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Jews in Aeronautics, Aviation, and Astronautics

An early contribution by a Jew to aviation was the cigarshaped airship with an aluminum framework designed in 1892 by the Zagreb timber merchant David *Schwarz. His designs were sold to Count Zeppelin, who carried them through to produce the airship known as the "Zeppelin." Another pioneer of flight-theory was Josef *Popper (1838–1921), who as early as 1888 considered the problems of flight-theory in his Flugtechnik. The development of French aviation was furthered by Henri *Deutsch de la Meurthe(1846–1919), who donated the first prize won by the Brazilian Santos-Dumont in October 1901 for flying an airship around the Eiffel Tower. After establishing an experimental aeronautics station at Sartrouville, Deutsch founded the Aeronautic Institute at Saint-Cyr in 1909. His daughter Suzanne (1892–1937) continued his work. In 1901 Arthur *Berson, director of the Prussian Aeronautical Observatory and a major personality in contemporary investigations of the upper atmosphere, navigated a balloon to what was then a record height of 35,100 feet (10,700 meters), and in 1908 he made a flight over the equator in East Africa at great heights. Other Jewish aviation pioneers were Emile *Berliner, the first man to make lightweight revolving-cylinder internal-combustion engines and to equip airplanes with them; Eduard *Rumpler, whose "Rumplertaube" was used by Germany in World War I; August Goldschmidt of Vienna, an inventor of a novel type of balloon in 1911; the Russian pilot Vseuolod Abramovich, who held the world record in 1912; Fred Melchior of Sweden, an expert pilot who won many awards; Arthur L. *Welsh, U.S. aviation instructor and test pilot, who died in 1912 while testing a new load-carrying military biplane; Ellis Dunitz (1888–1913), chief instructor in the German Naval Air Service; Victor Betman, winner in 1914 of the speed flight between Vienna and Budapest; Arthur Landmann of Germany, holder of the world endurance record for 1914; and Leonino Da Zara, the father of Italian aeronautics.

Interwar Period

Marcel Bloch (later *Dassault) became a major aircraft manufacturer in France from the period between the two world wars. Harry F. Guggenheim (see *Guggenheim Family) was a U.S. pilot in World War I, and later a lieutenant-commander in the U.S. Navy (and U.S. ambassador to Cuba). His father, Daniel Guggenheim, established the Guggenheim Foundation, at that time the leading private organization in the aeronautics field, and in 1925 he created a pioneer school of aeronautics at New York University. Still active after World War I, Emile Berliner, with the help of his son Henry Adler *Berliner, designed and built three different kinds of helicopters (1919–26). Karl Arnstein was chief construction engineer with the Zeppelin Company; in 1924 one of his airships flew the Atlantic. With the coming of the Nazis he left Germany for America, and from 1934 was employed by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation as chief engineer and vice president. Among the many airships he designed were the dirigibles "Los Angeles" and "Akron," which were used by the U.S. Navy. America's first civilian superintendent of airmail was Captain Benjamin B. Lipsner, and Harold Zinn of Savannah was the first flying mail carrier in North and South Carolina. Sergeant Benjamin Roth was the mechanic in the aeronautic squad in the Byrd expedition to the Antarctic in the 1920s. Professor Aldo Pontremoli, head of the department of physics at the University of Milan, was in charge of meteorological research in the 1928 Italian expedition to the North Pole, an expedition which cost him his life. Charles A. Levine (1897–1991) was the first flight passenger over the Atlantic. In 1927 he traveled 3,903 mi. (6,295 km. – a world record at the time) from New York to Eisleben, Germany. Levine himself financed this pioneer flight. In 1930 the Viennese Robert Kronfeld created a world record by gliding 93 mi. (150 km.) and in 1931 he won the London Daily Mail prize by gliding over the English Channel. Jewish women pilots included Mildred Kauffman of Kansas City, Peggy Salaman of England (winner of the third prize in the King's Cup Race in 1931 who established a record in the same year by her flight from England to Cape Town with Gordon Score), and Lena Bernstein of France. A number of Jews were also academic authorities on aerodynamics.

Postwar Aeronautics

Sir Ben *Lockspeiser was deputy director at the British Ministry of Aircraft Production in the critical years of the war from 1941. In France, René Bloch was director of aviation in the French Navy and later in the Ministry of Defense. Erich Schatzki was a pilot and then chief engineer of Lufthansa in pre-Nazi days, and an early general manager of Israel's El Al. Benedict Cohn was head aerodynamicist for the Boeing Company, and Benjamin Pinkel headed the Rand Corporation's aero-astronautical department. Richard Shevell (1920–2000) helped design the DC-10 at Douglas Aircraft and taught aeronautics at Stanford.


Jews were involved in the activities of the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics in the U.S.A., and many are concerned with some aspect or other of its successor organization, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which operates the U.S. astronautical program. Three directors of large divisions of NASA were Abe *Silverstein (Lewis Research Center), Abraham Hyatt (program planning and evaluation), and Leonard Jaffe (Communications Systems of Satellites). Daniel Saul *Goldin was the longest-serving director of NASA (1992–2001). Astronaut Jeffrey *Hoffman (1944– ) participated in five space missions in the 1980s and 1990s. Two Jewish astronauts who met tragic ends were Judith *Resnik, who died on January 28, 1986, on a space shuttle mission when her Challenger spacecraft blew up on launch, and the Israeli Ilan *Ramon, lost on re-entry in the Columbia mission of January 16–February 1, 2003.

Little is known of the personalities involved in the technical management of the Soviet space program. While it is quite likely that some of them are of Jewish origin, this cannot actually be proved. However, the Soviet cosmonaut Lieutenant-Colonel Boris Volynov, commander of spaceship "Soyuz-5" which in January 1969 performed the first link-up in space with a transfer of cosmonauts from one spaceship to another, was reported to be Jewish.

[Samuel Aaron Miller]

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.