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Ju 52 Trimotor
The Junkers Ju 52 trimotor banks past a Grumman F8F Bearcat in the Warbirds area at AirVenture 2012. (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
Ju 52 Trimotor
To pull the props on the Ju 52 trimotor beforer starting engines, Hans Peter Sennhauser uses a pole fitted with a large elastic loop. (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)

By Frederick A. Johnsen

If you're a fan of war movies of a certain era, you saw the Ju 52 trimotor that is at AirVenture in Where Eagles Dare, among other celluloid credits, including the more recent Operation Valkyrie.

But don't let warlike dress-up fool you; this German transport flew in the air force of neutral Switzerland before becoming a civil aviation star.

Bernd Huckenbeck with the company Ju Air is one of many handlers for the German-built 1939 Swiss trimotor at the show. He said this airframe has not needed a major rebuild or restoration because it has been largely in continual service since it was delivered to Zurich so many decades ago.

Bernd slots the Ju 52 design somewhere between the older Ford Tri-Motor and the more modern DC-3. He says the DC-3 upped the ante on airline passenger accommodations, but the Ju 52 has remarkable stability and maneuverability.

Those assets have kept it viable in mountainous Switzerland for years, Bernd says. Before the common availability of helicopters, nimble but slow Swiss Ju 52s were employed to airdrop emergency supplies to farmers stranded in the Alps during extreme weather.

The Junkers at AirVenture served the Swiss military from 1939 to 1982. In that time it dropped paratroops and served as a navigation and communications trainer, Bernd said.

He explained that the German Luftwaffe initially realized the Ju 52's potential as a cargo transport and airliner, and then decided it could be fitted as a bomber. But its combat vulnerability was its speed.

"It's so slow," Bernd says. "It's a bit faster than a Zeppelin."

Perhaps not good credentials for survival as a bomber, but the Ju 52 as a transport performed medical and other evacuations from the Russian front that endeared it to a generation of Germans. For that, it is well known in Germany, Bernd says.

Ju 52s served several countries after the war, mostly in the transport role. In addition to German production, a factory in occupied France produced the tri-motors both during occupation and after liberation. Spain also manufactured license-built versions.

The Ju 52 has a wingspan of nearly 96 feet, a length of 62 feet, and a height of 14 feet 9 inches. With its fixed gear, it cruises at about 138 mph.

The Ju 52 at AirVenture rides behind three BMW 132 engines turning fixed-pitch two-blade aluminum propellers. Supplies of original propellers are limited, so some new stock had to be made. And, like vintage aircraft operators everywhere, Bernd and his compatriots keep an eye out for BMW radial engine parts.

The Ju 52 is sponsored on tour of the United States by Rimowa, a maker of durable luggage that resembles the corrugated skin of the airliner.


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