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When flammable passion combines with fabulous corporate funds, it lights a fire under a venerable if obsolescent aircraft and sends it flying back to the skies

The RIMOWA F13 is a brand new airplane constructed from scratch, but based on original blueprints – lamentably scanty and incomplete – of one of history’s most legendary planes, the Junkers F13. Cologne-based RIMOWA, a luggage firm – can you beat that? – has painstakingly replicated the Junkers F13, the world’s first all-metal transport aircraft at a time when aviation was dominated by aircrafts of wooden frames and canvas sheets.  The F13, whose fuselage and wings were constructed with the ground-breaking aluminum alloy. duralumin, first flew in 1919, jumpstarting the passenger aviation industry as we know it today in the process.

One might say that if there was a “jarring note” to the designer-creator of Junkers F13, the visionary German professor and aviation entrepreneur-businessman Hugo Junkers, it was his proverbial bad timing. Junkers F13 was first produced in 1919, immediately after World War I, just as when the market was flooded with cheap surplus warplanes.

But, unbelievably, the F13 with its heated closed compartment for four passengers safely strapped to their leather seats with leather seatbelts – a rare high standard of comfort in those times – took the market by storm and immediately grabbed a place in history as “the mother of all commercial aircraft.”

Private businesses and governments in Europe, America and the Middle East saw Junkers F13 as an innovative plane with which to start off their passenger services in the budding airlines industry. So much so that by the mid-1920s at least 40% of commercial air routes around the world was dominated by the F13, including the airplanes in Hugo Junkers’ own airline, the Junkers Luftverkehr, which merged with the German Luft Hansa (eventually Lufthansa) to boost the sale of the F13 even more.

Besides its sleek monoplane cantilever wings that anticipated the lines of the modern airliner, the F13 also featured an open cockpit for better visual navigation and to increase the pilot’s awareness of weather conditions which was a big concern before the advent of the radar in commercial aviation and reliable weather predictions. That wasn’t all there was to it either. The open cockpit created quite a sense of adventure and freedom!

Up to 1932 the world of the F13 which was manufactured at the Junkers plant in Dessau, Germany was purely civilian. However, in 1933 the Nazis confiscated the company under the aggressive German rearmament program and Hermann Göring threatened to jail the pacifist Junkers if he didn’t surrender the company’s patents.

After that war it was back to usual business for Junkers F13. Until 19951 when the last of the commercial F13 was retired in Brazil, bringing to a close an important chapter in the world of aviation development. But like the old soldiers, the legendary aircraft was not meant to die.

It took seven years of research, planning and approval – not to mention the millions of euros in investment cash – for the F13 to literally get off the ground again but on 15 September 2016, with RIMOWA partnering with the Swiss pleasure flights company Ju-Air, and with the help of Germany’s Association of Friends of Historical Aircraft, the old Junker F13 is back in the skies. Well, not the very Junkers F13.

Prestigious luggage makers RIMOWA and airline Ju-Air have teamed up to build a brand new Junkers F13. They would have made the old F13 airborne again but the extant five found in museums in different parts of the globe are hopelessly un-airworthy. So an entirely new F13 has had to be constructed.

Swiss and German aviation organizations as well as some American and European museums chipped in and helped those who thought of replacing the Association of Friends of Historical Aircraft’s historic Ju52 airplane with the iconic F13 when it was forcibly grounded in 2009 make the RIMOWA F13 come to life. Deiter Morszeck, RINOWA’s President and CEO, who is passionate about flying and flies RINOWA’s private jet to meetings and events around the world, was the driving force behind the RIMOWA F13 project.

Morszeck has a special affinity with the F13; his father developed the grooved suitcases using the same duralumin that Junkers pioneered in.

“Hugo Junkers was the first person to use duralumin in aircraft construction. Around the world, grooved sheet metal became the hallmark of Junkers aircraft and RIMOWA suitcases,” he said. “This is why I followed and supported the construction of an airworthy Junkers F13. I wanted to give back to the world an important cultural asset – not in a museum, but where it belongs: in the skies.”

The RIMOWA project was part passion, part marketing maneuver. An unbeatable mix. Still, it took 12,000 hours to reconstruct the Junkers F13. Which reconstruction began in the Black Forest and was completed in Dübendorf, Zurich, the F13’s new home.

On that Wednesday the 15th of September 20216 the gleaming F13 stood elegantly on the Dübendorf airfield. Expectant spectators from around the world came to watch the new F13 on its maiden voyage. It taxied gently and the lift-off after just 200 meters was smooth. Morszeck sat beside the veteran test pilot Oliver Bachmann in the cockpit.

As in its golden past, there’s nothing like the open cockpit to spell freedom and adventure. And nothing like the F13 to touch the fans of retro-flying to the quick.

When RIMOWA F13 touched down, as when it lifted off, it was met with sustained applause.

Soon it will be operational for passenger flights. Ju-Air will be conducting sightseeing tours.

RIMOWA F13 is the exact replica of Junkers F13 with very few exceptions, like brakes and tail wheels, which are necessary to secure the certificate for modern airworthiness. It is being said that the price of a RINOWA’s F13 is $2.2 million.

It’s the visionary spirit of Hugo Junkers all over again. Entrepreneurship is an integral part of it.