Hans Multhopp – Key Shaper of Modern Aerodynamics?

Hans Multhopp, holding a model of the Ta 183.


Although David Myhra among other historians claim that the post-war Soviet MiG-15 was based on the Ta 183, modern experts in Russian and Soviet aviation history such as Yefim Gordon reject this, although acknowledging that some of the captured data from Multhopp’s design work was examined by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich in the formative study of contemporary research. The swept-wing data that was amassed at Focke Wulf was, however, utilized by the Saab design office in its preliminary work that led to the Saab J29 fighter. A member of the Saab engineering team had been allowed to review German aeronautical documents stored in Switzerland. These files captured by the Americans in 1945 clearly indicated delta and swept-wing designs had the effect of “reducing drag dramatically as the aircraft approached the sound barrier.” Although more sophisticated than the Ta 183, the Saab J 29 has more than a superficial link to the earlier German fighter project.

Of all the men of Germany, Professor Prandtl’s student, Hans Multhopp (alongside Alexander Lippisch), arguably, has to be the man of potentially the most influential aerodynamic genius that touched the post-war world. Ironically, in 1945, he was in British hands at the RAE Farnborough, but the British in their arrogance of certainty, let Multhopp dangle, as if they were not really bothered, and he was snapped up by a very grateful America. 6, 7 Decades later, in October 2014, an American unmanned orbital re-entry vehicle – a mini-space shuttle – returned from a secret orbit mission. This small craft, little-publicised and hardly known, looked very futuristic indeed, yet in its design it was a near-identical copy of one of Hans Multhopp’s 1950s `lifting body’ all-wing devices that he dreamed up for the Martin company as orbital re-entry vehicles – the precursor of the manned and unmanned NASA `Shuttles’.

Hans Multhopp, of Lower Saxony and a graduate of Göttingen, was one of the leading young aerodynamics geniuses of his time, an early builder of advanced gliders and also worked in the first of Germany’s new wind tunnels. A student of Ludwig Prandtl, Multhopp had true future vision. He joined Kurt Tank’s Focke-Wulf outfit at Bremen in 1938 aged just twenty-five. Although steeped in aerodynamic calculus, Multhopp had an eye for form and design – perhaps best exemplified by his creation of the T-tail concept. Hans Multhopp may have framed the T-tail, but he also knew that the tail offered drag and weight at the expense of its functional efficiency. Multhopp had realised that placing the tailplane high up away from the wash from the main wing meant that it was more efficient and could be made smaller and lighter than a conventional low-set tail. Thus, Multhopp too was an early advocate of the tailless and all-wing concept and this led him to develop his own theories in the field, which were a stepping stone to later all-wing works. Of significance, Multhopp researched lifting all-wing, tailless body theories and forms, work that ultimately shaped the Space Shuttle (albeit a machine festooned with a vertical fin). Regarded by many as Ludwig Prandtl’s leading student, Hans Multhopp was a freethinker and his years working under Kurt Tank at Focke-Wulf may not have been easy. However, from that design bureau stemmed the seminal Focke-Wulf Ta 183. Although deemed a `Ta’ design, this was an advanced, swept-winged airframe that contained much of Multhopp’s ideas – notably the highly aerodynamic efficient T-tail (later used worldwide in military and civil aircraft design). Experts now agree that the most advanced and most influential airframe that was not a delta, nor an all-wing type to come out of Germany, was the Multhopp penned and calculated Ta 183. It was closely copied by Saab (J29A `Tunnan’) in the defining Mikoyan [?] (MiG-15/17) and it influenced American and British designs. An often forgotten Multhopp design signature was his decision to suggest two rear-mounted podded engines on pylons in the swept-wing Focke-Wulf Ta 283 design – a machine powered by a ramjet athodyd gas turbine technology. The machines of these men and their employers were the gateway to today’s understanding and practice of aerodynamics.

Ronnie Olsthoorn Aviation Art

Of Alexander Lippisch we cannot deny that his 1930s delta and swept-wing experiments informed the Messerschmitt Me 163, and the Me 262. Then came the less well known Me P. 1101 which truly was the precursor of many things American, European and Russian post-1945. Neither should we forget that the Heinkel He 178 was the first jet to fly in 1939, or that twin-engined He 280 was also a precursor. An He 280 (V7) with its engines removed was used as a glider in high speed flight research trials in Germany and achieved 578mph in a dive – the world’s fastest glider until the Space Shuttle in its landing configuration, over sixty years later. Although the He 280 lost the race to become the world’s first operational jet fighter to the Me 262 – which became the chosen instrument – the Heinkel’s learning curve was fast and steep. Of men like Voigt and Vogt, Multhopp, Tank, etc., the learning curve was significant.