Dr Josef Sablatnig was born in Klagenfurt, Austria, and regarded as one of Germany’s ‘Old Eagles’. In 1903, he built his first aircraft, possibly a glider (there is no record of it ever having been flown), and deciding that there was more of a future for aviation in Germany, Josef Sablatnig moved to Berlin in 1910. That same year, he and six other aviators learned to fly on a Wright Biplane at Johannisthal, Berlin. In 1912 he entered the ‘Austrian Circuit’ race and won.
In 1913, Josef Sablatnig became a director of the Union Aircraft works at Tetlow, where he was responsible for developing the Bombhardt’s Arrow Biplane into the Union Arrow Biplane – an outstanding aircraft. During the next few years Josef Sablatnig, together with another pilot by the name of Walter Höhndorf, who later became a German fighter pilot and holder of the Order Pour le Mérite, flew the aircraft in a number of aerobatic competitions.
The exploits of these two intrepid aviators did not escape the attention of the Kaiser’s brother, Prince Heinrich, who invited Josef Sablatnig to accept German nationality. The Union Aircraft Firm ran into trouble early in 1915 and went into liquidation. Josef Sablatnig, now a nationalised German living in Berlin-Koepenick, decided to found his own company: Sablatnig Flugzeugbau GmbH.
The first aircraft to come out of the new factory was the Sablatnig SF.1. Powered by a 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine, the SF.1 was an unarmed, two-seat reconnaissance floatplane and was accepted by the Navy. Only the one was built. The long, sleek fuselage of the SF.1 was to become a characteristic of the Sablatnig aircraft that were to follow.
The SF.1 was quickly replaced by the SF.2, again unarmed, but this time fitted with a radio transmitter. The first six were delivered to the Navy between June and September 1916, and such were performance results that LFG and LVG began to produce the aircraft under licence. Seeing the potential of the seaplane, Josef Sablatnig started to explore the use of a heavy seaplane for escort duties. The result was the SF.3. Powered by a 220-hp Benz Bz.IV engine, the fuselage of the SF.3 deviated from the previous two models by having plywood covering instead of the usual fabric covering. In keeping with the CFT requirements, it was fitted with a machine gun for the observer and a radio transmitter. It was sent to the Seeflugzeug-Versuchs-Kommando or SVK (Seaplane Testing Centre) at Warnemünde for testing and evaluation, but its fate is unknown. One school of thought considers that it may have crashed during testing and no record of the event survived.
In the meantime, Sablatnig continued with developing the SF model and on 17 February 1917, delivered the Sablatnig SF.4 to the Navy. Armed with a single synchronised, fixed, forward-firing Spandau machine gun, only one of these aircraft was built, as it failed to make the grade when in competition with other seaplane manufacturers. The feedback from the tests laid the way open for the development of the SF.5. This was an improved version of the SF.2 and so successful was the aircraft that 101 were built and delivered to the Navy. This model carried no armament but was fitted with a radio transmitter.
What was rather strange was the fact that the Sablatnig factory in Berlin was in the Koepenickerstrasse, which was almost in the centre of the city. Even more unusual was the fact that the company, in addition to its own production, took over sub-contract work for Friedrichshafen. Sablatnig did, however, have a small dockyard at the Müggelsee for floatation tests. Efforts were made to acquire additional premises at Warnemünde, which were successful later in 1917.
The first of the landplanes made its appearance in 1917: the Sablatnig SF.6 (B.I). It was, in reality, an SF.2 with the floats replaced by an undercarriage, and was intended for training duties only.
The company reverted back to making seaplanes with the SF.7 and dispensed with the bracing wires, replacing them with ‘I’-type interplane struts. Three of these aircraft were built and accepted by the Navy in September 1917.
A second land model was produced at the end of 1917, the SF.C.I. A conventional two-seater, the C.I. was of wood and fabric construction and physically differed very little from the other two-seater aircraft manufactured by various companies. It was armed with One manually operated Parabellum machine gun mounted in the observer’s cockpit and was capable of carrying six 50 kg bombs. Only two were built, as the aircraft did not come up to the requirements of Idflieg.
A second C-model, the C.II, was built, incorporating the interplane ‘I’ struts that were a feature of the SF.7. It was powered by a 240-hp Maybach Mb.IV engine which gave it a top speed of 94 mph, but only the prototype was built.
In January 1918 came the Sablatnig SF.8. This was a dual-control seaplane designed and produced specifically as an instruction aircraft for flying schools. The SF.8 was sent to Warnemünde for intensive testing and passed, with the result that an additional forty were ordered. It is not known if all the aircraft were delivered, but at least twenty found their way onto the Navy’s inventory.
Sablatnig continued to try and develop a landplane without a great deal of success. The appearance, in the spring of 1918, of two Experimental C-types, both variants of the C.II aircraft, gave some hope but only the single models were ever built. A C.III was developed and was fitted with a large single wing, similar to that of the Fokker D.VII; again, only the one was built.
The need for bombers prompted Josef Sablatnig to produce a single-engine, two-seater night bomber, the Sablatnig N.I. A small number were produced during the latter half of 1918, but the end of the war put an end to any more production of aircraft by Sablatnig.
It is a sad irony that during the Second World War, Josef Sablatnig was arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp for assisting Jewish people to escape from Germany. He died in Auschwitz.