The Year Aeronautics Was an Olympic Event

Posted on Fri, August 5, 2016
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Today, marks the opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Modern opening ceremonies are often accompanied by a flyover. In the 1936 games in Berlin, Germany, an actual gold medal was awarded for Aeronautics. Gliding, in which aircraft were catapulted into the air, and aerobatics were demonstration events, with the hopes of becoming full-fledged events in the future.

Black and white photo of the Hidenburg's front.

The German Zeppelin airship Hindenburg, D-LZ129, in 1936. Name, registration, and Olympic rings, are painted on the outside of the envelope. Image: NASM 96-15169

Switzerland’s Hermann Schreiber was awarded an Olympic gold medal for merit in Aeronautics for a glider flight over the Alps—in 1935! But there were plenty of actual aeronautical feats to witness at the Berlin games. The Hindenburg hovered in the skies over the Olympic stadium, painted with the Olympic rings. The first public demonstration of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 prototype took place. Demonstration pilots included Hanna Reitsch, who would become known for her role as Luftwaffe civilian test pilot.

Messerschmitt on concrete with cholks on front wheels, nose facing the camera.

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 V1 (r/n D-IABI, Werke-Nr.758, the prototype for the entire Bf 109 series of aircraft) on the ground, chocks in place, engine running; Germany, September 16, 1936. Image: NASM 89-13764

The Bücker Bü-133C Jungmeister on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center has ties to the 1936 Berlin games too. Captain Alexander Papana of the Rumanian Air Force had placed fourth in the two-man bobsled event in the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics and had won the gold medal in the 1933 World Championships. Papana participated in the Olympics aeronautics demonstrations in 1936 and his Bücker Bü-133C Jungmeister Dina featured Olympic rings on its tail.

 

Profile of the Jungmeister with Olympic rings on the tail. Black and white photo.

Alexander Papana's Bücker Bu 133 Jungmeister Dina (Rumanian r/n YR-PAX) on the ground preparing for the Miami Air Races at Floyd Bennett Field, NY; November 30, 1937. Image: From the Rudy Arnold Photo Collection, NASM XRA-3473

After the games, the Dina was transported to the United States by none other than the Hindenburg. Papana flew the aircraft in the 1937 Cleveland National Air Races and he and other pilots participated in other races and demonstrations until the Dina was severely damaged in 1940. Papana had a career in the United States as a test pilot until his suicide in 1946. Mike Miller bought and restored the Dina. Later, Beverly "Bevo" Howard bought the Jungmeister and won the 1946 and 1947 aerobatic championships with it. Unfortunately, it was also the aircraft in which Howard suffered a fatal accident in 1971. His estate restored the plane and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1973.

Black and white photo of the aircraft with pilot's hands in the air.

Beverly E. "Bevo" Howard flying in his Bücker Bü 133 Jungmeister (r/n N15696). NASM 85-16341

Although preparations were made to continue and expand Aeronautics as an Olympic event, the 1940 Olympics were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II. 1936 remains the only year that an Olympic medal was awarded for Aeronautics.