Although it would ultimately fail, the working designs of this rail vehicle succeeded in setting land speed records.
By Eric Bryan
The world speed record for a rail vehicle was broken by a German railcar in 1931. Designed in 1929 by Franz Kruckenberg, the Schienenzeppelin (“Rails-zeppelin”) was a retro-futuristic propeller-powered railcar. It was so-called because its elongated aerodynamic silvery sleekness and manner and materials of construction echoed those of a zeppelin.
German aircraft engineer and inventor Franz Friedrich Kruckenberg (1882–1965) was born in Uetersen into an old family of Hamburg merchants. From 1904 to 1907 he studied mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule (“Technical University of Berlin”) in Berlin-Charlottenburg, earning a diploma in naval engineering. He went on to design combat aircraft and zeppelins.
Kruckenberg founded an engineering firm in Heidelberg after WWI. Working with Kurt Stedefeld and Willi Black, Kruckenberg designed a propeller-powered suspended monorail train with a projected top speed of about 224 mph. Unable to find investors willing to back this expensive venture, Kruckenberg’s group focused on designing a high-speed rail vehicle.
Kruckenberg later partnered with Hermann Föttinger of the Danzig (“now Gdansk”) Institute for Fluid Dynamics. Föttinger was Germany’s first Professor of Fluid Mechanics and Turbo-Machinery at the Technische Hochschule. Together they cofounded the Flugbahn-Gesellschaft mbH (“Trajectory Company, Ltd.”) with the aim to build the Shienenzeppelin in Hannover. Kruckenberg had begun drawing up the plans in 1929.
The Schienenzeppelin was built at the DRG (Deutsche Reichsbahn-Gesellschaft or “German Imperial Railway Company”) Hannover-Leinhausen repair shop by Kruckenberg’s group, with eight engineers and 30 other workers on the task. For a high-speed railcar, lightness was key. Basing the plan of the Schienenzeppelin on aircraft and zeppelin design, principals and materials, Kruckenberg’s railcar was made of aluminum, wood, steel and fabric. Following rigid airship and aircraft fuselage construction, the Schienenzepplin had a ribbed, skeletal (space frame) inner structure which was wrapped in an outer skin.
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