylam, due to dirt in the fuel which clogged the piping and carburettor. Unable to make herself understood by the Persians, Elly pegged the Klemm and went by road to Bushire, some distance further South along the Persian Gulf. Elly experienced the same problem here, and was unable to send a telegram, as the locals could not read the roman characters. Following many misunderstandings. as the people believed Elly to be lost, she finally received help from the German Consul, and was able to carry out repairs to the Klemm and continue on towards India.
In Bushire she met Moye Stephens. An American pilot, flying the writer Richard Halliburton in a Sterman, The Flying Carpet. Stephens, being the only mechanic around did repair the Klemm. Elly and the 2 Americans got vrery friendly and flew together, first to Karachi then all the way to Singapore.
After a stop in Karachi, Elly paid a visit to the Taj Mahal, the funeral monument built in the 17th century by Emperor Dschehan after the death of his favorite spouse. She flew around the famous landmark and toook photos of The Flyng Carpet. She also visited the philosopher Rabindranath, and went to see the Maharajah of Nepal, where she gave a demonstration of the Klemm. Elly was very impressed by a short flight she made toward the Hymalayas, almost 30 km from Mount Everest, where it is said she felt « alone as one would be at the end of the world, or on a strange planet ». Elly had the impression that she had accomplished something out of the ordinary in her tiny aircraft, and later landed on the polo grounds at Baghdogra with a terrible migraine and aching ears.
Then came Calcutta. In Rangoon, Elly circled around the magnificent golden pagoda shining in the setting sun, and searched in vain for the airport in the diminishing light. Unable to find it, she landed on a path between rice paddies, and locals showed her the direction of the airport. Although it was dangerous to take off amid curious people, unaware of the danger of the propeller, Elly was soon away, and found the airport a few minutes later. It seems Elly had joined an increasing number of aviators who had experienced trouble locating the airport at Rangoon, some with serious consequences.
In Bangkok, Elly was introduced to the royal family, and celebrated crossing 'the Line' between Singapore and Sumatra, by drinking some cognac from her emergency stores. Finally reaching Indonesia, which was a Dutch colony at that time, and her destination, and the aim of her flight, Elly was greeted by torrential rains : the moosoon had just started.
In Singapore she parted company with Halliburton and Stephens
Elly did not wish to return to Germany by the same route as she'd come, and while having to stay put due to the heavy rains of the monsoon, the idea came to her to fly to Australia. A Dutch pilot, Captain Pattist, who had flown to Australia the year before in a Fokker Trimotor, tried to dissuade her from attempting the flight in such a small aircraft. Indeed, she would have to cross the Timor Sea, a distance of 490 Nautical Miles, known to be infested by sharks. At 24 years of age, Elly thought she was invincible, and when Pattist realized he could not dissuade her, he gave her all the help he could. The hardest part for Elly, was to take off from the Kupang Airfield which was flooded with water from the rains. At last, tired, but very happy after a seven hour flight, Elly arrived in Port Darwin during one of those tropical storms so frequent in the North of Australia. Elly became the second woman to have flown from Europe to Australia after Amy Johnson (1930).
Elly was duly greeted and well received in Darwin. Finally she arrived in Sydney on March 24, 1932, where the Klemm was dimantled and put into a crate and loaded on board a ship, as had been the Baron's aircraft. The Manganui carried the Klemm to New Zealand, and then the Ionic took it to Panama, where it was re-assembled, and Elly was able to continue her flight, this time along the west coast of South America, flying across Peru and Chili.
In Peru, Elly received her first medal, from the President. Chili was under a revolution. With the Andes and their high summits to cross, pilots she met told her that it would be impossible for her to make the flight in such a small machine. They had nicknamed the Klemm the « coffee grinder », due to the engine being old and tired, but not to be deterred, Elly got rid of most of her luggage and installed an oxigen system.
The flight across the Andes all but finished her tired engine. In Bahia, in Brazil, the Klemm was again dismantled and loaded on board a ship bound for Bremhaven in Germany. The Klemm was put together again, and after a short flight to Hanover, Elly finally arrived in Berlin on June 26, 1932.
Elly had flown around the World solo in her aircraft, and although she was now famous, she was more than 15 000 marks in debt, leaving her to think that she would be unable to afford more flights, and would lose the freedom these flights gave her. Fortunately for Elly, she received the Hindenburg Cup and the 10 000 marks that go with it, along with some other unexpected rewards from the German aeronautical industry, thanking her for the publicity her flight around the World had given to their industry. (Baron Koenig-Wartuasen had received the Hindenburg Cup in 1929 and in 1930). With the monies Elly had over, she was already planning more flights.
Elly Beinhorn was to continue a brillant aviation career after her flight around the World.
With her debts paid off, Elly started a tour of Africa in a single seater Heinkel. She flew down the east coast all the way to Capetown, then back along the west coast via Libreville, Saint Louis and Casablanca. The year after, Elly went by ship to Panama with her Klemm, and flew through Mexico, California, across the United States to Washington, and to Miami, where the Klemm was once again loaded on board a ship. Elly arrived in Europe on January 13, 1935. The number 13 had always been her lucky number.
That year, Elly met Bernd Rosemeyer, the racing driver, during the Avus Grand Prix, and they were married a year later, on July 13th. Thirteen was also Rosemeyer's lucky number.
Elly always wanted to do a record flight, linking two continents in one day. The aircraft to be used would be the new Messerschmitt Me108, a very fast aircraft with retractable landing gear. She took off from Gleiwitz, the German airport, which was the furtherest to the East, landed in Istanbul, did a short flight on the other side of the Bosphorus, on the Asian part of Turkey, and came back to Berlin, all on the same day. A total of 3,470 KM in 18 hours and 8 minutes
The 75th anniversary of this record was celebrated in in 2010 and the German Post Office produced a stamp in Elly's honour.
In 1936, Elly bettered this record by flying over three continents in the one day. She took off from Tempelhof, the Berlin airport on August 2nd, 1936. After a short stop in Budapest for fuel, and Damascus (then a French protectorate), she landed in Cairo. From there Elly flew to Budapest again, before returning to Berlin. She flew over 3,750 km and 3 continents in one day.
Elly christened the Me108 : « Taiphoon », and this name was retained by the manufacturer.
Young Bernd was born in1937.
Elly's husband, Bernd Rosemeyer, was killed attempting a speed record on January 1938. Soon after, Elly wrote Rosemeyer's biography : Mein Mann, der Rennenfahrer ( My Husband The Car Racer). The book was an enormous success and more than 300 000 copies were published. In the Spring of 1939, Elly Rosemeyer started another long flight in the "Taiphoon". This time her goal was to fly to Japan, but Elly was forced to return after getting as far as Bangkok and finding that China and Japan were at war, and Europe to be on the brink of war.
Elly remarried in 1941, to Dr. Karl Wittman, and they had a daughter, Stephanie.
After the war, Elly took up gliding during the period when Germany could not have powered aircraft. Like many other German pilots, Elly went to Switzerland to fly, and it was there she purchased a Piper Cub, HB-OAM. In 1952, Elly made another flight to Africa, starting in Colombier in Switzerland, and flew all the way to Benghazi in Lybia, via Rome, Tunis and Tripoli.
Elly Beinhorn Rosemeyer is considered to be one of the major figures of women in aviation in Germany, along with names like Ann Reichter.
Elly Beinhorn died on 28 November 2007 in Ottobrunn, at the age of 100
Last update : September 24, 2013
Copyright © Claude Meunier 2000, 2013