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Wasserkuppe: Wikis


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Rhoen Wasserkuppe.jpg
Elevation 950 metres (3,117 ft)
Location Fulda, Hesse, Germany
Range Rhön Mountains
Coordinates 50°29′53″N 9°56′16″E / 50.49806°N 9.93778°E / 50.49806; 9.93778Coordinates: 50°29′53″N 9°56′16″E / 50.49806°N 9.93778°E / 50.49806; 9.93778

The Wasserkuppe (German for "water peak") is a high plateau (elevation 950 m or 3,100 ft), the highest peak in the Rhön Mountains within the German state of Hesse. Between the first and second World Wars, during the era of the so-called Golden Age of Aviation, great advances in sailplane development were made there.

Students from the nearby Darmstadt University of Technology began flying gliders from the Wasserkuppe as early as 1911, but interest in gliding in Germany increased greatly after 1918 when the Treaty of Versailles restricted the production or use of powered aircraft in the nation. From 1920 onwards, annual gliding competitions were held, leading to records being set and broken for height, distance, and duration of unpowered flight. In 1922 Arthur Martens became the first glider pilot to use an updraft rising along a mountain slope to stay aloft for a lengthy period.[1] He then founded the world's first glider pilot school at the Wasserkuppe.

The first competition was organised by Oskar Ursinus, who also built the first clubhouse on the Wasserkuppe in 1924 to replace the shipping containers that enthusiasts were using as accommodation up to that point. By 1930, the competition had become an international event, drawing pilots from all over Europe and even the United States.

Also in 1924 'Rhönvater' (Rhön father) Oskar Ursinus, convinced the then secretary of air transport for the ministry of transportation, Dr.Brandenburg to turn the new gliding club into a state funded research organization. This started the Rhön-Rossitten Gesellschaft and as a result, the Wasserkuppe now had a gliding school, workshops for building gliders and a funded research facility. Alexander Lippisch was appointed as the managing director of the new society.

Virtually every German aeronautical engineer and test pilot of note during the 1920s and 30s spent time building, testing, and flying aircraft at the Wasserkuppe, including the Günter brothers, Wolf Hirth, the Horten brothers, Robert Kronfeld, Hans Jacobs, Alexander Lippisch, Willy Messerschmitt, Hanna Reitsch, Peter Riedel, Alexander Schleicher and many, many others. This period saw great advances in new technologies such as flying wings and rocket-powered flights.

The "Ehrenhalle" in the Lilienthal Haus on the Wasserkuppe.

In the 1930s the "Ehrenhalle" (Hall of Honor) was constructed in the Lilienthal Haus, with heavy bronze doors opening into a large hall with a stained glass window. The centerpiece is a larger-than-life bronze figure of Otto Lilienthal lying on an (empty) tomb. It is a memorial to all pilots who have died in aviation accidents. The inscription on the memorial is Lilienthal's famous last words: "Opfer müssen gebracht werden" roughly meaning: "Sacrifices must be made."

During the Third Reich, gliding activities became largely controlled by the state, and for Hitler Youth pilots and their instructors, proficiency in gliding was viewed as the first step towards the Luftwaffe. Sailplane research was also nationalised under the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug (DFS — German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight).

Following World War II, a US Army camp, radar station, and surveillance station were established there but when restrictions on German aviation were lifted in 1951, gliding soon returned to the Wasserkuppe where it has remained popular since. Beginning in the 1970s, the newer sport of hang gliding has also found a home there. Following the reunification of Germany and demise of the Soviet Union, the surveillance and radar installations were removed in the 1990s.

The new exhibit hall in the Deutsches Segelflugmuseum (German Sailplane Museum).

In 1970, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first competition, the Deutsches Segelflugmuseum (German Sailplane Museum) was opened on the plateau, with Neil Armstrong a guest of honour at the ceremony. The museum gained a new building in 1987. The Wasserkuppe is also the home of the Oldtimer Segelflugclub (OSC - Oldtimer Gliding Club), dedicated (as its name suggests) to flying vintage sailplanes.

Next to the long tradition of sailplanes the Wasserkuppe has developed to a sport center and weekend centre offering a wide selection of activities. Paragliding as well as Snowkiting is offered. In winter the area is used by skiers and snowboarders.

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