a personal memoir

Visiting Europe to see historic aircraft during Aug 1996 with good friend Jim Greenwood

By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet

To us, the older generation of aviators, the name Jim Greenwood has a special meaning. Jim could truly be called the "father of public relations in the general aviation business." Among all his other achievements, Jim, with some help from Bill Lear and assisted by my old friend Al Higdon, who collaborates with me on this series, made "Learjet" a household word in the early days of business jets.

Later he left the business and joined FAA as assistant administrator for public affairs. Jim was an early pilot and parachutist. He wrote a manual on non-military parachute jumping.

I had the privilege of working at Beechcraft and Learjet around the same time, from the 1950s to 1970s, while Jim ran the public relations departments for these companies—first Beech and then Learjet. Unfortunately, some members of the newer generations may not be familiar with Jim's remarkable career.

After we were both long retired, Jim and I decided to go on a European trip together to visit some aviation historical sights that are not well known and are not on any of the usual tourist circuits.

Traveling to Europe separately, Jim and I joined up in Vienna, Austria where we also met John Zimmerman (of Aviation Data Service fame) and his grandson Justin. We proceeded to the Museum of Military History, which even a taxi driver who knew the locale had difficulty finding.

WWI Albatros B

We saw a World War I fighter on display—a 1914 Albatros B. We also saw the automobile in which Francis Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, causing the start of World War I. The bullet holes in the 1910 Sift were clearly visible.

Near Vienna, in Moedling, we visited a large cave where the Heinkel He162—the "People's Fighter"—was produced by slave labor during the last 6 months of World War II. This "simple" single engine jet was designed to be flown by barely trained members of the Hitler Youth Organization.

Heinkel He162

After early flights the test pilots reported that the airplane was so unstable that it could only be flown by highly experienced veteran jet pilots. Few such pilots were available, so the aircraft never entered into regular service during the war.

On to Budapest, Hungary, where I was born. We sped down the Danube in a Russian hydrofoil that shook and rattled all the way to our destination. I wouldn't have been surprised if it fell apart after we disembarked.

Rubic H18

We saw a few rare items at the Hungarian Air Museum. This was on a Monday when all museums in Europe are usually closed. But my old friend, John Katona, the director, came to our rescue and gave us a private tour. On display were a number of gliders and glider-towing single engine aircraft like the Rubic H18. These were designed and built by Erno Rubic, the father of the man who invented the Rubic's cube, Erno Rubic Junior.

Junkers F13

Also on display was a Junkers F13, a large cabin single engine aircraft, probably the 1st business aircraft in Europe. Tomas Bata, the owner of the Bata shoe factory in what was then Czechoslovakia, was among the 1st operators of the Junkers F13. (You can see Bata Shoe stores all over the world except in the USA. I asked Tomas John Bata, the son of the founder, about that and he assured me that the US was one of their biggest markets but Sears sells them under their own label).

I tried to sell a Learjet to the current Bata generation, but he resisted because his father was killed in 1920 in his Junkers F13. Charles IV, the exiled Habsburg King of Hungary, used the very same Junkers F13 that was on display. He returned to Budapest from Zurich on this chartered aircraft, unsuccessfully trying to regain his throne. The aircraft was practically brand new when it was confiscated after Charles IV was exiled. It has never made another flight.

After Budapest we traveled to Berlin on an overnight train via Prague and Dresden. We wasted money by paying for sleeping compartments. Sleep was impossible due to the noise and being constantly interrupted by visits of various customs officials.

Lilienthal monument

In Berlin we visited the man-made hill created by Otto Lilienthal for his glider flights. There is a monument to Lilienthal on the top of this hill. It is well worth visiting if you can find it. The only other artificial hill near Berlin is the huge pile of rubble collected from what was left of Berlin at the end of World War II. Before leaving Berlin we also visited the memorial dedicated to those brave airmen who had served and fallen in the Berlin Airlift of 1948.

Berlin airlift memorial

Driving down the Autobahn, Germany's famed high-speed superhighway outside of Berlin, we finally made it to Nuremberg. Here I shall quote Jim's report: "Occasionally Alex's sense of direction, even in familiar territory, goes awry. Rounding a corner in the old castle district of Nuremberg (where I gorged myself on sausages), we expected to see the elegant 15th century Duerer House, once the home of the German painter and engraver Albrecht Duerer. We didn't. Exclaimed Alex, 'But it is not where it is!' No, it was around the corner."

Near Nuremberg, we had a chance to visit the private museum dedicated to Hermann Oberth, German pioneer of rocketry and famed teacher of Werner von Braun who was the leading scientist in the development of Germany's V2. Although the V2 rockets were built following the research of Oberth, von Braun could get him admitted to Peenemunde, where the V2s were produced, only after long bureaucratic delays.

Greenwood with Dr Erna Roth-Oberth

This was because Oberth, an ethnic German, was born and raised in Transylvania and at the time was a Rumanian citizen. We were given a private tour by Erna Roth-Oberth, daughter of the rockets pioneer.

On to Leutershausen, a small town in Bavaria, where Gustav Weisskopf (later his name was changed to Whitehead in the US) built an aircraft of his original design which some Germans claim flew at an earlier date than the aircraft flown by the Wright brothers on Dec 17, 1903.

Whitehead aircraft replica

It was an interesting design with 2 small steam engines—1 powering the propeller and the other powering the wheels on the landing gear. The original aircraft has never flown. Later in the US someone did fly a replica of this Weisskopf or Whitehead aircraft but it was modified and powered by a small Lycoming engine.

Jim Greenwood's opinion: "In the course of my own work in aviation and publishing," said Jim, "I've investigated a number of 1st flight claims. So far there is no hard evidence of anyone predating the Brothers Wright." However, the latest issue of Jane's All the World's Aircraft credits Whitehead (formerly Weisskopf) with the 1st flight of a powered aircraft on July 17, 1902.

Much could be written about each of these items but here I can only list them briefly. I'm happy to share photos of each rarely seen aviation exhibit in the hopes that Pro Pilot readers find this to be a useful guide for aviation enthusiasts visiting Europe.

Alex Kvassay sold Beech and Learjet aircraft for 30 years, earning a reputation
as the industry's premier international salesman of his day. Now 87, he is retired and living in Wichita KS. Kvassay continues to travel for pleasure and recent solo trips have taken him to Argentina, Libya, North Korea, Cuba and Algeria.