BARON von KOENIG-WARTHAUSEN
2. THE FLIGHT
When reading of the adventures of Baron von Koenig-Warthausen, is it the German name, or his title, that brings to mind Baron Munchausen whose extravagant and extraordinary adventures are hard to believe. However, the story of the young Baron is nevertheless very interesting and worthy of being told. He left Berlin in a very light aircraft to fly to Moscow, and finished up flying all the way around the world… Baron F.K. Koenig-Warthausen was educated in Britain and was fascinated by aviation. On hearing of the Hindenburg Cup, created by President Hindenburg and awarded annually for the best sporting flight by an amateur pilot, he decided to compete for it.
In May 1928, with a lot of help from his mother, the young Baron convinced his father to buy him an aircraft, namely a Klemm, and after only 12 hours training, he obtained his pilot licence.
The aircraft was one of the many designed and built by Hans Klemm. In fact, with a high aspect ratio, a very low wing loading and a very small engine (a Daimler of 20 HP), it would probably today be called a motorised glider, rather than an aircraft. The aircraft was christened Comrade. After only 5 hours to familiarize himself on the Klemm, the young Baron took off from Berlin for Moscow with less than 20 hours of solo flight. This flight was the one the Baron had chosen to use to compete for the Hindenburg Cup. His only equipment was a flare pistol, a pocket compass, a few tools and some maps, and the aircraft was only equipped with an altimeter, fuel gauge, oil pressure indicator, and an outside thermometer.
After waiting for suitable winds, Koenig-Warthausen left Berlin on a beautiful night, at midnight, on August 9th, 1928. He carried more than 50 gallons of fuel, enough to cover the distance from Berlin to Moscow twice. A thermos of tea became useless when it rolled out of reach. After flying over Dantzig and crossing the river Beresina, it began to rain, and 14 hours into the flight, the Baron was wet and thirsty and decided to land near a village. The Baron was unable to use his dictionary after discovering he could not read the Russian letters. Finally he rang the German Consul in Berlin who came to pick him up and drove him to the capital. He was only a few miles from his goal.
Koenig-Warthausen returned to his aircraft the next morning and flew to Chodinka, Moscow airport. The young Baron rested for 5 days in Moscow, and then decided to continue traveling, but to where, he did not know. He sent a telegram to his parents telling them he was to continue his flight. The Baron left Moscow in the direction of Teheran, on August 14th. He crossed the Caucase Mountains and landed at Baku, before flying across the Caspian Sea and landing at Pachlevi. Before reaching Teheran, Koenig-Warthausen ran out of fuel and landed on a road. A motorist gave him petrol from his car and the Baron was able to continue. In Teheran, he was introduced to the Shah and looked around Persia, as the country was then called.
On September 23d, Koenig-Warthausen left Teheran to continue traveling, making Ispahan his first stop, then Shiraz. It was so hot on the following leg that he decided to stop and rest, but after landing on the edge of a precipice, there was not enough space to take off again. The mail truck took him back to Shiraz to a new friend he had made there. Together they drove back to the aircraft, and with some local help, they prepared a make shift runway and the Baron managed to take off. He returned again to Shiraz after stopping to visit the ruins of Persepolis.
Finally, after several days in Shiraz, Koenig-Warthausen left in the direction of Bushire on the coast, but again, he had to make another forced landing when he ran out of fuel. A local Sheikh helped him to find some petrol and he made it to Bushire. There, he was presented with a cable announcing he had won the Hindenburg Cup. It is also here that he met Baron von Huenefeld, the famous German aviator. Von Huenefeld was on board one of the Junkers, W33 Bremen, which was used for the first Atlantic crossing East to West on April 13 and 14 in 1928. The pilots were Carl Spinder and Cpt. Herman Köhl, and the navigator was Irishman Major Fitzmaurice.
It is also in Bushire that Koenig-Warthausen made the decision to fly on to Karachi, in what is now Pakistan. He landed in Bandar-Abbas where he stayed 2 days. On the following leg, a noise in the engine forced him to land immediately. One of the engine bolts had worked loose, and on tightening it, he broke the head off the bolt. He returned to Bandar-Abbas where a car mechanic helped him replace the bolt. On the next leg, the Baron was advised to follow the telegraph line, and to cut a wire should he be in trouble again. This would signal the operators that someone was in difficulties along the line.
Koenig-Warthausen stayed 5 weeks in Karachi where he was supposed to put his aircraft on a ship and return to Germany. However, again the young Baron changed his mind, and decided to fly on to Calcutta. The Baron left Karachi on December 17th and stopped in Nasirabad and Agra. In Agra he stayed two days and visited the Taj Mahal, which he greatly admired. From there he continued toward Allahabad and Gaya. On December 23rd he left Gaya in order to spend Christmas in Calcutta. He was received by the German Consul who organized several hunting parties and a trip to Tibet. On his way in Calcutta he met Ghandi. After 2 months in Calcutta, the Baron cancelled his booking on the ocean liner that was to take him back to Germany and decided once again to continue his flight to the east. He ordered parts for his aircraft which arrived in 4 weeks, and after a few repairs, he left for Singapore on February 5th. First stop was in Akyab in Burma, and then on to Rangoon. He had to cross a tropical thunderstorm which are so frequent in those parts of the world, and finally he found the railway line linking Bangkok to Singapore. After the stress of the storm, this came as quite a relief. He spent 10 days in Bangkok during the time of the Coronation celebrations, and was received by the King of Siam and the Crown Prince who had been Minister for Siam in Berlin and was fluent in German. The Princess gave him a rare Siamese cat which he called Felix, and kept with him for the rest of the trip.
Monsoon rains delayed the Baron in Bangkok, so he used the time to visit Siam and went all the way to Angkor Vat. He met the French aviator Viscount de Sibour and his wife who were on a flying honey moon around the world. The Baron believed them to be the first couple to fly around the world. De Sibour later flew in the Mac Robertson Air Race between London and Melbourne in 1934 in a Cousinet aircraft. Also, during the Baron's stay in Bangkok, the French aviator Le Brix made a forced landing near Moulmein on the west coast when his aircraft caught fire in flight. Le Brix escaped unharmed, but his mechanic suffered a broken leg.
After a very pleasant stay in Bangkok, the young baron finally left for Singapore on March 25th with Felix the cat in a box. Felix did not like that first leg, but later became used to flying. They stopped in Prachuap Kiri Khan and Songkhla, and flying over Penang, Koenig-Warthausen and Felix experienced another tropical storm.
The Baron stayed 3 weeks in Singapore and, with Felix, made a short flight south to cross the Equator, a first for both of them. His plan was to fly to Batavia, now known as Jakarta, and board a ship for Germany. Again Koenig-Warthausen changed his mind, and at the last minute decided once again to continue his flight. This time the Baron's destination was the Philippines where he was booked to board a ship home, but as was becoming a habit, the Baron decided to fly on to China and Japan.
In fact, Koenig-Warthausen's new decision was not to just fly to China and Japan, but to fly around the world. He was advised not to fly across Indochina, so boarded a ship to Hong Kong, but continued on to Shanghai. He flew to Nankin and back, where he met Chiang Kai Tcheck.
From Nankin, the Baron boarded a ship for Kobe in Japan, where he spent 3 weeks, before taking up passage on a ship bound for America.
The Siberia Maru left Yokohama on May 25th , and after a short stop in Hawaii where the Baron did a few local flights on a Waco, he arrived in San Francisco on June 8th. While aboard, Felix disgraced himself by eating the Captain's canary The aircraft was taken to Alameda, repaired and reassembled. After learning of the death of his friend von Huenfeld, the Baron changed the name of the Klemm from Comerade to Huenefeld.
Koenig-Warthausen was very impressed by the American hospitality and he thought America was a paradise for flyers. He made a few local flights around the area, including flying over the Golden Gate.
After 10 days in San Francisco, the Baron flew to Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson in Arizona, and El Paso in Texas.
On July 12th, the taxicab driving Koenig-Warthausen to the airport had a major accident and he woke up in hospital. The cat was later found, unharmed. The Baron spent 2 months convalescing in El Paso. It is during this forced stay, that the German airship Graf Zeppelin went through the town. The young Baron was very impressed and very proud of being German. He also learnt that by arriving in New York before October 31st he had won the Hindenburg Cup again. With permission from the doctor to leave the hospital, the young Baron departed on September 15th. Landing at Sweetwater, still in Texas, the landing gear sank in the mud, and the aircraft ground looped and nosed over. The Baron contacted the representative of Klemm in New York to get replacement parts. He was sent one complete wing and other parts, but as the repairs could only be carried out in Dallas, it was necessary to transport the Klemm there. The remainder of the flight became a race against time to make the deadline of October 31st.
Koenig-Warthausen stopped in Saint Louis and Chicago. As usual, he was well received, but had to shorten his stays as he was in a hurry to be in New York. He left Chicago on October 17th , but on landing in Detroit, discovered one engine valve had broken. A new one was sent from New York and arrived in 4 days. This was the first time the Baron had experienced an engine breakdown. He spent 4 days in Detroit and visited the Ford auto plant, but time was running out, and he took a short cut through the Great Lakes and Canada. Water in the fuel caused the Baron to make a forced landing in London in Ontario. He continued on despite a violent snow storm, landing in Hamilton, then flew over the Niagara Falls and on to Buffalo. Here he met Captains Smith and Wade, famous for their flight around the world in 1924 in the Douglas World Cruisers. The young Baron then landed in Syracuse and Albany in very bad weather before finally arriving at Roosevelt Field on Long Island. It was here that Lindbergh took off on May 20th, 1927 for his famous flight across the Atlantic.
Several days of receptions followed, with interviews and speeches, including a short visit to Washington, and finally, on November 15th, Koenig-Warthausen boarded Bremen bound for Europe. After a short stop in Cherbourg he arrived in Bremen Haven on November 21st.
Koenig-Warthausen had the Klemm reassembled, but due to thick fog, he was unable to fly any further than Hanover. As in a Buster Keating film, the train he boarded for Berlin broke down, and his hire car burst a tyre on the outskirts of Berlin. Found by friends who were searching for him, 'welcoming' began in the streets before he was received at the Opera, where his parents were waiting for him. In the following days, the young Baron went from reception to reception. He also met President von Hindenburg, who presented him with the Cup he had won the previous year.
Young Baron F.K.Koenig-Warthausen flew around the world solo in a very light aircraft. Due to the Klemm's range, it could be argued that the Baron did not fly all the way around the world. It could also be said that the flight took place following successive flights by continuing what was supposed to be a simple flight from Berlin and Moscow. 'True' flights around the world are the result of a firm intention to do so, and are the object of an intense preparation. However, Koenig-Warthausen's achievement remains, and he was the first to have solo'd the globe in a low powered aircraft with only rudimentary navigation equipment. Koenig-Warthausen remained very modest both throughout his flight, and later, when talking about his great feat.
Following the young Baron's flight, two more successful efforts were made in light aircraft without the range to cross the oceans, and these are the flights of the Honorable Mrs. Bruce in 1930, and Elly Beinhorn in 1931.
The Klemm, as previously mentioned, could be likened to a motorized glider more than an aircraft, but it nevertheless had a fairly good range. However, this did not prevent Koenig-Warthausen being forced to land several times after running out of fuel. The low wing loading, and therefore the low stalling speed, allowed him to get out of many difficult situations. The Baron made his flight at a time when aviation was still very young, and even totally unknown in some places he visited. Koenig-Warthausen took his time, visiting most of the countries he flew over, and was well received wherever he went. Consuls of Great Britain and Germany, and the authorities of most of the countries he visited, did all they could to help him. This was due in part to personal contacts and his title, but mainly because of the novelty and the rarity of such a flight at that time. This is in contrast with the administrative harassment and the irksome formalities of today where general aviation aircraft and pilots find they are less welcome, with lengthy imposed formalities to endure, especially in Asia, compared to the ease given to airline passengers. To quote the famous Australian pilot, Dick Smith; "The length of entry formalities is inversely in relation to the development of a country".
Last update : February 8, 2011
Copyright © Claude Meunier 2000-2011