Special Collections Department
403 Parks Library
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011-2140

MS 243
Alexander Lippisch (1894-1976)
Papers, 1897-1993, undated

Descriptive summary

creator: Lippisch, Alexander (1894-1976)
title: Papers
dates: 1897-1993, undated
extent: 71.22 linear feet (103 document boxes, 9 tubes, 6 map case drawers, 7 lantern slide boxes)
collection number: MS 243
repository: Special Collections Department, Iowa State University.


Administrative information

access: Open for research
publication rights: Consult Head, Special Collections Department
preferred citation: Alexander Lippisch Papers, MS 243, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.


Biographical note

Alexander Martin Lippisch was born on 2 November 1894 in Munich, Germany, the son of Franz and Clara (Commichau) Lippisch. His father was an artist. Alexander was educated at schools in Berlin and Jena, Germany, and was planning to enter art school when the First World War began. He enlisted in Germany's armed forces in 1915, and served until 1918 as an aerial photographer and mapper. In 1943 he was awarded a doctoral degree at the University of Heidelberg.

Lippisch worked for the Dornier Aircraft Company in Friedrichshafen, Germany, as an aerodynamicist from 1918-1922. He was employed as a glider designer for Weltensegler, Inc. in Baden-Baden (1922-1923); as a designer for A. G. Steinmann, Hagen, Westphalia (1923-1925); and in 1925 he joined the staff of the aerodynamics and design department of the Rhon-Rossittengesellschaft, north of Frankfurt. From 1933-1939 he was in Darmstadt as chief of the technical department of the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fur Segelflug (DFS). DFS sent him to the Messerschmitt Company in 1939, to head a department to develop a rocket fighter for the Air Ministry. From 1943-1945 he served as director of research for the Aeronautical Research Institute in Vienna, Austria.

He came to the United States in January 1946 as a part of the Operation Paper Clip program administered by the United States Department of Defense. He was stationed at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, where he stayed until December 1946 when his family joined him. He worked for the Naval Air Materiel Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1946-1950. Lippisch and his family received United States citizenship in 1956.

In 1950 Lippisch accepted employment at Collins Radio Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was director of the aeronautical division until 1964. One of his first projects at Collins was the design of a high-speed smoke tunnel. Lippisch's work on smoke tunnel flow visualization led to a thirteen part television series in 1955, entitled The Secret of Flight. The series addressed the amateur viewer, demonstrating the principle of flight through the use of simple models and a smoke wind tunnel. A believer in the importance of a broad education, Lippisch gave many lectures on the significance and the history of flight.

He also worked on remote powered vehicles which led to his concept of the Aerodyne. This wingless aircraft was suspended solely by the thrust of its engines and was capable of vertical takeoff and landing. The Aerodyne project was discontinued in 1960, at which time Lippisch became the director of the hydrodynamic laboratory at Collins.

He designed a high speed boat which performed very well up to a certain speed, but beyond that point the aerodynamic forces lifted the bow too much. This triggered his interest, and he proposed a boat whose hull would lift out of the water by means of short airplane type wings. This idea was utilized in the aerofoil boat, which was a seaplane that flew efficiently near the ground or water surface. It was powered by a conventional aircraft propeller and was capable of flying far from the ground like a regular airplane. The first full scale aerofoil boat was the Collin X-112. It was first flown in 1965.

Lippisch retired from Collins Radio Company in 1964. He underwent lung surgery and upon recovery found himself desiring to continue his work in aircraft design. He consulted for several United States and German companies on the designs of Aerodynes, Aeroskimmers, and Aerofoil boats.

In the mid 1920s a friend sent Lippisch a flying seed of a tropical plant. This seed was essentially an arrow shaped wing, and as others had done before him, Lippisch based his tailless arrow shaped aircraft on this example from nature. A private sponsor saw one of these designs and thought it would be possible to build a large version of this type for use as a trans-oceanic transport. However, Lippisch felt that the wing near the body should be thicker so that it could be utilized for additional storage. Lippisch decided that this would only be possible by making the wing near the body longer, and this is how he arrived at the delta shaped wing. His first motorized delta wing flew in 1931. Lippisch continued his work with the delta wing during his time as director of the Aviation Research Institute in Vienna, Austria. His team worked on delta wing airplanes that were designed to accommodate a variety of new engines, such as the turbojet and ramjet engines.

Alexander M. Lippisch died 11 February 1976 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, of a heart and lung ailment.


Collection description

The Alexander Lippisch Papers (1897-1993, undated) contain biographical material, correspondence, scientific research files, materials relating to patents, publications, photographs, and films. In addition to a rich array of material relating to Lippisch's work in aeronautical engineering, the collection also includes biographical material about Lippisch and publications and photographs related to general aviation history.

Scientific research files document Lippisch's work designing sailplanes and gliders, delta-winged aircraft, and aerodynes, as well as research involving aerodynamics, smoke tunnels, and ground effect. These files include materials such as calculations, data, statistics and experimental test results, and technical designs and conceptual drawings of aircraft designs. The collection also includes articles and reports by Lippisch and others.

Highlights of the collection include the technical designs and conceptual drawings of Lippisch's aeronautical designs, and the numerous photographic images and films. The films include brief films of research experiments as well as a number of professionally produced films, such as the series The Secret of Flight.



The collection is organized into 15 series:

  • Series 1, Biographical Documents, 1909-1993, undated
  • Series 2, Aviation History, 1897-1974, undated
  • Series 3, Soaring Sailplanes and Gliders, 1919-1977, undated
  • Series 4, Delta-Winged Aircraft, 1904-1982, undated
  • Series 5, Aerodynamics, 1918-1975, undated
  • Series 6, Smoke Tunnels, 1935-1973, undated
  • Series 7, Aerodynes, 1952-1976, undated
  • Series 8, General Ground Effect, 1923-1976, undated
  • Series 9, Ground Effect - Aeroskimmers, 1959-1976, undated
  • Series 10, Ground Effect - Aerofoil Boats, 1946-1988, undated
  • Series 11, Aerodynamics and Smoke Tunnels, 1951-1959, undated
  • Series 12, Hydrofoil Boat, 1928-1964, undated
  • Series 13, Miscellaneous Files, 1924-1979, undated
  • Series 14, Lippisch Research Corporation Marketing Files
  • Series 15, Films, 1928-1975, undated


Container list

The full finding aid is available as a PDF file: Alexander Lippisch Finding Aid.