Otto-Werke GmbH

AGO C.1 by Ivan Berryman.

As Prussia started to develop its own aircraft manufacturing empire, so Bavaria looked to achieve the same. The rivalry and friction between the two states in the formative years hampered any form of co-operation within the German empire.

The Bavarian Army Inspectorate of Engineering embarked on training their pilots using private flying schools, whereas the Prussian Army’s pilots were taught to fly by the aircraft manufacturers as part of the purchasing agreement. The problems started when the Bavarian Army needed to expand their aviation section, which inevitably led to the need for more pilots. The Bavarian liaison officer at the Prussian Army’s Research Unit passed on information on flying training and the Prussians’ experience using manufacturers to train pilots. The Albatros Werke offered to train the Bavarian pilots and to supply the Bavarian Army with aircraft. The offer was declined.

At this point General von Brug, the Engineering Corps Inspector, decided that all flying training was to be carried out using a private school run by aircraft manufacturer August Euler. When asked about his choice of training establishments, von Brug remarked that ‘Frankfurt was closer than Berlin-Johannisthal and at least August Euler, if not a Bavarian, was not a Prussian.’ The Bavarian Army bought seven aircraft from the Euler Company and they trained the pilots as part of the agreement.

At the beginning of 1911, financier Gustav Otto founded the Bavarian state’s first aircraft manufacturing plant – Otto-Werke GmbH, Munich. This was not the first aircraft-manufacturing venture that Otto was involved with, as he had recently acquired a financial interest in the Pfalz Werke. By the end of the summer, the Otto-Werke plant employed forty people, much to the delight of General von Brug who was the Bavarian Inspector of Aviation and Motor Vehicles. Von Brug had recently negotiated the purchase of the flying school and renamed it the Bavarian Military Flying School. Von Brug almost immediately coerced Gustav Otto into supplying him with one of his mechanics to train the Army ground personnel.

The friction between the two states raised its head when Gustav Otto asked the Prussian Army to consider a proposal from him for supplying aircraft and pilot training. This was in addition to asking for entry into an aircraft competition that the Prussians had planned for September 1912. Initially, the application was turned down out of hand because the competition was only open to Prussian aircraft manufacturers, but it was decided to admit Otto-built aircraft on the condition that in the event that his aircraft was placed in the competition, the Bavarian Army would award him 60,000 marks and accept two of the award-winning Prussian-built aircraft. This was, in the eyes of the Bavarian Army, a bonus, because not only would they have a Bavarian aircraft participating in a Prussian competition, they would be able to obtain two of the best of Prussian aircraft manufacturers.

As it turned out none of this was needed, because Gustav Otto, being the entrepreneur that he was, founded the Ago Flugzeugwerke in Johannisthal and contracted to handle all the repairs, pilot training and other contracts with the Prussian Army. The Prussian Army also put the date of the competition back until the following year and eventually cancelled it altogether.

The Ago works, a subsidiary of the Otto Werke, Munich, started building Henry Farman aircraft under licence. The Farman was a tried and trusted aircraft, at least as far as any of the very early models could be, and gave them a good foothold into the aircraft-manufacturing world. The first of these aircraft, the Ago C.I, appeared in the summer of 1915. It had a twin-boomed fuselage powered by a 150-hp Benz III engine and was used purely as a reconnaissance aircraft. It was armed with a manually operated machine gun mounted in the nose, but this was just for defensive purposes.

At the beginning of 1913, the Prussian Army had asked for tenders from the German Bristol Works, Rumpler, Albatros, Aviatik, Euler, AEG and Fokker to build an aircraft that was capable of being dismantled and transported on a purpose-built vehicle. The manufacturer selected would win an order for twelve of these aircraft and the vehicles to go with them. On hearing of this competition, General von Brug contacted Gustav Otto and suggested that he put forward a tender, which he duly did. However, the powers that be informed the Bavarian War Ministry that the General Inspectorate of the Prussian Army were only considering aircraft manufacturers that had already built successful aircraft and because the Ago Works and the AEG Werke had not even built any aircraft of their own, they were removed from the list of participants.

The second of the Ago C-models, the C.II, appeared at the end of 1915 and still retained the twin-boomed fuselage configuration, but was fitted with a more powerful 220-hp Benz IV pusher engine. The C.III, however, was a smaller twin-boomed fuselage version and was powered by a 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine. At the beginning of 1916 came the first of the single-fuselage models, the C.IV. The C.IV was the result of a great deal of experimentation with the wing design, which was one of the more unusual features of the aircraft. The wings tapered not only in shape but also in thickness and although extremely efficient, took so long to make that it limited the number of aircraft built. In order to give the observer a forward field of fire, the inner front interplane strut was removed and the outer struts placed closer together to compensate. A total of 260 of these aircraft were ordered, but it is not known exactly how many were delivered, although over seventy were known to be flying between 1917 and 1918.

Meanwhile the company produced a floatplane for the Navy at the end of 1915, the Ago C.I W. It was in reality a C.I fitted with floats and only the one was built, and that was handed over to the Navy for trials. The results from the trials produced two Ago C.II Ws, Nos. 539 and 586. The latter was fitted with a four-bladed propeller and produced excellent results. It is not known how many were built resulting from the trials.

Also in 1915 there appeared a small single-seat aircraft, the Ago DV.3. It was an unarmed reconnaissance model powered by a 100-hp Oberursel U.I rotary engine, but trials of the aircraft were unsatisfactory and only the one was built. Towards the end of the war another version, this time a single-seat fighter, the Ago S.I, was built, but the war ended before it could be tested.

Gustav Otto realised that the Prussians had the monopoly on all the non-Bavarian aircraft manufacturers and that the friction between the two major states was not going away. It was obvious that in the event of a war, and signs of this were becoming more imminent, the Bavarian War Ministry would lay claim to the entire production of his aircraft. He made General von Brug aware of his concerns, and von Brug in turn went to the Bavarian War Ministry to also voice his concerns. He realised that the Bavarian manufacturers should become an integral part of the German aircraft industry and set aside any prejudices that the individual states may have to ensure that a strict level of manufacture was maintained.

The Bavarian War Ministry agreed that there should be some form of uniformity, but would not accept any of Gustav Otto’s aircraft because they considered them to be substandard. The fact that one of his biplane aircraft had crashed on a number of occasions during the Prince Heinrich Flight demonstrations did nothing to encourage confidence in the aircraft. The Prussian Inspectorate of Flying Troops in fact accused the factory of being incapable of building any reliable military aircraft. Strangely enough, Gustav Otto’s Ago factory became one of Germany’s leading manufacturers of seaplanes and supplied large numbers of the aircraft to the German Navy, but was never able to build an aircraft that was accepted by the Prussian Army.