Saturday, 11 June 2016
Women Warriors - Hanna Reitsch, Luftwaffe test pilot
She was always proud of supporting the Third Reich, and was close to Hitler - she was at the Bunker during the last days of the war, when she accompanied Generaloberst von Greim as he accepted the command of the Luftwaffe after the dismissal of Goering for what Hitler considered to be an act of treason.
But her flying career was remarkable.
She started off in gliders in the 1930s and broke several records for altitude and endurance. She became a stunt pilot in powered aircraft in 1934 for the Ufa film company, and also travelled to South America with an expedition to study thermal conditions. She became a test pilot in 1935.
In 1937 she was posted to the Luftwaffe training centre at Rechlin-Larz airfield, and tested the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka and Dornier Do 17 barrage balloon fender projects, for which she recieved the Iron Cross Second Class in 1941.
She was the first female helicopter pilot, too.
In 1942 she test piloted the Messerschmidt Me 163 Komet, which was rocket propelled, making her the first woman to pilot a jet aircraft - and crashed on her fifth flight, spending five months in hospital. For this, she recieved the Iron Cross First Class.
In 1943, she spent several weeks touring the Luftwaffe units of the Eastern Front.
She also test piloted a manned version of the V1 rocket, and trained instructors.
After the war, she spent 18 months being held by the Americans, and after that settled in Frankfurt. As soon as she was able, she started flying gliders again. In 1952, she won a bronze medal in the World Gliding Championships in Spain, the first woman to compete.
She was invited to India by Nehru to set up a gliding school there, and was also welcomed to the White House by President Kennedy. In 1962, she went to Ghana to set up the first black African national gliding school, where she became a friend of Kwame Nkrumah, the president.
She wrote several books about her life, including Ich flog in Afrika fur Nkrumah's Ghana and Fliegen, Mein Leben.
She died back in Frankfurt in 1979 and there were rumours that she had saved the cyanide pill she had been given by Hitler at the Bunker in 1945 for all that time until she, too, was ready to commit suicide.