Auntie Ju 52 D-AQUI

Auntie Ju, Iron Annie – Farewell to an icon! Part 2

Reiner Hertl
14.05.2019
2 pictures
4 minutes

As the world’s largest aircraft, the “Stratolaunch”, took off on its maiden flight in mid-April (WingMag has already reported on this), Lufthansa’s decision led to one of the oldest passenger planes still airborne finally being grounded at the end of April. An apposite time to reflect on the eventful history of Ju 52 D-AQUI, often fondly referred to as “Auntie Ju”.

Becoming a legend

Hans Holzer, aviation curator at the German Museum in Munich, which is also home to a Junkers JU52, explains:

Auntie Ju epitomises the Golden Age of aviation and is synonymous with pioneering spirit and great adventure.

Aviation curator Hans Holzer of the German Museum in Munich

But this spirit of adventure became even more tangible when you experienced it in person. In 1986 Ju 52 D-AQUI began flying again in Europe carrying some 8,000 passengers on nostalgic sightseeing trips every year, about which even the crew members regularly waxed lyrically:

It feels amazing every time you start up the engines of a Ju 52.

Captain Uwe Wendt, 2016

Ju 52 D-AQUI celebrated its 80th flying year in 2016.  Let’s take a brief look back at its long history of flying covering some eight decades:

Delivered as a seaplane with floats – 1936

Junkers Ju 52/3m, bearing the historic registration D-AQUI, was delivered in 1936 equipped with floats and 16 seats and was one of almost 5,000 aircraft of this type in existence, some of which were built under licence. Hot off the production line, Lufthansa took delivery of it on 10 April 1936 and it was christened “Fritz Simon” after a Lufthansa pilot who had been fatally injured in a crash.

Only three months later, D-AQUI was transferred to Norway, renamed “Falken”, and flew until 1940. It then returned to Lufthansa, where it was in service as “D-AQUI Kurt Wintgens” from 1940 to 1945.

Following its deployment in WW2, D-AQUI was heading for the scrapheap but, just in time, was restored with parts from another Ju 52 and returned to its duties on the Norwegian coastal routes.

It flew these routes until Lufthansa pilot Christof Drexel bought the aircraft in 1957, fully refurbished it in Oslo and converted it to a land-based version with undercarriage. D-AQUI was then dismantled and shipped overseas, opening up the Ecuadorian chapter of the aircraft’s life:

1957 to 1963 – On Amazonian passenger and freight transport duty

Flexibility and versatility were always two of the aircraft’s strengths – from the North Cape routes directly to South America. The Junkers was operated throughout the Amazon basin by “Transportes Aereos Orientales S.A. (TAO) out of Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, appropriately rechristened “Amazonas”. However, as it became increasingly difficult to procure spare parts, the ‘old lady’ was parked at the perimeter of Quito Airport and left to rot for eight long years.

The American chapter – 1970 to 1984

Bomber pilot Lester F. Weaver awoke it from its slumber in 1970, paid 5,000 USD for it and had it airworthy again within six months for a flight to Illinois (USA) that took eight days. From there, the aircraft was sold to Cannon Aircraft and then to the American author Martin Caidin who was based in Florida. Caidin christened the ‘old lady’ “Iron Annie” and showcased it at air shows over a period of eight years. New life was breathed into the aircraft in 1976, as it were, following the modernisation of its engine, tyres and braking system. There was another important turning point in the aircraft’s history in 1984 when it was discovered by Lufthansa pilots.

1984 – Return to its home in Germany

The pilots who unearthed the aircraft persuaded the airline’s Board to return the historic machine to Germany. The aircraft, which has a range of approx. 825 km, took 16 days to return to Germany, a route that took in Greenland, Iceland and the UK. Once home again at Lufthansa, it was once again restored to comply with the latest regulations and has been picking up passengers for sightseeing flights since 1986. Renamed “Berlin-Tempelhof”, it was also the last plane to take off from Berlin-Tempelhof Airport before the airport was officially closed in 2008.

The axe finally fell on Junkers Ju D-AQUI in 2019: the aircraft, which had undergone so much with so many names and in so many countries over its 83 eventful years, is finally being retired. As we reported in part 1 of this exciting topic, the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin Foundation announced at the end of April, that Auntie Ju will no longer be flown and is being prepared as a museum exhibit. Ju D-AQUI has been witness to so much of aviation history and with its proud 29.25-metre wingspan can hold its ‘nose’ high. The “Stratolaunch”, which is set to become a new legend, has now raised the benchmark to a superlative 117-metre wingspan.

by Reiner Hertl

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