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Saenger, Eugen Albert
German-Austrian rocket pioneer; designer of Silverbird space bomber. Worked at Trauen for Luftwaffe 1936-1944 on rocket and ramjet development; for the French 1946-1954. Research in Germany 1954-1963 included winged shuttle designs.

Born: 1905-09-22. Died: 1964-02-10. Birth Place: Pressnitz.

Saenger began university studying civil engineering in Graz. After reading Oberth's book on the feasibility of manned spaceflight, he transferred to the Technical University in Vienna and graduated with a degree in aeronautics in 1931. His original thesis on rocket propulsion was rejected, so he had to write a completely different one on the less controversial topic of experimental airfoil design. He began pioneering testing of rocket engines at Vienna and published his original thesis as Raketenflugtechnik (Rocket Flight Engineering) in 1933. The book was a quantum leap ahead of other work at the time, covering in great mathematical detail the design of rocketplanes, space stations, and even interplanetary travel using ion engines that could attain relativistic velocities.

Saenger's rocketplane design was a horizontal takeoff-and-landing, hypersonic glider. Assuming a liquid propellant rocket engine with an exhaust velocity of 3700 m/s, and a mass ratio of 7:1, Saenger calculated that his rocketplane would have a range of 4000 to 6000 km while gliding at Mach 13 at 40 to 60 km altitude.

From 1932 to 1934 Saenger perfected (through countless static tests of various propellant combinations) a regeneratively-cooled liquid-propellant rocket engine. The unit reached a thrust of 30 kgf and demonstrated exhaust velocities of 3000 m/s at 50 atmospheres chamber pressure. Saenger also demonstrated expansion-cycle fuel pumps, the effects of a variety of expansion nozzles, and improved performance through the addition of metals to the fuel. Saenger applied to the Austrian Ministry of Defence for financial support to continue his research, but their experts pronounced his ideas unworkable.

Articles on Saenger's work in the Austrian journal Flight in June 1935 brought him to the attention of the German High Command. He was invited by the Luftwaffe in February 1936 to come to Germany and build a secret aerospace research institute at Trauen to develop his Silverbird manned intercontinental hypersonic bomber concept. Saenger headed a little-noticed team at Trauen that worked in parallel with (and in advance of) the Von Braun Army team at Peenemuende. The facilities at Trauen were enormous, with a liquid oxygen storage capacity of 56 metric tons. By 1942 Saenger had tested rocket engines at chamber pressures of 100 atmospheres, powered by high-energy propellants with exotic additives, and components of a 100-metric ton thrust engine. A test rig allowed tests of rail designs up to 800 m/s to assist in the design of Silverbird's launch track. Air tunnel tests and theoretical work allowed the aerodynamic shape of the spaceplane to be refined and made suitable for both subsonic and hypersonic flight. His collaborator Irene Bredt worked with Saenger to develop the equations necessary to calculate winged flight at the near-vacuum of the edge of space.

However Saenger estimated it would take twenty years of development to produce an operational system, a time scale much too long for the Hitler government. Officially Saenger's work after 1942 was restricted primarily to ramjet development. The government did not allow the design study on the Silverbird to be issued until August 1944, too late to be of any interest as the Third Reich entered its death throes (although there is a hint that a partially completed spaceplane airframe was found by the Americans at the secret development center at Lofer, Austria).

Saenger's ramjet engines were ground and flight-tested from 1939 to April 1944. The ramjet promised a more efficient method of propulsion than the rocket at the high speeds and altitudes Saenger hoped to attain.

After the war Saenger refused to work with the Americans or the Russians. The Americans debriefed and interrogated Saenger 25 times between May 15 and November 23, 1945, and detained or imprisoned him twice. The head of the DFS, Walter Georgii, head of the Luftwaffe's aeronautical research, had good connections in France. He arranged through the French Ministry of Air for Saenger to be employed by would later be Nord Aviation at Chatillon, near Paris. Saenger and Bredt moved to France in July 1946 and were married there in 1951. Here they would work on several advanced French projects of the 1950's, including the SS-10 antitank missile, the Griffon turboramjet experimental aircraft, and the R-010 ramjet missile.

Stalin was personally fascinated with Saenger's antipodal bomber. At a meeting on 4 April 1947 Stalin ordered his son, Vassiliy, to personally go to France and 'persuade' Saenger to work for the Soviet Union. The scheme was thwarted when aviation engineer G A Tokayev of the Zhukovskiy Academy, who was present at the meeting, defected to the British and blew the operation. The French secret police managed to thwart any further kidnap attempts by their Russian counterparts. Stalin meanwhile ordered the leading Soviet aerodynamicist, Keldysh, to head a team to develop a Soviet copy of Silverbird. Keldysh designed a ramjet-powered version of the spaceplane, but finally determined that the design was not feasible in the near term.

Taking the Saenger bomber as the starting point, the Americans developed the Dynasoar spaceplane, and the Russians the Burya and Buran intercontinental cruise missiles. All were eventually canceled.

While in France, in collaboration with space writer Alexandre Ananoff, Saenger was instrumental in founding the International Astronautical Federation. Saenger chaired the founding meeting, on 30 September 1950, and became its first President in 1951. Although Saenger's plans for a UN-sponsored Astronautical Research Institute were not realized, the IAF did become one of the few forums for sharing of international research on spaceflight during the Cold War. At its 1956 meeting, Saenger described his conceptual design for an interstellar spacecraft powered by the conversion of matter to pure energy. Due to time dilation effects, the ship would reach a star system 100 light-years away in only ten years apparent time aboard the ship.

In September 1954 the Allies had allowed Germany to resume aerospace research, and Saenger took a post as head of a new Institute for the Physics of Jet Propulsion at Stuttgart. Here he worked on steam rockets, plasma engines, and other advanced concepts. Extensive facilities were built, including large-scale engine test stands at Lampoldshausen.

In 1961 Saenger was implicated in assisting the Egyptians to develop ballistic missiles. Saenger admitted going to Egypt on several trips as a consultant, but vigorously denied being involved with the German enterprise that was developing weapons for Egypt. The public clamor forced Saenger to resign in November 1961 and his institute to be taken over by a federal German Agency, the DFLR.

By October 1962 Saenger had been cleared of other charges of spying for the Soviet Union and was considered 'rehabilitated'. He accepted a professorship in October 1963 at the Technical University of Berlin.

Meanwhile renewed German work on spaceplane design began at Messerschmidt-Boelkow-Bloehm (MBB) in 1961, as a result of a vigorous campaign by Saenger to have German industry finally realize his thirty-year old dream of manned winged spaceflight. Putting together the innovative ideas of years of research, Saenger proposed an updated version of Silverbird. A steam-rocket rail launcher would catapult the 200 metric ton spaceplane to a horizontal takeoff. The single-stage spaceplane would use a liquid oxygen/hydrogen engine with an exhaust velocity of 4200 m/s to put a three metric ton payload into orbit. A second phase design would use an integrated rocket-ramjet for a true single-stage-to-orbit vehicle. Saenger completed the 32nd chapter of his study of this spacecraft on the last morning of his life. He died suddenly while lecturing to his students in Berlin on 10 February 1964. MBB continued it studies in the period 1962-1969, and Saenger's designs were renewed again in the 1980's, but post-war Germany never had interest in funding a major spaceflight project.


Saenger Antipodal Bomber German sled-launched intercontinental boost-glide missile. Saenger-Bredt antipodal bomber - sled launched, boosted to suborbital velocity, 'skips' off upper atmosphere to deliver bomb load on target, recovery back at launch site. Fascinated Stalin, led to US Dynasoar project. Post-war, Saenger designed two-stage HTOHL space shuttles in Germany.

Lofer Mystery Craft German manned spaceplane. Hardware construction stage, 1945. There exist in US Army postwar files a murky photo of what some think is a large-scale mock-up of the Saenger antipodal bomber, taken in Lofer, Austria after the end of the World War II.

Saenger I German winged orbital launch vehicle. Studied by MBB 1962-1969. Final version of the Saenger spaceplane, as conceived by Eugen Saenger during his lifetime. A rocket propelled sled would be used for horizontal launch of delta-winged, rocket-propelled first and second stages. An alternate version used a vertical-launch, horizontal landing, two-stage winged launch vehicle.

Saenger II Proposed two stage to orbit vehicle. Air-breathing hypersonic first stage and delta wing second stage. The German Hypersonics Programme and its Saenger II reference vehicle received most of the domestic funding for spaceplane development in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

LART German winged orbital launch vehicle. MBB/ERNO air breathing horizontal takeoff / horizontal landing single stage to orbit proposal from the mid-1980s. Largely similar to the BAe HOTOL.

Horus German manned spaceplane. Hypersonic Orbital Upper Stage was part of the Saenger-II spaceplane studied in Germany from 1985-1993. It would have separated from the lower stage at Mach 6.6 and flown to orbit.

Hytex German manned rocketplane. Study 1995. Following the cancellation of Saenger II, Germany briefly considered a manned X-15/NASP type flight test vehicle (HYTEX) capable of Mach 6 flight. This too was cancelled for cost reasons.

Country: Czech Republic, Germany. Engines: Sanger-Bredt Sled. Spacecraft: Dynasoar. Launch Vehicles: Saenger Antipodal Bomber, Keldysh Bomber, Saenger I. Bibliography: 1982, 47, 5965.
Photo Gallery

Test site at Trauen

1905 September 22 - .
  • Birth of Eugen Albert Saenger - . Nation: Czech Republic. Related Persons: Saenger. German-Austrian rocket pioneer; designer of Silverbird space bomber. Worked at Trauen for Luftwaffe 1936-1944 on rocket and ramjet development; for the French 1946-1954. Research in Germany 1954-1963 included winged shuttle designs..

October 1933 - .
  • Saenger proposal to the Austrian Army - . Nation: Austria. Related Persons: Saenger. Saenger proposes development of a rocket-powered hypersonic bomber..

Late 1933 - . LV Family: German Rocketplanes. Launch Vehicle: Saenger Antipodal Bomber.
  • Saenger begins rocket engine tests. - . Nation: Germany. Related Persons: Saenger. Eugen Saenger begins a series of rocket engine tests in Vienna. He methodically explores various propellant combinations and additives through the end of 1934..

1934 February 3 - .
  • Austrian Defence Ministry rejects Saenger's rocketplane proposal - . Nation: Austria. Related Persons: Saenger. The Ministry rejects Saenger's prposed rocket bomber, on the grounds that liquid rocket engines will never be feasible due to the explosive nature of the chemical reactions involved..

1934 March 15 - .
  • Saenger rocket engine - . Nation: Austria. Related Persons: Saenger. Saenger's Experiment Number 25 is the first to successfully sustain combustion. The water-cooled combustion chamber sustains an internal pressure of 15 atmospheres for 30 seconds..

June 1934 - .
  • Saenger studies fuel additives - . Nation: Austria. Related Persons: Saenger. Saenger's engine experiments showed that lithium best improved motor performance in engines with liquid oxygen oxidiser..

August 1934 - .
  • Saenger motor - . Nation: Austria. Related Persons: Saenger. Saenger's rocket engine achieves a sustained thrust of 30 kgf. Saenger is the first to observe shock diamonds in the exhaust..

December 1934 - .
  • Saenger paper on rocket-propelled aircraft - . Nation: Austria. Related Persons: Saenger. Eugen Saenger published Neuere Ergebnisse der Rakenflugtechnik (New Possibilities for Rocket Flight Technology) in Vienna. However the dean of the Vienna Technische Hochschule prohibits Saenger from conducting any further rocket experiments..

March 1935 - .
  • GALCIT lecture on rocket-propelled aircraft. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Saenger.

    At one of the weekly GALCIT seminars William Bollay reviewed the possibilities of a rocket-powered aircraft based upon a paper published in December 1934, by Eugen Saenger. This and a subsequent October lecture led to a group of enthusiasts beginning work at Caltech on development of a liquid rocket motor.

Early 1940 - .
  • Von Braun learns of Saenger's secret work at Trauen - . Nation: Germany. Related Persons: Hermann, Rudolf, Saenger, Thiel, Walter, von Braun.

    Saenger's advanced rocketry work was so secret that Von Braun was not even aware of it until one of his team, looking for a new method of rocket ignition, heard of its existence. Von Braun, Walter Thiel, and Rudolf Hermann were finally given a tour of Saenger's advanced facilities at Trauen.

October 1940 - .
  • Saenger attends hypersonics conference at Peenemuende. - . Nation: Germany. Related Persons: Saenger, von Braun. Reciprocating his visit to Saenger's Trauen facility earlier in the year, Von Braun obtains permission for Saenger to attend a hypersonics symposium at Peenemuende..

August 1944 - . LV Family: German Rocketplanes. Launch Vehicle: Saenger Antipodal Bomber.
  • Saenger antipodal bomber - . Nation: Germany. Related Persons: Saenger. Spacecraft: Dynasoar.

    Eugen Saenger and Irene Bredt issue their final 400-page report on the Saenger antipodal bomber - a rocket boosted skip-glide spaceplane with global range. Only 100 numbered copies are printed, and distributed to German political and scientific leaders. The futuristic scheme would have taken many years to develop and was of only academic interest to the German government. But copies of the report fell into the hands of the Americans and Russians after the war, spawning major development projects in the fifties.

1946 November 29 - . Launch Vehicle: Keldysh Bomber.
  • Keldysh Space Bomber authorised - . Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Keldysh, Saenger. Program: Navaho.

    The NII-1 NKAP research institute was formed with Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh as its head to investigate and develop the German Saenger-Bredt design. It was clear from the preliminary study that an immense amount of work needed to be done before a draft project of a feasible design could be prepared - it would take until the mid-1950's.

1947 April 4 - .
  • Stalin meeting on Saenger bomber - . Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Saenger.

    Stalin is fascinated with Saenger's design for an intercontinental rocket bomber. He calls a meeting in the Kremlin, and orders Serov to locate Saenger and bring him to Russia. However Saenger is in Paris, and attempts to kidnap him are thwarted by the French secret police.

1949 October - . LV Family: Groettrup. Launch Vehicle: G-3.
  • Albring G-3 cruise missile - . Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Albring, Groettrup, Saenger, Ustinov. Program: Navaho.

    German aerodynamicist Albring designed the G-3 missile for the Russians. This would use a rocket-powered Groettrup-designed G-1 as the first stage. The cruise stage would have an aerodynamic layout like that of the Saenger-Bredt rocket-powered antipodal bomber of World War II. Cruising at 13 km altitude, the supersonic missile would carry a 3000 kg warhead to a range of 2900 km. This was an alternate approach to Ustinov's 3000 kg over 3000 km range missile requirement of April 1949. This design would be elaborated at Korolev's bureau into the EKR ramjet design of 1953.

1962 July 21 - .
  • Egyptians parade rockets - . Nation: Egypt. Related Persons: Kleinwaechter, Pilz, Saenger.

    The Egyptian government exhibits mock-ups of missiles they are developing with assistance from German engineers. The El Qahir (conqueror) is 11 m long and was said to have a range of 600 km. The El Zafir (Victor) is 5.5 km long and had a range of 300 km. Later it is announced that a two-stage Al Ared (Pioneer) rocket is being developed that will have a range of 1000 km. A modification of this will be capable of launching satellites. Engineers involved in development of the rockets are said to be Wolfgang Pilz, Hans Goercke, and Hans Kleinwaechter. Eugen Saenger at the Stuttgart Propulsion Institute is also implicated. Saenger, who is working with his wife on steam-rocket boosted ramjet aircraft, denies this.

1964 February 10 - .
  • Death of Eugen Albert Saenger - . Nation: Czech Republic. Related Persons: Saenger. German-Austrian rocket pioneer; designer of Silverbird space bomber. Worked at Trauen for Luftwaffe 1936-1944 on rocket and ramjet development; for the French 1946-1954. Research in Germany 1954-1963 included winged shuttle designs..

1964 February 10 - .
  • Death of Eugen Saenger - . Nation: Germany. Related Persons: Saenger. Saenger dies of a heart attack in Berlin while lecturing to his students at the Technical University in Berlin.

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