First flight in the Junkers A50, a modern take on the 1930s open cockpit Junior, which is about to be approved in Germany as a 600kg microlight
Words Thomas Borchert Photos Samy Kramer
21 September 2022
This is exactly how Dieter Morszeck, the brains behind the resurrected Junkers Flugzeugwerke, had imagined it: We pull the Junkers A50 out of the hangar, do a quick pre-flight check, climb in, turn the ignition key – and off we go! It’s as simple as that.
No-one has to apply grease to various out-of-the-way grease nipples before every flight, nor drain the oil from the lower cylinders of a radial engine – or even turn the propeller by hand.
The Junkers A50 has that vintage look and feel without the problems and extra work that a really old aircraft entails.
Instead, the everyday usability of a modern microlight for a dreamy after-work flight in the evening sun – that’s how it was meant to be… and that’s how we do it now.
Almost, not not quite. Actually, it’s noon during one of the hottest summers Europe has seen for years. It’s at least 30° so a good thing the cockpits are open! Behind me sits test pilot Patrick Hauser, and I’m surrounded by a thick leather bulge that was just right for leaning against when I got in.
Just walking up to the cockpit over the corrugated sheet metal and the embedded wooden planks was a visual delight. Now I feel just the right mix of security and room to move.
To the left of the seat on the floor are two levers for power and trim, while in front shines – what an odd contrast – the seven-inch display of a Garmin G3X Touch. In the back seat, the large 10-inch screen is fitted as standard.
Up front, customers could also have conventional steam gauges but ‘so far everyone wants a display’, said Patrick.
The engine purring at idle is a surprise. I had feared that the view ahead would be disturbed by an engine cowling with hamster cheeks, which should be inevitable with a boxer engine in such a narrow snout. But the fairing with its gentle bulges is really well done.
When looking out of the cockpit, they are hardly noticeable because of the tapering nose, but from the outside they do not disturb the visual impression at all. The original 1930s A50 had a radial engine of course.
A little history before we go flying. In 1929 Hugo Junkers, the man with the legendary corrugated iron aircraft, brought out a sports machine. The A50 Junior had tandem seats and open cockpits, as was common at the time. Sixty-nine examples were built, some records were flown, then the economic crisis hit.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Dieter Morszeck, aviation enthusiast and former owner of the luggage manufacturer Rimowa, is very enthusiastic about the work of aviation pioneer Hugo Junkers. He decides to rebuild the F13 – for many historians the world’s first real passenger aircraft – but not as a one-off, rather as a product to buy. No sooner had this been achieved than he became the owner of the biplane manufacturer Waco in the USA and also began to revive the Junkers A50 Junior. Interestingly, the original already had a max weight of 600kg, same as the modern microlight limit.
Bringing all this together is Kaelin Aero in Hochmössingen in the Black Forest. Kaelin Aero is an approved supplier of manufactured parts to OEMs such as Pilatus, including the PC-24 jet. Owner Dominik Kälin puts Morszeck’s ideas into corrugated sheet metal. In the meantime, Junkers Flugzeugwerke GmbH has also been founded there, and that’s where the A50 will be produced.
Certification is planned for the end of September 2022, followed by delivery of the first two examples. Ten units are to be built per year, and production is said to be running at full capacity for two years.
When we visited in July, flight testing was still underway at Neuhausen ob Eck Airfield, which lies between the Black Forest and Lake Constance, and that’s where we went flying… and what a spectacularly beautiful region.
We’re in, belted up and it’s time to roll. With a bit of power, off we go.
Tailwheel aircraft are always taxied with slight S-curves so that you can see something ahead. In the A50, these are not always necessary because if you lean out of the cockpit a little to the side, the view is very good.
We’re on the runway. Stick full forward, throttle to full, hold direction and wait for the tail to come up. At about 40… 50 km/h it’s already there.
Quickly ease off and wait again. At a little over 100km/h the machine takes off by itself. It flies calmly and firmly in the hand. It climbs at 120km/h – and that feels good!
However, it’s pretty blowy around the small windscreen in front of me, and every now and then a blast of exhaust fumes comes in. The romantic notion of the scent of summer hayfields drifting into the open cockpit is not going to work.
Later, Patrick explains that the problem has been recognised. For one thing, the windscreen is being enlarged, for another, the position of the exhaust is being optimised. Apparently, even small changes in the angle of the muffler to the fuselage are sufficient.
It is not yet final anyway, the mandatory noise measurement is still to come.
We don’t climb high – who would want to do that in an aircraft like this? The feeling up here is overwhelming. The undulating countryside to the left and right takes me far back in time. Despite the thermals over the Danube valley north of the airfield, which is still narrow here, the aircraft lies calmly in the air, not a bit fidgety.
Flying straight and level at a constant altitude, I push the throttle forward until I have cruise power. At 4,800rpm we are at 150km/h, at 5,000 we reach 160. You probably don’t want to go much faster in an open aeroplane anyway.
The control forces are very balanced, even in the full circles I am now trying. Deflections on the stick around the lateral axis calm down again immediately. Add a little power, raise the nose a little, then we hold altitude.
The Flight Path Indicator and the horizon line on the Primary Flight Display – again a contrast of times – help.
Another time shift is the red handle located in the front right of both cockpits. It triggers the Galaxy ballistic rescue parachute system, which is installed between the two cockpit openings in the fuselage.
There was a baggage compartment in the original, now it is found, albeit very small, behind the pilot’s seat back.
Despite the high outside temperatures, those of the engine always remain within the target range. That was probably not the case at the beginning. The oil cooler, which hangs under the cowling in the airstream, was smaller at the beginning of flight tests and has now grown.
Further back, directly in front of the wing root, the Rotax-typical radiator is installed.
We return to the field with a few taps on the G3X Touch for the direct-to heading. Patrick recommends 120km/h on final approach. Despite the thermals, it all feels rock solid.
We touch down with all three wheels simultaneously, then swing back and forth a little on the ground. I blame it on my limited experience with taildraggers.
After getting out, we take another look at the machine. All kinds of small openings on the nose supply the engine with air where it needs to be, but don’t spoil the look.
And even further forward, the most important change since it was first seen at AERO Friedrichshafen, in my opinion: the prop is black! The white used before did not fit. Now it’s perfect: the nostalgic impression of an old-timer that isn’t one at all – and yet conveys a very special flying feeling.
The next project of Junkers Flugzeugwerke is already in the works: the A60 shown at last April’s AERO Friedrichshafen.
It is inspired by the A50 and also has many common components, but no historical model: in the A60 you sit two abreast. In addition, the aircraft will have a retractable landing gear.
The cockpit can be flown either open with a windscreen or closed with a kind of hardtop. The pilot should be able to put on and take off the roof himself.
The test cell for the A60, which is also to be certified as a 600kg microlight, is already ready. Junkers is planning the maiden flight for February or March 2023 – certainly with the hope of getting to the AERO next April on its own wings.