AR Rewind: This story was originally published in September 2015 and is being re-loved.
When I got the invite to head to Hamburg for a few days to check out Lufthansa Technik, I was interested. When I saw that part of the trip involved flying on a Junkers Ju-52 that was built in 1936… I was sold.
Over the years, I have been able to fly on many airliners, but most were built in my lifetime. I haven’t had the privilege on flying on any real classic aircraft like this, and given that it is a three-engined, well-maintained beast, I just couldn’t help but be giddy.
Of course, a plane of this stature is going to have an impressive history. The Ju-52 first flew in 1930 and 4,845 were built until production ceased in 1952. At first, the Ju-52 was mostly used for commercial purposes, hauling cargo or configured to fly 17 passengers. Then, with most similar aircraft of the period, it was pulled into war-time service before returning to passenger use. In the end, the Ju-52 flew with 30 airlines in 25 different countries and had a very successful career.
The plane that I flew on was built in 1936 at the Junkers plant in Dessaue, and has had a few loving names, including “Tante Ju” (Auntie Ju), “Grande Dame of the Skies,” and also just “old-timer.” I called it “beautiful.”
This plane was in service with Lufthansa, and then in 1955, it was retired… or so they thought. Originally set to go to a museum in Oslo, the plane was instead sold to South America, where it flew in Ecuador from 1957 to 1963. Auntie Ju was then put out to pasture until it was purchased in 1969 and flown at air shows. Lufthansa purchased and started restoration in 1984, and the airliner was re-introduced to the world in 1986.
Just recently, on August 22, the plane was placed under protection by the Office of Historic Monuments of the Hamburg Cultural Authority. “The Tante Ju is of great aviation-historic importance, being one of the last and well-preserved examples of a novel motorized aircraft type in regards to its construction, which at the time was a big seller and success model,” Dr. Christine Onnen of the Hamburg Office of Historic Monuments explains. It was to celebrate the great efforts, by many, who have kept the aircraft flying for so long.
And the plane flies… a lot. During the summer months, it will fly around 9,000 passengers annually, mostly on sightseeing tours over Germany and Austria.
During my visit to Hamburg, the weather was… well, almost perfect. Sunny, a little breeze, but not too warm. A perfect combination to go flying. Our flight group consisted mostly of invited media and Lufthansa employees. We had old-style paper tickets, went through security, and waited at a gate, just like a normal flight.
We waited around and became excited when our flight (Hamburg-to-Hamburg) showed up on the screen. Soon, we loaded up on a bus and drove to the waiting Ju-52. I can’t lie that I got goose-bumps walking closer to the plane and realizing that we were soon about to take flight.
After an introduction of the crew and being given a bit of information on the plane, we were told we could board. We were all AvGeeks and, lucky for us, every seat was a window seat! I found my place, on the left-hand side of the plane, and took in my surroundings.
The plane looked, felt, and smelled new. Not only was it impressive that this aircraft is 79 years old, but the fact that it flies so many people and it is still kept in great shape is amazing. From the suede-like ceiling to the custom seat designs, all the classic details were there. The leg room was pretty bad, but who cares?
Listening to the start-up of any prop aircraft is intoxicating. Listening to the three engines start up on the Ju-52 was just plain amazing. After the engines warmed up, we started our taxi to the runway. The amount of excitement, from all of us on the plane, bordered on insanity, but that was a good thing.
We lined up, the engines went to full power, and we were off. It didn’t take long for us to lift off from the ground and start to see Hamburg from a different angle.
I am told that our flight was 30 minutes, but I would have sworn that it was more like five. That said, in that time, we managed to make our way over Hamburg and see the beautiful city from the air. Seeing any city from the air, even in a Cessna 172, is exciting, but being in the Ju-52 made it all more special.
We made our way back to the airport and landed with cheers from all the passengers. What a ride!
After the flight we were free to take photos and, of course, I made my way into the flight deck. Again, just like the rest of the plane, (other than some new technology), it looked like the plane just rolled out of the factory.
I was able to chat with all of the crew, including our wonderful flight attendant and two pilots; they all fly with Lufthansa. One pilot typically flies a Boeing 737 and the other an Airbus A330. I got the impression that being chosen to fly the Ju-52 meant you were part of an elite club of pilots, who not only love what they do, but are also darn good at it.
If it were left up to most in our group, we would have hung out with the Ju-52 all day. But soon we were told it was time to head back on the bus and make our way to the airport. With a smile and a little nod to the aircraft, thanking it for the ride, I was thankful to have the opportunity.
As a bonus, here is a video of the flight, taken by Jason Rabinowitz:
Note: Lufthansa Technik provided flights and accommodations during my trip to Hamburg.